During three seasons of work with "Northern Exposure," Marshall got to know Darren E. Burrows, who played the Native American character of "Ed" on the show. This turned out to be a major turning point in Marshall’s musical career. "One day on the set he said ‘When are you going to get that recording done?’" Marshall said. "I told him I didn’t have the money and he just wrote a check right there while they were putting make-up on." Burrows’ contribution helped Marshall to produce his first CD, A Little Boat and the Big River.
Since then Marshall has released a second CD of Christmas songs called Tasting the Snow, which is on his Chknt record label. Chknt is short for Chuckanut. "I couldn’t afford the vowels," Marshall said to this disbelieving listener. "Really, our banner would have cost too much with them."
After breakfast Marshall and I pedaled down to Whatcom Creek to watch a couple hundred people yanking gargantuan salmon out of the turbid waters. It was a disturbingly beautiful November day and the fish gleamed like fireworks as they were dragged out of their element. We settled in the shadow of a Lummi totem pole, which was spangled with an unusual proliferation of ladybugs, and I asked Marshall about his goals and future plans.
"In many ways I have already met my ultimate goal," Marshall said. "And that is that people get inspired to do other forms of art from my music. My goal is to get others to play violin, write a poem, or whatever they do, with my music." Marshall encouraged this directly at his sold-out concert on Nov. 15. He invited friends whose poetry or music he enjoyed to share the Allied Arts stage with him during this concert, the first where Marshall was the headline performer. The crowd of about 170 people represented a broad spectrum of the Bellingham community. Old and young, pleasant and scruffy, they were all there listening to the stories that Marshall sawed out of his violin. At least one other dirtbag in the audience besides me was wearing leather.
Despite his continuing success, Marshall plans to stick to his street performer roots. Since he has complete control over the production and distribution of his CDs, he gladly takes donations on an "ability to pay" basis and has contempt for how inaccessible most classical violin experiences are for most people. "There’s nothing more aggravating to me than to hear that it costs 30 bucks to go see the symphony," Marshall said. "There’s enough money out there, you know? I just want to be the people’s violinist, the children’s violinist, the senior citizens on limited income’s violinist. I want to be there for people who don’t normally hear violin music."
Marshall gets great satisfaction by knocking the tuxedo mystique of highbrow classical music to its knees in coffee shops and sidewalks. It is because he is accessible that punk rawk spazmos like me get the chance to hear his poetry-laced compositions. I would not be the first to thank him for the opportunity.
Much of my attraction to his music comes from my interpretation of its latent sadness and gloom. My notes from the concert were riddled with adjectives like brooding, somber and dark. Right next to these I frequently heard something that my untrained ear could only call triumph. I asked Marshall if these sounds mirror some of the events in his life, especially his early years which were difficult by any definition of the term.
"I do take what has happened in my life and I reflect on it throughmy music," Marshall said. "And I try to find a meaning to it and make decisions based on that." He denies that there is any single mood or theme in his music, however, saying that much of that depends on his emotions at the time. "The music just ‘is’," he said.
Since the concert was recorded for his next CD, stories and all, other listeners will be able to determine the impact of his music as it crawls through their brains.
On my way home I went into Quist Violins, a shop I had never before noticed or had purposely ignored. I asked if I could play one of these immaculately crafted instruments of mystery and the proprietor offered me a battle scarred old hag that felt light and fragile in my clumsy hands like a recreated bat skeleton. I was instantly impressed by how complete my ability to create annoying noises was. There was not any semblance of music coming out of this tortured instrument and I did the world a favor by putting it down immediately. If anyone is going to create extraterrestrial noises on a violin I think the task is best left to Marshall.
As much as I continue to revere disturbing music I also have gained appreciation for Marshall’s rawness and talent. I’ll just have to hope that my parents don’t find out.