"Someone Told Me" / Marshall Crenshaw
Three reasons to do a Marshall Crenshaw post:
1. I saw him perform last Friday night at the City Winery.
2. Earlier in the afternoon, I had an interview with him at a record store in Greenwich Village. (Here's the link to the Blogcritics article.)
3. It's his birthday next Friday! (Happy birthday, Marshall!!!)
Of course, I don't really need a reason to write about Marshall Crenshaw. He's right up there in my Gang of Guys, the half-dozen musicians whose records mean the most to me. Like all my guys, he's had a few hits over the years, but the deeper you go into the catalog, the freaking better his stuff gets. While most listeners identify Marshall with infectious jukebox tunes like "Some Day, Some Way" and "Something's Gonna Happen," the songs I love the most are the darker, more complex, jazzier numbers from his more recent albums. If you haven't heard these, then you owe it to yourself (being the sort of discriminating listener I know you are) to hustle right over to wherever you buy your music and start sampling his wares.
"Someone Told Me" is as good an example as any. On my very first listen to MC's astonishingly wonderful 2009 album Jaggedland, this track -- the third on the album -- immediately sent a shiver up my spine; when he sang this last Friday, chills went up my spine all over again. Forget the knee-jerk classification of Crenshaw as "power pop" -- here's a song with edgy syncopation, downward plunging chord progressions, and premonitory key shifts, way too moody and complex for simple pop. And the lyrics build on that haunting melody, offering almost existential musings on the unbridgeable distance between human beings. "Musings" is too mild a word for it, though -- there's an undercurrent of frustration, impatience, and rage running through it, intensified by the eccentric melodic intervals and restless, jumpy rhythms.
This song simply smolders with suppressed anger, a thinking person's reaction to a world that is still baffling, still unfair, still wrong. With age comes some wisdom -- you don't just flip out anymore when you encounter opposition. Could be a Tea Party loudmouth, could be your stubbornly independent spouse, could be some random driver who cut you off in traffic; could even be (ahem) a dumb-ass heckler at a concert -- alas, the world is full of people who can make you blow your top. The point is, you don't stop getting incensed by things like that, even though you're supposed to be all mature and reasonable. So you go off pondering the imponderables, about gaps in human connections -- "Will we ever meet on common ground?" -- but the rage still boils beneath the surface. You just know it does, right? Yet I don't think I've ever heard it expressed before in a rock song.
This is Music For Grown-Ups, folks; even better, it's Music For Thinking Grown-Ups. And I'm here to tell you that there's just not a whole lot of that kind of stuff around -- better grab it whenever you can find it.
Though this is not usually something I get hung up on, perhaps I ought to add how amazing Marshall's guitar playing has become over the years -- I was completely mesmerized, watching him play the other night, even on songs I've known for nigh-on thirty years. Okay, okay, 29 years. But that 30th anniversary is coming up next spring, folks, and -- here's a scoop -- City Winery is planning to celebrate by giving Marshall a well-deserved couple nights' stand. I am so there.