Category Archives: Graham Parker

Our Friends, the Scum

Spoiler alert: Graham Parker line of the day contained at the end.

I was watching one of those American History/book review channels that nobody ever watches and was amazed by a theory put forth by a History Professor Emeritus. It was her theory, and the HER being somewhat relevant, that all American History might be different but for the fact that Dolley Madison wanted to keep the slaves of James Madison after his death. She posited, on the flimsiest of evidence, that James Madison had a will that freed his slaves but Dolley destroyed that will in favor of an earlier will which was probated and did not free his slaves. It was Professor’s theory that had the Father of the Constitution freed his slaves, America would have grown into a better place and might have found a better solution to its national disgrace (my words…holocaust is better) and perhaps might have avoided its civil war. What bullshit!

 

On better evidence, I am a true Blumrosian, convinced that the American Revolution was fought specifically or at least partially for the very purpose of preserving slavery against the movement in England against the institution (see Slave Nation by Alfred and Ruth Blumrosen). The Declaration of Independence and Constitution reek of concern for the preservation of local law in the face of national concerns. Yet the Blumrosens, and my work applauding theirs, http://idiscoveredamerica.com/?p=443 , has been held in universal contempt, only recently getting some grudging acceptance from some historians. In this context, the work of this Professor, who seems to actually blame a woman for the civil war, is just more avoidance of the truth of the matter…that some of the men who founded this nation…. specifically, Washington, Jefferson, Marshall, and Madison, were lying scum who never could acknowledge their blindness to the horrors that they perpetrated.

 

And one word about Dolley Madison. She was a straight shooter who acknowledged her privilege as a southern slave owner. She had her faults, but hypocrisy was not one of them. She did not cause the civil war, nor did she corrupt otherwise incorruptible men. We did not inherit her world, but we did inherit the world of the Founders and that affects us to this day. And speaking of scum… here is the Graham Parker line of the day. From Ambiguous on Don’t Ask Columbus…”and the meek shall inherit the earth from their friends the scum.”

The Graham Parker Duo featuring Brinsley Schwarz at the Kate 5/4/17

The Graham Parker Duo featuring Brinsley Schwarz

“The Kate”

5/4/2017

According to Graham Parker, Brinsley Schwarz does not like to play behind anyone else. I can see why. With GP he not only gets to recreate some of the most memorable guitar lines in rock history, but he also can let his lyrical side flow freely. I normally do not like shows where the performers are “up there” and the listeners are “down here” but “The Kate” (The Katherine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, with some connection to Katherine Hepburn which I did not pursue) manages to maintain an intimacy with perfect sound, unfortunately missing at some of the dive bars GP has been known to frequent. So it was a beautiful show. We all have our favorites…GP dusted off Devil’s Sidewalk, Between You and Me, and Lunatic Fringe (why ever would that one be relevant now?). Just a magnificent Disney’s America and Long Emotional Ride and well, everything else. Since there are no NY shows in this short tour, why not play New York Shuffle? Brinsley’s song, You Missed Again, was a high point, tough to do when you are standing next to formerly America’s, first and again England’s, greatest song writer. Here then is the set list:

Watch the Moon Come Down

Between You and Me

Stop Crying About the Rain

Fools Gold

Devil’s Sidewalk

Lunatic Fringe

Socks & Sandals

Disney’s America

You Missed Again

Stick To Me

Heat Treatment

Discovering Japan

Long Emotional Ride

Pub Crawl

New York Shuffle

Don’t Let It Break You Down

White Honey

—-

You Can’t Be Too Strong

Hold Back the Night

 

 

(Wish I’d been there…sounds like a blast!)

 

 

Not White, Not Black…Purple

Not White, Not Black…Purple

“I spent my year on the roof staring up at the stars, Wondering if I was from mars…”

                                                                                                                         Graham Parker

As a supposed white guy who has been forever working on a novel with the tentative title of I AM BILL RICHMOND about America’s first black sport superstar, I feel somewhat qualified to comment about the current issue of racial identity in America. This issue reminds me of a friend I had in High School too many years ago who would insist that inside her heart she was not white, nor black, but more like purple.

