Speaking in Strums

A home-schooled innocent joins the local folk-pop fraternity

Messersmith moved to Minneapolis to attend North Central University, where he and Vanessa met. Though isolated from Hipster Nation as a kid, he now mixes nicely with local indie-folkies such as Koza and Jeff Hanson, as well as one-man-band eccentrics such as Andrew Broder and Martin Dosh. In performance, he mainly sings and plays acoustic guitar but also screws around with samplers, Casios, and other staples of the looper-songster-possible-crazy-genius subgenre.

During our interview, Messersmith is mild-mannered, intelligent, and self-effacing. You might mistake him for a tech support worker. He is, as it turns out, a tech-support worker. But surely not for long. (Or, perhaps, forever; I cannot predict such things.) He and Vanessa and I walk over to a coffee shop for lunch. They interact the way one hopes couples will interact, which is to say, as if they are in love and seriously comfortable with one another.

Jeremy Messersmith: Sure, he made a record—but he's not gonna shove it down your throat, for Pete's sake
Daniel Corrigan
Jeremy Messersmith: Sure, he made a record—but he's not gonna shove it down your throat, for Pete's sake

Later I listen further to The Alcatraz Kid's closing song. It's a straightforward love song, a wedding song, even, sung in a Paul Simon croon—the kind of thing indie-rockers are often squeamish around. "I'll love your old skin," Messersmith sings, "love your old skin, love your old skin, I'll love your old skin," giving each pass through the line a distinctive lilt or quaver. I, too, am suspicious of sentimentality and will not credit lines such as "Our love was made to last" with great originality. Nor will I deem this song the finest or fourth finest on Messersmith's record. But I admire it: It's both crafty and sincere, and I think it illustrates this guy's talents as well as some of his artier efforts do. You've heard the one about the singer talented enough to turn the Trenton telephone directory into a very long and beautiful aria. Well, here is a songwriter talented enough to take a greeting card and make it smart and correct and pure.

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