In the mid-'70s, there was a mini musical movement termed (probably by music critics) the Angry Young Man Period. The great Elvis Costello was head of that imaginary class, while Joe Jackson was also a student - albeit briefly. Surprising – probably even to him – was Graham Parker's inclusion in this loosely assembled collective. Although he started his career as more of a soul singer, his 1979 album Squeezing Out Sparks had a more stripped-down, punk feel to it, which made it fit right in with a lot of the punk rock that was beginning to break out right around that time. This album was truly a spark of imagination, as it stands up well to this day, packed from start to finish with so many fantastic songs.
Parker has always remained a critic's darling (especially in his native England) even though he never achieved the commercial success that guys like Jackson and Costello attained. Undaunted, Parker continues to record and tour these days with a huge catalogue of wonderful songs. He can be antagonistic and blunt with songs like "Protection" (off of Squeezing Out Sparks), yet surprisingly sensitive, exemplified by the description of flawed males in "Just Like A Man," from his 1993 The Real Macaw album.
The singer/songwriter recently reunited with the Rumour, his backing group in the '70s and '80s that featured guitarists Brinsley Schwarz and Martin Belmont, keyboard/sax man Bob Andrews, bass player Andrew Bodnar, and drummer Steve Goulding. In a stroke of serendipity, Judd Apatow asked Parker to appear in the sequel to his movie Knocked Up, which depending on how generously the film is edited, will also feature The Rumour and introduce a new generation to Parker's music.
Update: the movie in question, This Is 40, features plenty of Parker as both a performer and a plot device. In one scene, Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) are driving back from a Rumour concert when an ambulance passes by. "The last of Graham Parker's fans just died," says Leslie, pointing out the futility of her husband's efforts to promote this forgotten rock star.Graham Parker: Dan, how are you doing? Sorry it took so long to get a talk going with you.
The real life Parker finds this hilarious. "Making jokes about aged Rock Stars... that's good," he says. Especially when these jokes coincide with a new album and tour.
The real life Parker finds this hilarious. "Making jokes about aged Rock Stars... that's good," he says. Especially when these jokes coincide with a new album and tour.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): It's quite all right. It sounds like you have a lot of good things going on.
Graham: Yeah. A bit busy. I'm juggling various tour schedules at the moment. Apart from the usual solo gigs, I've got three gigs in the Midwest with my old keyboard player, Bob Andrews from the Rumour as a duo, so I'm working on the logistics and trying to put that together. And then I've got gigs with my occasional backing band the Figgs. That's all coming up in April. So I'm sort of juggling these set lists, and what the hell am I doing here? I'm going to come off of the duo tour to go into rehearsal with completely different material. Why am I giving myself this kind of headache, I have no idea. [laughing] And then there's talk with me and my old band the Rumour about possibly doing something later in the year, because we have a new album in the bag. And I'm kind of looking at that whole cluster.
Songfacts: Well, let's start by talking about this movie that you make an appearance in. Tell me the story behind how that happened.
Graham: Well, that's going to be probably misinterpreted many, many times. But the truth is that in early May, on a whim I contacted Steve Goulding, the Rumour drummer, and Andrew Bodnar, the bass player - Andrew, by the way, lives in Yorkshire in England, and Steve is in New York - because I had 13 songs together and as usual at that stage of the game, was trying to figure out the recording concept, trying to figure out the sound. And for some reason I just thought maybe I should do it with those two guys as a rhythm section. I haven't had those guys playing together for years. I had Andrew on quite a few post-Rumour records in the '80s, and worked with Steve in 2001 on my record Deep Cuts and Nowhere. But I hadn't put them together in a studio since the Rumour days.
And I just basically thought what a great thing. We'll record this in three-piece and then I'll do what I usually do, which is I'll do the guitar parts and I'll get the keyboard player to do the keys and build it up. Which is the way I've been doing records lately, although usually I've been doing them with just me and the drummer, and then building it up from there. And Steve made a joke about the rest of the Rumour: wouldn't it be great if we got Martin, Bob, and Brinsley. That would be a proper band, exclamation mark. And then, "Just kidding!" you know.
So it was a joke from Steve that somehow put me in a kind of somnambulistic mode. What would the mode be like in automaton? I stopped thinking and immediately went to the e-mail machine, and got hold of Martin, one of the guitarists, and Bob the keyboard player, and said, "How about making a record together? Has anybody got Brinsley's phone number?" His e-mail never seems to work, because he's always building his house and the electric is out or some bloody thing.