I see three kinds of Americans. The largest group I will call the Copacetics. Most white Americans and many recent immigrants fall into this group. The Copacetics basically like America and like the world. They view America as the land of opportunity where with hard work anyone can attain their piece of the American Dream. They trust in the founding fathers and especially in the Constitution and when something in America needs fixing they see in her structure the political means to affect change. Their heroes include Washington, Adams and especially Jefferson. They’re motto is from Jefferson who provided that our government was and continues to be the guarantor of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The second group are the Destructivists. Although they profess to be political reformers they are really anarchists who would never be satisfied with any political system that does not cater to each of their individual whims. They come on both sides of the political spectrum, from tea partyers and religious fanatics to Communists and other radical leftists. Although some of their ideas may inform the common conversation about current issues, their inherent selfishness negates any usefulness they may spout. As a result the Destructivists in America are largely marginalized which is a good thing since when they do attract mainstream attention, as in the recent ascension of the Tea Party, the result is a polarization of the conversation which is inherently destructive to American society. Their motto is “don’t tread on me” as if when they push the world away from their door they will live in the Garden of Eden… It ain’t happening.

The third group, of which I am proudly a member, I will call the Cynics. We see the members of the Copacetics and wonder how they can believe all that bullshit. We see some of the founding fathers as little more than the slaveholders that they were, and other founding fathers as apologists and accommodators to the slaveholding class. We hold that the government they set in motion was rife with the destructive forces that directly lead to untold misery through slavery, oppression of Native Americans, and civil war. An impure institution set up by impure men. The America that has been delivered to us as their progeny is a lie and an illusion based on hundreds of years of bad history and that lie continues to make solutions to our problems elusive. We are not like the Destructivists; we do have a positive goal. It is our core belief that problems cannot be solved until they are understood in an historical context and that America just doesn’t get it. America continues to worship the very leaders and laws that continually got it into trouble. We believe that it is of primary importance to recognize the basic flaws of our founders and our government in order to find our common heritage. Then perhaps we will find real solutions to our common problems. I don’t think it is a big statement to say that most American blacks are Cynics like me. A Copacetic sees a dollar bill and enjoys the freedom to spend it as he/she sees fit. A Destructivist wants to burn it and everything that it represents even though that would leave him/her without a means for improvement. A Cynic wants George Washington to be recognized as an evil man who should be removed from the bill. Put a hero like Frederick Douglas or Clara Barton on it so that it can be spent proudly. Cynics do not hate America, quite the contrary they love the promise of America. Our hero is Abraham Lincoln who fought a war because it was the only way to fix America’s biggest problem. Our motto is “a house divided cannot stand”, and therefore we continually search our history and our conscience for the cancers that divide us to find ways to bring us together as one people.

Which brings me to the idea of racial identification. I have always had difficulty at gatherings of Copacetics. They seem to be living in a dream world with their talk of pretty houses and nice cars as if everything in the world is just as it should be. Perhaps I am jealous. It would be nice to wake up and find a world that I am copacetic about. I’m just not feeling it. So even though my skin is white (sort of) and my culture is white I cannot say that I identify as white because I do not share the primary bond of the group… that they are Copacetic. This does not mean that I identify as black. I did not grow up steeped in black culture and I know that I cannot begin to sense what being black in America is like. Still I think I understand why a white person, especially one with more access to black culture than I, might identify as black. Unfortunately, you cannot fix a lie with another lie so to the degree that there is deception involved I think it unfortunate, but still I have to refrain from judging what one person does in reaction to the feeling of estrangement from their own culture. I know it is a sad thing.

So I think about my high school friend and wonder if there is a way to for Cynics like me to turn purple. It would just say to others that we don’t belong with you and we want our own culture. Like in all cultures, I would enjoy identifying and spending time with like-minded people but it is hard as hell to find us under the present pigment limitations.

