20 Questions: Marshall Crenshaw

[27 July 2009]

By Karen Zarker

PopMatters Managing Editor

Marshall Crenshaw, Grammy and Golden Globe nominee, author and John Lennon impersonator (OK, that was a while ago) is having fun between the release of his latest CD, Jaggedland (June 2nd) and hitting the road again this fall. Ever the musician’s musician, he penned and played all 12 tracks on Jaggedland (songs of love, mortality and the state of the world) but now, in these few months of summertime reprieve, he’s re-recording some of his early material such as that sweet, pop hit song, “Someday Someway”. 

Crenshaw chats with PopMatters 20 Questions about the cultural offerings, high and not so high, that he gets a kick out of—from to Duke Ellington to Captain Beefheart.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Do you mean literally? I could name some books and movies that made me laugh my #ss off, but I don’t think I’ve actually cried more than four or five times in my adult life, and never while reading, or watching a movie; it’s always been about something to do with a loved one. 

However, I did hear a book review on the radio the other day that made me want to cry, of a book called Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town. Atrocious, heartbreaking stuff.

2. The fictional character most like you?
I’m thinking Johnny B. Goode, but did he wear glasses?

cover art

Marshall Crenshaw

Jaggedland

(429 Records; US: 2 Jun 2009)

3. The greatest album, ever?
Well, of course there’s my new one, Jaggedland. (I’m teasing.) 

My own favorite album is Bo Diddley’s 16 All Time Greatest Hits; somebody lent it to me when I was 14 and I still haven’t gotten over it. It’s got that great mid- to late ‘50s Chess Records sound, which I really love. Also, Bo’s got such an amazing style: the lyrics, the grooves, the guitars, etc. It’s just perfection. 

But it’s really hard to choose just one album; nobody’s ever going to beat (for instance) Lick My Decals Off, Baby (Captain Beefheart), or Heart Food (Judee Sill), or The Ventures in Space, or The Impressions’ Greatest Hits, M’Boom (Max Roach), Can You Fly? (Freedy Johnston), or any Sam the Sham and The Pharaohs album, most any Frank Sinatra Capitol album, etc., etc. What a great art form, still and always.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
I loved the first Star Trek TV series with Lt. Uhura, Spock, et. al. I thought it was pretty excellent in a lot of ways.

When the first Star Wars movie came out I went to see it (I remember that I was in Cheyenne, Wyoming at the time.) hoping that it might grab me the way Star Trek did, but it barely made any impression on me.

5. Your ideal brain food?
I’m always hungry for new information/ inspiration:  I’ve been a reader all my life; I’ve read the complete works of Donald Goines, the complete works of Philip K. Dick (I think), thousands of books; I subscribe to Harper’s, The New Yorker, I use the Web; I love movies from all eras (my all time favorite is the 2.5 hr. version of Erich Von Stroheim’s Greed; I hate the expanded version). 

cover art

Marshall Crenshaw

The Best of Marshall Crenshaw: This Is Easy

(Rhino / Wea; US: 15 Aug 2000)

But the kind of information that stirs my imagination the most and engages me the most is music. For musical “brain food” I’d cite nearly anything by Duke Ellington (off the top of my head I’d recommend Strange Feeling and The Far East Suite). His stuff is emotional, sensual, and cerebral all at once.

6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
I’m proud of my wife and our family, proud that we love each other. And proud to be proud.

7. You want to be remembered for…?
Being a good dad and a worthy artiste.

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
I think of friends who are no longer around, like Cub Koda and Alan Betrock; if I’d known they were going to die young I would’ve called them more often, and I say that with sadness.

When I was a kid I thought John Lennon was particularly wise and brilliant, and I wish he was still walking the earth. 

My worldview started to form when I was ten-years-old; I saw the March on Washington on TV, saw Dr. King give the “I Have a Dream” speech. I never got over that. Kennedy was president at the time. I can’t help but realize as I type those names that all three were taken out by ignominious little pricks with guns (read the work of Vincent Bugliosi).

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
I revere all kinds of artistes and artworks, but one thing that I wish I could’ve been is a great drummer. Listen to the drumming on “I Got the Feelin’” by James Brown; he (Clyde Stubblefield) just sounds like he has the World in his back pocket.

cover art

Marshall Crenshaw

The Definitive Pop Collection (remastered)

(Rhino / Wea; US: 27 Nov 2006)

10. Your hidden talents…?
None …

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
Soupy Sales had some great advice that I’ve tried to follow: “Be true to your teeth and they’ll never be false to you.”

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
Plane tickets to Ireland, for my family and myself. We can’t wait to go back.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?
I started buying Carhartt jeans awhile ago because they’re made (at least partially) in the US, and the woman who owns the company is a big benefactress to the Detroit Jazz Festival. I think it’s good to buy strategically these days. 

As far as dress clothes go, I bought most of the suits that I have on sale at Barney’s and the labels inside say “Vaticana” (???). So that’s mostly it for me these days: Carhartt and Vaticana, and I’m comfortable in either. Maybe I’ll look at some Armani threads next time I go shopping.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
My wife, Ione. We don’t go out together as often as we should, but I love it when we do.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?
I’ve already lived through, and am living through, great times, terrible times, etc., but let me think. A few years ago I really enjoyed this book by Nick Tosches called The Last Opium Den. While reading I fantasized about going back to the ‘20s, to the Chinatown section of any big US city.

Back in the ‘20s, as far as mass media went, you had newspapers and magazines, radio, records, and silent movies. Perfect. I’d like to hang around back then for a few days, maybe go see The Marx Brothers on Broadway.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
According to the way I’m wired, violence just begets more violence; I’d never seriously think of hiring a hit man, although I used to know people who could hook it up.

Prozac? No; I hate pharmaceuticals, although this wasn’t always the case. 

Spa vacation? Sure; last year my kids got me a gift certificate to a local spa for Father’s Day. I had a sea salt body wash, a pedicure, and a massage, which is maybe more than you want to know, but anyway, it was great!
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?
None of the above for me, although I do like coffee. 

Wine is a staple in my life, in fact I’m drinking some right now. 

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
All my adult life Ione and I have lived in the city or the country, never in-between. During some years I’ve divided my time between both city and country, which is perfect for me. 

Right now we live in a sort of pastoral environment, in a small town sort of like Mayberry, but with some ethnic diversity (we need more). I’m happy here for the time being (in Dutchess County, New York).

Photo by Todd Chalfant

Photo by Todd Chalfant

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
President Obama is pretty savvy; what could I tell him that he doesn’t know already, other than maybe, “Here’s a copy of my new album, Jaggedland, Mr. President; you might like it.”

I guess I might ask him to address the issue of copyright protection, throw a bone to those of us who depend on it (which is everybody).

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
The usual: trying to live my life in a positive manner, honor the fact that I’m alive, take care of my responsibilities, etc.

I’m getting ready to go on the road in the fall, working on a couple of film projects that are in development. I’ve also been having a lot of fun lately re-recording some of my early material like “Someday Someway”. I thought it’d be nice to have good versions of those tunes that I own myself.

Karen Zarker, Managing Editor at PopMatters, works with a talented array of writers throughout the magazine. She manages the PopMatters Books Series, and also holds many behind-the-scenes operational responsibilities. She can be reached at zarker(at)popmatters.com.


Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/108854-marshall-crenshaw/