Reaching out to the masses
by Keith Purtell
A warrior prophet crusading among the Philistines; that’s how Dave Marsh comes across. His writing about rock ’n’ roll music has always shown a militance grounded in the attitude that the heathens must be brought to see The Light. Marsh evidently was himself saved as a teenager growing up in Michigan — saved by a healthy dose of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.
I first heard about Marsh through of a book titled “The Rolling Stone Record Guide.” He had teamed up with John Swenson and more than 40 other critics to review thousands of rock, pop, soul, country, blues, folk and gospel albums. What made it so valuable for me was that it revealed numerous artists I had never heard. Most of my exposure to music was whatever was being played on radio stations in Oklahoma. Following positive reviews in the RSRG, I discovered exhilarating new rock, blues, country, reggae, rhythm and blues, soul and world beat. Marsh and his associates never steered me wrong.
The RSRG did not segregate music styles, making it very evident how American music styles are intertwined. Furthermore, as a result of Stephen Holden’s article about Frank Sinatra, I was persuaded to buy several Sinatra CDs. This was music I had dismissed as belonging to “old people” and might never have seriously listened to.
Marsh has gone on to write “Fortunate Son” (collected articles), “The First Rock and Roll Confidential Report” “Born To Run,” “Glory Days,” “Before I Get Old: The Story of The Who,” “The Heart of Rock and Soul (The 1,001 Greatest Singles Ever Made),“ and “50 Ways to Fight Censorship,” and a book about the song “Louie, Louie.” This kind of writing is an important public service that can open hearts and minds to extraordinary music.
A music devotee armed with the power of language, Marsh takes the treasures he has discovered and carries them out into the hinterlands of a bland and often ignorant society. He campaigns tirelessly to ensure that a priceless cultural heritage will be claimed. His whole career could be interpreted a plea — or perhaps a demand — for appreciation of music. Marsh is out to proselytize us with the notion that popular music should never be a shallow or narrow experience. A noble goal, considering that the American public’s current listening patterns speak mostly of the power of market specialization. Preach on, Brother Marsh.