 

My 2010 review of Don’t Tell Columbus

When a new Graham Parker album comes out, it gets reviewed by critics and fans who talk about its intelligent lyrics and pop hooks and barroom snarl and signature sound. These things are important and are the things that sell great pop records. And while GP albums have all these things, they also have something that these other albums don’t have the artistic sensibilities of Graham Parker at work. You can’t review artistic sensibilities after a day, a month, or even a year. These are deep thoughts that require a mulling over. As we await a new album, I thought this a fitting time to riff on Graham Parker’s last masterwork, “Don’t Tell Columbus”. It is getting on three years old, just about long enough where it can be really be explored. Columbus and GP might agree that it is never too late to rediscover what already exists.
If Bob Dylan is our Mark Twain “with the blood of the land in his voice”, then in Don’t Tell Columbus Graham Parker lays claim to be our modern Alexis DeToqueville, an alien coming here to teach us about ourselves. And GP is as alien as it gets. The album picks up with his arrival in America in 1976 armed only with the voice of a foreign gecko, an accurate compass and some stolen guitar licks. GP has since well spent his time moving here and looking in America’s closet to continue the act of discovery, both of himself and America. Here he finds all sorts of mishmash and characters. Yet, interestingly, the story he gives us is not is the story of a nation in decline. Although not without fault, GP’s America emerges again and again as “the last best hope on earth,” which Lincoln called us smack dab in the middle of our national torment. GP discovers in America and himself what each generation of immigrant can discover. When all seems crazy or lost, “that’s when I found hope.”
Wikipedia says Pete Doherty, the subject of England’s Latest Clown, is an English musician, artist, writer and poet. Really! I am impressed. What do any of those words mean? Wasn’t that the same description America bestowed on that rock star Graham Parker in 1976? Visionary…or as transparent as worn out socks? Artist or clown? “They build you up to let you down” GP once lamented, but now it has gotten ugly …”we want the story grim, we wish that he was dead already and we wish we were him.” I find it amazing that there is a guy who is in his late fifties, who lives in upstate New York, who is oft compared to Bob Dylan, who continues to turn out the most thoughtful and relevant work around and you can see him play these amazing songs from ten feet away for next to nothing and talk to him after the show. Yet the world chooses instead to follow some new clown. Ah, given the choice who would not like to be young and dating Kate Moss.
Ambiguous is such a great word. Am…Big…You…Us. A song about that word could go in a lot of directions and GP just lets the syllables slide. Mark Twain said that “if voting made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it” but here we are satisfied to vote for the candidate with the nicest tie. Yes, just let it slide… and when your rivers fill up with linoleum or ammonium or whatever ‘um, well, I guess that’s what you get when you let it slide.
The first three songs are but appetizers for the rest. GP is ready for the meat with the album’s big Kahuna, The Other Side Of The Reservoir. While evocative of old Van Morrison journeys where VM hard noses real highways, GP’s journey is more to the Twilight Zone than to Cypress Avenue. “ It ‘s too late to stop now…,” GP would add to this song in tribute when he played it live as if the mind’s journey could ever reach an end. The song seems to be about a place in Upstate New York that used to exist until it was drowned asunder by a Reservoir built to supply water to New York City. That place does exist, but finding the people and place in the song is a bit harder. Maybe they are in the old photographs, maybe not. Maybe they are in our memories, but those are fading too and “not designed to last”. It is a song and an album about what divides, and what bridges the divides. Where there are oceans, GP is the explorer. Water divides us, time divides us, space divides us, war divides us, and our selves divide us. We need our explorers and discoverers to unite us. We need our bridges.
I don’t know much about the Clifton Suspension Bridge in England (Jon Stewart says Americans learn our geography from finding those countries who attack us on a world map), but I know the story of the song Suspension Bridge. I grew up a couple of miles from the Verrazano Bridge in Brooklyn and was seven years old when it opened in 1964. The weekend it opened my dad packed up my mom, sister and me and voluntarily put us in the worst traffic jam in the history of the world and we crossed over the bridge into Staten Island and then did a u-turn and came back. This year my father died. When my niece, his granddaughter, stood on the Verrazano Bridge the other day as she prepared to run the NYC marathon, did she know that my dad drove her mother and me over that bridge when we were just kids? Would she get the CONNECTION? Do you get it? “Not in one world or the other… Suspension Bridge.”
