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Marshall Crenshaw

Getting Lost in the Music

by Steve Desroches

What makes a good song? One of those songs that musicians, regardless of the genre, just want to record. One of those songs that jumps off the written page or, even when played on a simple guitar, it’s apparent that it’s a hit. Perhaps academics, music historians, or musicologists have tried to parse it out with research and symposia, but in reality, the quest is an artistic one, complete with all the vagaries and ambiguities of that process. But singer, songwriter, and musician Marshall Crenshaw goes with his gut. You know it, when you hear it.

“It’s pretty hard to pin down,” says Crenshaw. “It just has to do with personal taste, and that’s hard to explain…When you really love a particular record you just want to crawl inside of it and love it. You want to get lost in it. You want to occupy it.”

Photo: Richard Phillips

Since the 1970s Crenshaw has had a varied, successful musical career following that quest for the feeling of falling in love with a song. His influences range from American soul and the British Invasion to the easy sounds of Burt Bacharach and the rockabilly strum of Buddy Holly. In turn, his original songs have inspired artists like Ronnie Spector, the Gin Blossoms, and Bette Midler to cover his work. This Friday night Crenshaw will present a stripped down concert featuring just him and his guitar at the Hawthorne Barn in the inaugural event of the 2016 season of Twenty Summers, an art series at the historic locale now in its third season.

“I stomp my foot and play my guitar, put some energy into the room that people can feel,” says Crenshaw about what to expect when he takes to the stage. “It’s that easy.”
Born and raised in the Detroit area, Crenshaw moved to New York City to pursue music in his twenties. His first big break came when he was cast as John Lennon in the musical revue Broadway show Beatlemania. It seems a fitting, non-traditional start for Crenshaw considering he would follow his passions rather than the customary narrative for a songwriter and musician. He’d go on to play one of his inspirations, Buddy Holly, in a small part in the 1987 film La Bamba, and to receive a Golden Globe nomination for his title song from the 2007 comedy Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.

While he continues to contribute musically to Hollywood, Crenshaw’s four-decade career has continually been focused on writing and recording, earning critical acclaim and respect as a musicians’ musician. While he does love live performances, he has a distinct affection for recording, something he considers an art form.

“There is just this joy in the process,” says Crenshaw. “I suppose it’s the feeling someone gets when they create something. It’s a beautiful thing. I just love recording and the work that goes into it and what you can create. It’s just how I’m wired.”

Pursuing that love of recording music Crenshaw has made six EPs over the past four years, as opposed to the more traditional studio album (LP) format. Ultimately however, the work that came out of those six small projects led to a 14-track set featuring songs from that period where he sought to break away from the standard recording process of being in the studio and then touring to promote. It’s a bit of a release from the pressures that accompany such a schedule, and a respite from the perpetual tension between art and commerce, to focus primarily on creating.

“It seems people don’t get the right balance,” says Crenshaw in regards to popular music. “Art gets to be a part of the culture. And you have to put money into it. A lot of the music over the past twenty years people try to make it as cheaply as possible, and it wasn’t always that way. There’s a corporate mentality now.”

The result of all that corporate austerity and focus-group mentality can result in bland and boring music that, with the right marketing, can still make money, sometimes a lot of it. But what’s missing is that feeling, that love that makes you obsess over a song longer than a season—a love that makes a song a classic. That’s what gets lost when the balance between money and artistry is gone, says Crenshaw. And when he takes to the stage at the Hawthorne Barn for this intimate concert, he’ll present the best of those times when everything converged just right, artistically, over the years.

“I have a large catalog to choose from,” says Crenshaw. “So at this point I leave out the crappy ones. It’ll be just me by myself with my guitar.”

Twenty Summers presents Marshall Crenshaw in Concert on Friday, May 13, 7 p.m., at the Hawthorne Barn, 29 Upper Miller Hill Rd., Provincetown. For information call 508.812.0278, e-mail [email protected], or visit, where you can also buy tickets ($30). There is no parking at the Barn; ticketed attendees may park at the Gately McHoul Funeral Home, 94 Harry Kemp Way.

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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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