Dave Marsh is a writer of passionate convictions whose work is designed for engagement. Which is why we're excited that he wrote our cover story on as great a talent as Patty Griffin.
Now, I should clarify that I think the critics we, as readers, most highly prize are the ones we agree with the most. But the ones we are quickest to read are the ones with whom we most deeply disagree. Reading a critic you agree with is an act of confirmation, but reading one with whom you disagree is confrontation, an emotional interaction that defines how much smarter and hipper you are than the idiot in question. This assumption is one of my defining characteristics as an editor. The surest way to make me love a writer is to send a letter saying what a despicable, moronic insect they are. It's not that any bad writer should be so celebrated. If, however, we publish them in the first place, then they meet our admittedly arbitrary standards. Readers' attacks are just confirmation of how thoroughly they are being read. I especially like letters that tell us that they've stopped reading the Chronicle because of one moron or another and then go on to quote the offender in some depth in order to clarify just how stupid and morally corrupt they are.
I bet the people who read Dave Marsh the most are the ones who will tell you just how wrong he is the quickest. The first Rolling Stone Record Guide, which he edited and wrote huge chunks of, was a favorite bedside/bathroom book for years (I've somehow misplaced it). Sure, for information it was great, but also because it guaranteed intellectual excitement with precious little effort -- just open to almost any page. What Marsh hates, he despises, and what he loves, he celebrates, and, if it is music from Detroit during a certain time, he deifies. His The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made is almost as good as the record guide, although as I've grown older I find myself agreeing with him more, which is not necessarily a good sign. Although he still manages to be spectacularly wrong on both what he includes and excludes.
I remember the first time I met Dave Marsh, though through a haze of a lot of wine. Well over a decade ago, my wife Annie and I were staying with Maggie Renzi and John Sayles at their townhouse in Hoboken, N.J. They had a Return of the Secaucus Seven-style family dinner (which pretty much defines their lifestyle) overrun with people, food, wine, and talk. The dinner was as much so we could meet Dave as anything. Maggie made some dish full of cheese and sausage and everything else the food police (Annie) usually wouldn't allow near my mouth, but, thank God, we were guests. I often think of it late at night when I remember previous culinary delights through a haze of no wheat, broccoli, endless fruit, tofu onion dip, and soy milk.
Dave and I disagreed about everything. Arguing about books, about movies, and especially about music, we found precious little common ground, except how much we both enjoyed the argument. That and telling Ed Ward stories, but that was more out of a perverse sense of friendship than anything.
Over the past few years, Marsh has become a consistent Austin visitor, turning up regularly for SXSW or if Springsteen comes to town (not only is Marsh his biographer, but his wife Barbara Carr helps manage the Boss). Usually I see him in passing. We exchange affection rather than spar, which seems out of character for both of us. In Austin, he is particularly fond of KUT music director and SXSW panels consultant Jeff McCord, which if you know Jeff -- and Cathy Crane, his wife and one of the most charming folks about -- makes perfect sense (think two pedants in one boat).
I remember the last time I saw him quite well. It was at a dinner in Upper Nyack hosted by dancer Marta Renzi (Maggie's sister) and writer Daniel Wolff (author of the recently acclaimed Ernest C. Withers, The Memphis Blues Again: Six Decades of Memphis Music Photographs and of the previously acclaimed biography of Sam Cooke). Neighbors director Nancy Savoca (True Love, Dogfight) and producer Richard Guay (True Love, Ghost Dog) were also over. As usual Marsh held forth, dropping opinions and famous names with equal abandon. Talking about Patty Griffin, as he did again and again, however, he grew positively tender. His enthusiasms are great, and this one was on fire.
The next day we had the sweetest lunch with him near his home in Connecticut, where Annie and he talked (rather than he and I arguing), mostly about family and health, showing the not-unexpected but still a little surprising tender and loving side of Dave.
What was not surprising, though, was when Music Editor Raoul Hernandez, with whom Marsh gets along famously, suggested we get him to write on Patty Griffin. Which is all a very long way of saying how excited we are to have Dave Marsh writing for the Chronicle. Especially on as great a talent as Griffin and one whom he is so passionate about. After all, passion more than anything else defines Griffin as much as it does Marsh. What a sweet marriage of artist and writer we get to present.