Can someone explain to me why Monet’s paintings of the Bridge at Giverny….are more important than GP’s song “Suspension Bridge”? Monet painted that bridge over and over. GP sings “they just finished painting the metal then they’d have to start all over again”. Maybe Monet just could not get it right. Maybe there are artists who paint bridges and there are painters who paint bridges. I suspect that an art form, perhaps begun by David and his Lute, is being perfected here, right before our ears. It was Springsteen who said “I learned more from a three minute record than I ever learned in school…” Who decides the value of things if not your own heart?
I don’t think the passing of three years is enough time to properly explore the next two songs. At least not for me. In Love or Delusion and Total Eclipse of the Moon, GP explores Pynchonian notions of what is real and what is not, and how we may survive in a big indifferent world. Van Gogh once said, “there is no blue without yellow and without orange” but nobody bought his records either. To GP “the sky is only blue if you think it is…” raising not some notion of relative reality, but more a notion that a shared reality may be wrong. Pynchon said that ‘‘delusions are always officially defined”. GP’s answer is that you have to define the world yourself because you can’t count on anyone else to get it right and “there is nothing there to trust”. Your existence doesn’t mean a drop in the ocean when the forces of nature take control and rip at your humanity. All you can do is try to hold it together and hope that neither nature nor your puny reaction to it rips your heart apart. Hope for love and hope it is not delusion.
In “Stick to the Plan” GP looks inside our closet at the cast of characters that make us America. With a carnival blues tune derivative of every song on Highway 61 Revisited, GP mails this one to us straight form Desolation Row. Presidents, newsmen, politicians, movie characters, academics, military leaders, prison guards, preachers, airport workers…they are all here and all silly. It is hard to watch the nightly talking heads we call news without thinking that “too much intelligence gets in the way…” Mark Twain said, “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.” There is no more accurate vision of America of the WBush era. Yet like all great songs it is already evolving. Once, to me, the words “Stick to the Plan” was a mock of a mantra about staying in a bad war…damn the torpedoes. Somehow, after the Obama election, the song becomes a motto for the American Dream. Alexis DeTocqueville was 26 in 1831 when he came to America and first explained us to ourselves. He wrote that the greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults. Whether or not you like the new boss, you have to admit that in America good things can happen if we “stick to the plan”. We just can’t lose hope.
Stick to the Plan ushers in the next three monumental songs which deal with the big issues of despair, hope and redemption. Somebody Saved Me comes out to you like it is another gospel song about being saved. But although the hole is deep, the getting out is very secular. “I did not need faith or belief, I did not need God or some other illusion, I was not dead and I was not weak. I just needed someone, someone to save me.” Take that, he who said “Nobody to rescue me, nobody would dare, I was going down for the last time, but by his mercy I’ve been spared”. Perhaps in this secular world the artist is priest and the art is savior.
How do you write a hopeful song about our post 911 world. Think of DeTouqueville…Americans are good at repairs. You start with what is left…”Twisted shards of Metal silhouetted against the sky, the dust may never settle…” And then you work it through. In “Hard Side of the Rain” GP does not minimize the tragedy of 911, he just works through it to where he can proclaim “well you can’t win every battle, but you can win some.” He is not here talking about one battle in the War against Terrorism. It is the battle of hope against despair. In “Bullet of Redemption” GP shows us what happens when there is no hope and only despair. It is untenable. The prolific songwriter admits “there was nothing I could say”. If this is a world without hope, then it is the artists who have failed.
“All Being Well” puts a tight cap on the lid of this jar of Americana. In the style of an immigrant folk song, we are not quite at the end yet, but closer to the end than the beginning. “I’ll see you when the road stops winding…” GP sings, as if this boney chested kid can finally see the end of the road. Soon there will be time to look back at all the characters, from Columbus to Forrest Gump, but we are not quite there yet. The day will come when our eyes will trick us and our hearts may not work so well but “I won’t let go despite it all”, because where there is art there is hope.

