I like to tell myself that if I was eighteen in 1982, I would have been a hardcore kid licking envelopes in Ian MacKaye’s mom’s house and buzzing my hair with my dad’s beard trimmer. But I think the odds are good I would have actually been a skinny-tie, Buddy Holly-Sam & Dave-Desmond Dekker-Brian Wilson mod sweating in his black coat and working out Rickenbacker guitar tones in my apartment.
If that had been my life, I would have probably killed Marshall Crenshaw out of jealousy. As it is, 30-year-old me now just gets to throw my whole body around with joy at his precise, tuneful 60s-ish guitar pop, and bother all my friends who probably already know “Someday, Someway” from New Wave Flashback radio. Crenshaw is, naturally, a nerd (dig his taste in covers: Arthur Alexander, Chris Knox) who is lucky enough to live out his dream, and “She Can’t Dance” is sheer giddy pleasure, nobody’s idea of formalism, with a middle four-then-six that satisfies me as much as any (see here how he brings out my inner nerd with how happy he makes me) small flourish in a pop song ever has: I think of Paul’s harmony on the verse of the Beatles’ “I’ll Get You” or those monster low horns that enter on the second verse of the Ronettes’ “Why Don’t They Let Us Fall in Love.”
Marshall Crenshaw hit at a weird time in rock radio: disco was dead but MTV hadn’t brought the New Romantics to the US yet, and anything– even punkishly trad ooh-baby rock ‘n’ roll– felt possible. But Duran Duran showed up six months later, and Marshall Crenshaw was buried (just as, ten years after, Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend was buried by Nevermind), leaving an alternative path in rock’s evolution largely unexplored. Till then… Livin’ only for the sound! Nerd up.