When Marshall Crenshaw's debut album was released back in 1982, I was a clerk in a Wherehouse record store and had a textbook case of Acute Recordstoreclerk-itis. You probably know all about that syndrome from shopping in record stores and enduring the klassic klerk 'tude. I was a young kid earning minimum wage, but consoled myself with the notion that I was hipper'n shit simply because I got to hear all the new records before anyone else—as if I were somehow a player in the industry machine—and this manifested itself in a surly, superior demeanor toward customers, particularly those who bought records by Ambrosia or Kenny Loggins in the time of the Clash and Elvis Costello. I was only in my early 20s, but I was already a jaded fuck. Someone should have kicked my ass. I deserved an ass-whuppin' just as every record-store clerk since time beyond memory has deserved one. Record-store clerks are right up there with rookie cops on the evolutionary chain.
But I digress. When Marshall Crenshaw came out, it blew a lotta 'tude outta my system. Here was a record that I could get behind. Here was a record to believe in. Here was a record that moved me in ways rare and profound. A good record. A fine record. A perfect record. It was like Elvis Costello without all the posed hostility, like Springsteen without the Galoot Factor, like Joe Jackson without all the faux-jazz prissiness, like Billy Joel without the unendurable corporate pandering, like Rockpile with more melody and muscle. It was pure, delicious pop music with cojones un-snipped—exceptionally conscious of rock & roll's roots without being a slave to them. It was as if the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly had been reincarnated in a single body and updated for the 1980s.
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Ahhhh—I still swoon when I think of how that record made me feel. I strong-armed many a Wherehouse customer into buying that album and jumping on the Crenshaw bandwagon. Not that they needed me: Crenshaw had the Warner Brothers hype machine behind him in a big way then, and he briefly seemed poised to become The Next Big Thing. It never happened, of course, and that was at least partially his own fault—none of Crenshaw's follow-up efforts fully recaptured the magic. He never made a really stinky album, but there were no more songs as glorious as "Someday, Someway," "The Usual Thing," "There She Goes Again" or "Rockin' Around in NYC," either. Oh, well—better to have flamed briefly than never to have flamed at all. I can still smell the smoke from 18 years back, and that's the important thing. The boy done left his mark.
Crenshaw has kept himself busy over the years, recording beautifully crafted albums that by no means suck; acting in flicks like La Bamba and Peggy Sue Got Married; and writing a book (Hollywood Rock) about rock & roll movies, too. But to me, he'll always be the guy who made me forget I was a jaded asshole in 1982. Crenshaw plays the Sun Theatre Wednesday night as the opener for Suzanne Vega, who, unfortunately, bores me more than mere words can ever express.
Another guy who seems to have lost his wood is Junior Brown, who plays the Galaxy Concert Theatre on Thursday, March 22. It has been three years since his last release, and that album, Long Walk Back, was strictly a phone-it-in effort. That followed three albums that seemed to peg Brown as one of the best and most unique things to happen to country music since back in the days when Buck Owens was still pulling tigers by the tails. This isn't to say that Brown—with his bilious bullfrog baritone and speedy-keen, steel-guitar work—won't always be a pure delight in a live setting, but I'm one of those former record-store-clerk kinda guys who's convinced that an artist's enduring legacy is built around his recorded output. I pine for the days when Brown was writing great tunes with such titles as "My Baby Don't Dance to Nothing But Ernest Tubb," "Doing What Comes Easy to a Fool," "My Wife Thinks You're Dead" and "Venom Wearin' Denim," tunes that were all-a-brimmin' with clever lyrics and killer hooks, flattering his vocal and instrumental bitchenness. These days, Junior seems content wasting his talent as a pitchman on various television commercials and has degenerated into something of a cartoon character. It's a shame and a sin, I tell you, but I'll still be pounding beers in the front row whenever Junior comes to town.
Shemikia Copeland's sophomore album is called Wicked, and it's every bit as evil as advertised. This sweet young thang—daughter of late bluesman Johnny Copeland —tackles a century's worth of blues styles from the rural moans of Memphis Minnie to the full-throated R&B of Ruth Brown to the potent soul wail of Etta James all on one record. That's a mark of Copeland's comprehensive instincts and mastery at the tender age of 21, which should make her extremely interesting to experience as she grows and matures. As Kerouac once asked, "What will happen?" Catch a rising star Saturday night at the Coach House, when Copeland performs with Tommy Castro, my favorite pigmentally challenged blues singer. Suzanne Vega and Marshall Crenshaw play at the Sun Theatre, 2200 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 712-2700. Wed., 8 p.m. $26.50; Junior Brown performs at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600. Thurs., March 22, 8 p.m. $23.50; Tommy Castro and Shemikia Copeland play at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-8930. Sat., 8 p.m. $18.50.