It is probably not a double meaning that this album is a Bullet of Redemption. Once it is out there, it has its own trajectory and can get stuck inside your heart. The world may reject it and relegate it to its second hand bin but I can’t calculate its worth. It just keeps blowing me away…blowing me away…
——–

Graham Parker’s 150 best lines

Here are GP’s best 150 lines…In order!

by Jerry Leibowitz

1. I wouldn’t lie to you unless I had to of course!
2. Lightning strikes at everyone, but only hits the very lucky
3. I know what I’m doing; I just can’t stop doing it
4. Yes I’m aware of exactly what I’m doing Making everything a mystery
5. I know the language of your heart better than the alphabet
6. (When) after all the urges some kind of truth emerges
7. There’s nothing to hold onto when gravity betrays you
8. There’s a wheel in my hand but I can’t steer
9. I don’t appeal to the masses and they don’t appeal to me
10. Hey baby, I’m out of favour. Can’t always be the right flavor
11. you know baby I kick your heart where the others only miss
12. I got scars all over my passport
13. Get your tight blue jeans out and try to get ‘em on
14. Don’t pay no attention to what the experts say, too much intelligence gets in the way
15. I don’t wanna tie you up anymore and leave you to dangle, with too many knots to untangle
16. Imagination’s one thing that comes easy to me
17. Your love letters are confetti I ripped them up my hands were sweaty
18. still it’s not a whole life story is it, its just a page I turned and there you were in it
19. I know my place, I just can’t stay there
20. I been doing my homework now for a long long time
21. 24 years just obeying the rules, No wonder I’m half-insane
22. She’ll attempt to resist and pretend I don’t exist when I do
23. And in the darkest night she takes a telescope, looks through the wrong end and loses hope
24. people think I’m full of hate, they’ve got it wrong thats out of date
25. Crimson autograph is what we leave behind, everywhere that man sets foot
26. I get a thrill out of tampering with the atmosphere
27. HER CHEAP CHIPPED BLACK NAILS PICK THE THREADS OUT OF A SUTURE THAT WAS HOLDIN’YOUR LIFE FAST
28. The dust may never settle
29. Take your heart of glass and put on a bevel
30. To me it looked like a failure, but they called it victory
31. You can’t measure these things by weight, they either drag you down or they lift you
32. Even the skeptics are unsure
33. All the chains around you could not keep you prisoner, they haven’t been forged yet
34. Crawling from the wreckage, into a brand new car
35. Everyone said quit now, that’s when I found hope
36. Everybody’s talking ’bout the state of their health and I’m not feeling so good myself
37. The meek shall inherit the earth from their friends the scum
38. There must be gold where fools are; that’s what we are
39. We sit and polish our wedding rings
40. I try to pull my weight, study my geography, it doesn’t seem to get me anywhere
41. I’m not on any team; not after what I’ve seen
42. I’m not a hero or even someone who does good. I’m not made of iron or steel or stone or gold or bronze or wood
43. it’s only a theory so don’t place any bets yet
44. Inside of everyone someone lurks, they don’t even know
45. I was playing with words (no-one could understand a thing). They’d never get the drift of it
46. They tell you there’s no chance for love to be stable when everything shakes
47. We drifted apart like runoff into the Chesapeake Bay
48. The dreams and hopes of men are powered by addiction. Who am I to say that this is an affliction?
49. My synapses fire like anything
50. There’s a siren blowing in your heart, you just don’t want to hear it
51. Someone spread this virus all around the world till it got to us and now we just sit back and let things slide
52. The past aint even worth living in, it’s just a nail that keeps being driven in
53. They murdered the clown Still the world’s not a funnier place
54. You don’t have to sell your soul, just kind of let it
55. They got it wrong, as usual
56. There’s a lot of versions of the honest truth
57. Some came home their pants in creases Some came home in bits and pieces The president made a lot of speeches and went fishing for the day
58. I will smooth the edges from my roughness and lose the venom in my toughness
59. If this is a game I don’t wanna play
60. In the desert that passes for my heart, sweet rain is falling tonight
61. Sometimes it hurts so bad I don’t know where the pain is
62. You got to keep on making turns there is no turning back
63. At least no one’s thirsty anymore
64. So come out of the bitter wind melt that ice deep within On the first day of spring
65. Checked my pulse Yep, still alive
66. We’re closer when we are apart
67. Has rock & roll just died or does it just smell bad?
68. There’s been a seismic shift, I felt the whole earth quiver
69. Now I keep my mouth shut and do just what I’m told
70. My best friend’s a hillbilly With a moonshine still Actually I’m lyin’ He’s an accountant named Bill
71. You go in with pneumonia, come out with just a heavy cold
