Monday, April 26, 2010

Cut the Cable and Get Grahm Parker's Imaginary Television

Today, staff writer Scott Goldstein participates in our very own 'take your dad to work' day and let's his father Steve tell us all why it might be a very good idea to pick up the new Graham Parker album. Read the article, buy the record and call your dad for goodness sakes!

As Scott has written on this blog, people often associate particular songs with events in their own lives, and I’m no exception. So let me take you back in time gentle readers . . . before returning to the present.

The year was 1979, and I was just a college freshman. Two of the great new rock’n roll albums getting airplay on Philadelphia’s WMMR at the time were Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps and Graham Parker’s Squeezing Out Sparks. Nearly everyone of course already knew Neil Young. Unfortunately, not all that many were familiar with Graham Parker.

Squeezing Out Sparks, produced by the legendary Jack Nitzche, rocked from the get-go, with the opening seesaw notes of “Discovering Japan.” The ferocious sound should have been no surprise. Parker had recently released “Mercury Poisoning,” a diatribe against Mercury Records for bungling his career and keeping him “the best kept secret in the West.” (If you want to hear perhaps the most hard-charging three minute concoction of guitars, drums, horns, and angry-yet-humorous vocals since The Who’s, “The Real Me,” give that tune a spin.) And Parker was accompanied by the kick-ass band, The Rumour, on that album. But, it was the lyrics that I liked best. Listen to his depiction of the people involved in an abortion in “You Can’t Be Too Strong,” and the conclusion is inescapable--the rocker has a brain and the courage to address difficult subjects with honesty.

Fast forward some twelve years to 1991. Parker had moved to America and settled with his family in upstate New York. That year saw him release the criminally underrated, Struck by Lightning, which in my humble opinion remains the best album of his career. It’s a wonderful collection of songs, many of them simpler, quieter tunes that focus on the joys of family life. For example, “Children and Dogs” offers a hilarious, spot-on portrayal of children and their passionate, yet fleeting, desires, while “And It Shook Me” portrays the ongoing romance between the singer and his wife. The album certainly resonated with me; my wife and I were raising two young children when I heard the album for the first time. (One of those youngsters would grow up to write about The National on this blog after his Parker-lovin’ pop introduced him to the band).

Parker’s writing reached new heights on that album, demonstrating that “You Can’t Be Too Strong” was no aberration. Consider “The Kid With the Butterfly Net,” about a parent looking at his daughter running through the fields and wistfully thinking about what his own life could have been:

And when you look into her eyes
You see what you want
when everything was undone
every field was open
nothing was impossible yet
for the kid with the butterfly net

Or how about these lines from “A Brand New Book”:

I once read the story of
somebody’s life
I had a few moments to spare
He was a good man who lived
with his wife
With the usual kids in his hair

**** *** ***
I pulled it by chance from a
second hand bin
But it could’ve been written
just for me
Because the words came out
Not twist and shout
Cause that’s not what a grown
man writes about
That chapter’s over, let it blow
I found that I’ve become the
Of a brand new book

Since Struck By Lightning, Parker has released a steady stream of albums, some better than others. The better ones include 1995’s Twelve Haunted Episodes and especially 2007’s Don’t Tell Columbus . But even his more forgettable albums during that span contain some keepers, such as Deep Cut To Nowhere’s “High Horse,” about the baddest animal in the whole damn zoo that is humanity—“I’m a talkin’ about the high horse, get off your high horse”—and Songs of No Consequence’s “Dislocated Life” about alienation.

Cut to the present, because Graham Parker has just released a brand new album called Imaginary Television featuring the “theme songs” for TV shows that Parker conjured up in his head. After listening to it several times, I’m happy to report that the year 2010 finds Mr. Parker in especially fine form. Perhaps it is the silly, frivolous nature of so much of what is on real--or imagined--TV, but Imaginary Television for the most part seems lighter in tone than many of his recent albums. There are two incredibly catchy tunes here: “See Things My Way” and “Bring Me a Heart Again.” Also not to be missed is “You’re Not Where You Think You Are,” where Parker paints a portrait of man spooked by too many changes. But my current favorite is Parker’s utterly gorgeous cover of Johnny Nash’s “More Questions Than Answers.” Now that he has aged quite a bit (haven’t we all?), Parker brings even more cred than usual to the chorus that he sings over the hypnotic reggae beat: “There are more/questions than answers . . . /And the more I find out /the less I know.” With his gruff vocals mixed more up front and in your face than Charlie Watts’ drumming in a 1960’s Stones bootleg, Parker simply makes that song his own. In short, Imaginary Television offers a very enjoyable experience for much less than the cost of one month’s cable bill. And with Parker approaching the ripe old age of 60, Imaginary Television is proof positive of what good ol’ Neil sang so many years ago on Rust Never Sleeps: “Hey hey, my my/Rock and roll will never die.”

More good news: You can see Graham Parker perform live on Saturday night May 1 at Jammin' Java in Vienna, Virginia. Don’t miss the man who knows that passion is no ordinary word.

Steve Goldstein


  1. Great piece. I have to admit I knew very little about Graham Parker before reading this. It's a good piece of writing that can review something new while informing me about its past as well.

  2. Flyers should listen to GP for inspiration.

    I just read your blog aloud to Elkins Park audience. Rave reviews from Graham Cracker on Graham Parker.