72. I GOT MY DUNCE’S CAP AND CARDBOARD SWORD AND I’M DROOLIN’ AS YOU TALK TO ME YOU SAY I SHOULD BE IN A MENTAL WARD THAT MIGHT SEEM LIKE HOME TO ME
73. SYPHILIS & RELIGION TWO THINGS YOU COULD PROBABLY DO WITHOUT
74. These are your wounds now go and lick them
75. “I was on Bunkum”
76. You thought you had a good grip on reality, it just disappeared
77. Come on baby hold me, one last time before There is nothing to hold anymore
78. you’re our last customer. You’re our last hope
79. Somebody yelled hey my head’s on fire
80. The odour of stupidity isn’t too sweet
81. We’re always running and we don’t know what we’re running from
82. Now you’re vacant that’s your lot
83. I pulled too tight when we tied the knot
84. You try to get high again but it’s like time-lapse photography
85. The world is full of little people like you. They have to read a book to learn what to do
86. Sure there’ll be another war sure as sure the call-up will come calling
87. If you wanna be a jester you better get a funny hat
88. I resolve to solve this problem and be the one you need and one day you’ll see you will call me “Mr Tender”(BQ)
89. We look into each other’s eyes and understand Why true love is in such demand
90. All our information comes from junk mail
91. They can rip out bits of me that should keep them fed
92. These dreams will never sleep
93. Lovers get caught just the same in the thunder and rain
94. She’s a living example of God’s bad taste
95. They all see the money and they start to drool
96. I am going to get my feelings across the gulf that divides me and you
97. Being a reporter is a glamorous trade You don’t even have to tell the truth to get paid
98. All this praise it’s just a passing phase
99. If I had what I haven’t got, a second chance a second shot I’d be something that I’m not, I’d be worthy of your love
100. everything you put on is a put-on
101. Her wedding gown has been burned to ashes Fanned by the flutter of her false (eye) lashes
102. The pop machine has new agendas now Gangsta’s girls and jerks
103. I remember the way you looked when we first met, There are some things in this world you can’t forget
104. And you’ll never discover why it’s like an old lover you can’t touch anymore It doesn’t mean much anymore when you go back in time
105. So take a seat there’s plenty spare, fill a gaping hole, That’s what I do every night somewhere in my soul
106. That monkey who used to be so funky (i)s now working for the bureau de no change
107. I’ve dug my own grave, please don’t let me lie in it Instead let’s bury everything that caused us pain
108. The movie might be new but it’s the same soundtrack
109. There must be so much to discuss
110. I saw the big dipper and then the big bopper and realized how much time had gone by
111. You turn stone into flesh baby and I almost get human
112. I’m not peddling fiction, I’m not packaging youth I’ve got a predilection for the truth
113. The world is easy when you’re just playing around with it
114. Everybody just looks ugly now
115. You should see yourself go to your optician
116. as the flight touches down my watch says 8:02 but that’s midnight to you
117. Instead of throwing myself at my wife, I’m throwing a log
118. The future’s not a certainty , Its only a direction
119. It’s all excuses baby all a stall
120. If this is heaven what must it be like in hell
121. You might run away with the circus for fun But it looks more like somewhere that you’d run from
122. That’s one man who can say “No Thanks, Thanksgiving Day”
123. Why can’t a woman be more like a man, instead of complicated?
124. TAAFOIYH.(A51)there’s an area 51 in your heart
125. Nothing so much has ever been mine before
126. If only I had said the things I’ve never said
127. Took up every fashion until everything went fake
128. You can’t break a heart that doesn’t respond
129. Not everybody wants to be soothed
130. Why is so much left undone and so much left unsaid?
131. She’s not something you handle like cash
132. Those are not goats heads rolling everywhere
133. The missionary’s position is clear
134. When we are old, We won’t have poverty or destitution, We will be able to afford a nursing home or an institution
135. Those puerile incantations in couplets or quatrains
136. Californians say, have a real nice day
137. I‘m so over it I don’t even mind
138. I just let them get on with it arrange the coronation I just didn’t turn up
139. I got my act together OK its just an act
140. They’ll wind up in tomorrows fried rice
141. I spent my year on the roof, staring up at the stars wondering if I was from mars
142. We’re all downsizing what we do with our lives
143. I can see a lot but its not always crystal clear
144. It’s a far- fetched tale but you can’t make this stuff up
145. Who does not feel fractured too like Broken skin
146. Long ago I felt my empathy wane
147. Its not enterprising to grapple with the past
148. The trail has a lot of turns and one of them just made me pay
149. There seems to be some secret that everybody onto
150. The cells I used to be have all since gone to waste and in the coming year I will all be replaced
_________
109

Three Chords Good

by Jerry Leibowitz

“If you got something to cry about, come on baby let it out, let it out…”

How do you break with a past to move on? I’m quite sure most singer/songwriters would get a new band and explore unchartered territory. But, of course, Graham  Parker does it all wrong. Oh so wrong. He gets his old band together and revisits old territory. This album starts with an intro right out of his first record. Then in Coathangers he revisits the one subject that many people think he shouldn’t have touched in the first place. He boldly goes to where he has already been, but like the Heraclitus river both he and the world have changed. “Maybe I’m just getting old or something…” No, this dog always learns new tricks that he can’t wait to show us.

If recent albums explored the commitment of Graham Parker to his new country and to commitment itself, then Three Chords Good may be GP’s admission that he made a mistake. “I want my money back” he sings of the deal. The Rumour, who were ditched by GP over thirty years ago and reunited for this album, know the value of lost time. GP joins in as they all respond, “Good luck with that Jack”. If the relationship between GP and America and GP and his past and GP and his career is one of love/hate, then perhaps this album explores the darker side, or maybe at least both sides at the same time.

Much of what GP has been up to since his first time with the Rumour is the subject of a recent released film documentary by Michael Gramaglia called Don’t Ask Me Questions. I saw GP perform often during that period, mostly solo but often with his simpatico thoughtful power pop backup up band, the Figgs.  GP was pulling songs of wonder out of his head like cherries, but like our annual cherry tree festival the new stuff would be fodder for discussion for a few weeks and then disappear. His bursts of creative expression went largely undetected to the greater world, in part due to his insistence on staying close to his chosen somewhat bucolic life near Woodstock NY over the intensity of one connected to the music business. On the surface it was all good. Good for his artistic production and really good for us in Parkerville since we could see him regularly, close up, for a couple of bucks, basically whenever we wanted to. We could small talk with him after a show, but there was always a sense that he really was someplace else, or that the wall between artist and audience was impenetrable. As he suggests in Long Emotional Ride, it has taken him this long to learn that you are never separate from the story when you are reporting the story. Perhaps GP has grown to understand that it is time for him to step up and acknowledge his place in the universe.  His reunion with The Rumour may have been spurred on by the documentary, but their appearance in This Is Forty was serendipity in action. He might be “surrounded by rear view mirrors” but it was clearly time to look forward and embrace his job as chronicler or minstrel, or dare I say, artist.

This set of songs is what happens when an artist decides to go below the surface of a seemingly peaceful existence. He once said “when I tell the truth it’s like pulling a tooth…” and there is quite a bit of dentistry going on here. On Three Chords Good, GP employs a series of personas that let him look at his predicament from every point of view. There is some beauty here and the songs She Rocks Me and Old Soul and That Moon Was Low reflect a songwriter in his element digging for some easy truth.  But he does dare to go deeper. “I took one step into the abyss, one step into the void, one step further than I’ve ever been into something I might want to avoid”.  The man who once playfully discovered that his corner of America was the “pork capital of the world” now realizes it is “the Snake Oil capital of the world”. The horror is not that he bought the Snake Oil, everybody does that to some degree, but the greater realization is that  he too became a purveyor. Buyer and seller, victim and perpetrator. “You need my medicine in massive doses…”, he tells the listening world in a Snake Oil haze. GP thought he had an accurate compass now only to find that it got him lost. “That old weird America, never went anywhere…” Forget trying to find this America with your GPS unless it is tuned to Graham Parker Songs.

Even more so than the perceptive yet simpler Imaginary Television (2010), there are songs here that question our perceptions of reality. In Arlington’s Busy, the persona realizes that “while I was sleepwalking” a phony world was created. That is what happens to the passive. Where should we get our news from, war mongers with a vested interest or, as GP sings, that “kid with a guitar from the neighborhood”.  If anyone is going to create or explain reality, perhaps it should be an artist and not a politician. But GP, of course, was never asleep, and never ignorant. He had visited this theme in Stick To The Plan and 2000 Funerals and Short Memories. Like most of us this persona just chose not to look; not to address the false reality that was created. That was part of the bad deal. “Give me a slice and a coke”, he says, asserting that it is just easier to leave it alone and take care of yourself. But, for whatever reason,  one day that reality comes home, here in the form of dead bodies from the forgotten war. “I’m heading for peace talks while you’re arming for war”, he sings to finger snaps in Live in Shadows. “This shit’s gotta be stopped”. Wake up and get out from the dark, he seems to be telling himself as he pretends to be telling us. Three Chords Good is prelude to perhaps the most out there period in GP’s career since his early days with the Rumour. This journey is not to be measured in records sold but in the amount of truth told.

Rounding out the high plateau of this work is Last Bookstore in Town. Maybe it is a bookend answer to Snake Oil Capital of the World, as GP rethinks himself to realize that he is selling something worthwhile after all. The kazoo is always a sly hint that something big is going on. Old and new, bad and good, fiction and fact, there has to be a guide out there who can tell us what is useful and what is not in this higgledy-piggledy stew of world knowledge. The song seems Orwellian in its assertion of the danger of real knowledge to those in power. “A lot of smart cookies want to burn it to the ground…” But the radical keepers of the knowledge hide out as spinster owners and smelly nose-studded clerks. Perhaps also as comedians (there is a riff on a Bill Hicks comedy routine, RIP). Or maybe songwriters. Of course, on the surface GP declines to serve as that guide as he already noted that…”you can’t count minutes on a broken clock”… but more likely he is just providing cover for the true insurgency when he sings, perhaps referring to this album…”There’s nothing here worth reading, I really must confess”.  GP has a great way of conveying truth by having his persona tell the lies. Have no doubt that he is lurking in the philosophies, the biographies  and the experimental prose, playing dumb. “Someone get me out of here, before I get as smart as you…” his smart-ass self says.  And then he turns to us, his listeners and asks…”WHY YOU READING?” Why are you listening to me? If you don’t want to hear the truth then don’t give a guitar to a kid or a pen to a writer. You must realize the danger.

The Big Kahuna on this album is A Lie Gets Halfway ‘Round the World (while the truth gets its boots on). The title line is often attributed to Mark Twain who probably borrowed it from an earlier work. “Only steal from the best…” GP is often known to say, and he can’t do any better than Mark Twain who, like GP, often masked his serious nature with humor or simplicity. His repetition of the word “Li”, while reminiscent of hundreds of songs such as Paul Simon’s Boxer, really goes back to the hidden “I lie” of GP’s Fool’s Gold (1976), the song he used to kick off each of the concerts on his recent tour. This was the songwriter who once sang “I wouldn’t lie to you unless I had to (of course)”, now suggesting to us that maybe the whole thing is a big lie. Every seller, even those pretending to be artistic, may be just great hucksters who game the system and play the rest of us for fools. We don’t even see it “sitting in the front row”. The Snake Oil is fully digested here, and the drinker is spewing. He’d sell Coathangers if he could make a buck. Yet, for me, the cleverness of the song is that the Devil is confessing his sins, something the real hucksters never do. And the joke of it is that we don’t mind, as long as the Snake Oil works for us. Quite a racket, if you ask me.

The Rumour hasn’t lost a step here. From the frenetic to the sublime, they provide all the right touches to this difficult musical journey. I think Bob Andrews must have gotten his copy of the songs earlier than the rest because musically this is his album, The keyboards soar then they grunt then they jump then they tickle then they soar again and then they are incredibly subtle. His work on Old Soul is such a tour de force that it could have appeared without words, perhaps the highest compliment I can give to a song written by music’s greatest wordsmith. As great as all the musicianship is on A Lie Gets Halfway Around the World, Bob Andrews closes the song like a marathon runner running a sprint to the finish, leaving behind nothing but dust. Reportedly, GP broke his hand trying to keep up, a statement that might as well be true.

Like all great artistic expression, ultimately the success of Three Chords Good lies in the beauty and power of its eternal message. GP is muse to us and as he says of his own muse “I wanna fall under your spell…” Here GP finally confesses that he does not perform for his present faithful listeners, but for something he calls “posterity”. Who will be listening then and what will they hear? None of us have got the foggiest idea. Posterity takes a long time to answer. I do suspect there is something here that might be useful to anyone who dares to deal with it. Yea, GP’s been doing his homework, a long, long, long time.  Every song is both craft and revelation and this worthy effort provides the world with a new river to step in. He is never the same, we are never the same and the world is never the same. Here he continues his quest to try to figure it all out and explain it to us. The world could sure use his help.