So they both said, basically, "Hell, yes" - to my astonishment. I called Brinsley, who said, "Yeah, okay," to my astonishment equally. I'd now put my foot in it. And I had a Rumour reunion on my hands without thinking about it. And right then I got the dates for the studio very quickly and the engineer, a guy named Dave Cook who worked with me on Deepcut to Nowhere and Struck By Lightning and a few other records as engineer, co-producer. So I have that studio time scheduled.
And then about a week after I'd solidified that, my publishing company, Point Man, dropped me an e-mail and said Judd Apatow wants to talk to me. So I said, "Give me his e-mail address." So I got in contact and Judd said, "I'm going to be in New York City next week, Tuesday or Wednesday. Have you got any time?" And I said, "Well, I live Upstate New York, but give me a time and a place and I'll drive there." And he said, "No, we can do it on the phone." I said, "No, I'm driving. I'm meeting you."
And so I went and met him and he gave me a vague outline of this movie that he was about to go into production with. He mentioned a part of the plot, the star, Paul Rudd, who basically is playing Pete, who was in Knocked Up, if you remember that film. There was Pete and Debbie, which was Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann. And they were part of it, but of course much of it was about Seth Rogen and what's that blonde lady who was in Grey's Anatomy (Katherine Heigl) I never remember her name. Anyway, the film really revolved around them and he'd got her knocked up, of course.
But they touched on the lives of Pete and Debbie. So without going into it too much, it was about Pete starting a record label and signing the kind of bands he always loved. Because in the movie Knocked Up, there was a little bit about how he worked for a big record company and didn't like the kind of acts he had to deal with. And now he's starting his own record label, and one of his acts he wants to sign is Graham Parker. You know, he wants acts from the '70s, real music as he would call it.
And so Judd is talking about this possibility and I said, "Well, guess what? I've just re-formed the fucking Rumour." [laughs] So he had no idea about this. And I said, "They're coming over here in July, we're making a record." So this kind of piques his interest. So the next thing I know, I'm back and forth with Judd, and he's flying me into LA to be in the movie, acting in a whole scene, basically took three weeks to film. It was going to be compressed into a very short time in the movie, I'm sure. And then after that, me and the Rumour were flown in to Los Angeles to do a 2-day shoot where we're in a big club, a fantastic room called Belasco Theatre. They rented it, and we went there in August and did this whole thing there. We played for two days. We played some of the new songs that are on the new album and a bunch of old stuff, and they filmed the two days with all different angles. I did a bit of an acting skit. And then I went back again after that to do another acting stint in September.
And I've just been back recently to record some songs I wrote especially for the movie. Judd threw a whole bunch of ideas at me on an e-mail. So this has nothing to do with the Rumour. This is specifically written based on some of the ideas that Judd threw at me. Sometimes there'd be a phrase, there'd be a concept for a song, and I would just pick something out of that and go for it. I wrote about nine songs, and I've just been in L.A. recording four of them. So that's entirely separate from the Rumour, possible soundtrack stuff.
Everything is a work in progress. It's about getting Judd's story across about these two people and their lives. I'm a small part in it, but the script suggested quite a big part. But now they're editing and goodness knows what will happen. But we seem to be still in it so far. [laughing] So we're hoping for the best.
So very interesting period. And now, of course, the obvious has to happen. What are me and the Rumour doing about this?
Songfacts: Right. Well, let me ask you first, how did you like acting? Was that comfortable for you?
Graham: I would say that it's a terrifying thing. Absolutely. But most pop singers want to be actors, just like actors want to be pop singers, and unfortunately, it's not always the best idea. I was pretty straight with Judd. I said, "We all want to be actors. It's generally a terrible idea. But I think I'll be better than anyone." Being a cocky bastard, you know. Funnily enough, he's used Loudon Wainwright in Undeclared. You know that show?
Songfacts: Uh-huh. Yeah.
Graham: He was in that, and Loudon had a small part in Knocked Up. And Loudon Wainwright is the best pop singer I've seen acting ever. I think he beats all of them hands down.
Judd just had a feeling that I could pull this off. And the first time I did it, I was kind of constrained. I couldn't really figure out what I was doing, and it's a lot of ad libbing with Judd. I did come with a few lines of my own to throw into the mix that seemed to go down well. The second and third times I did it, I was much more relaxed and had some really good things to bring, and they seemed to go down well.
So I would say that when I was 58 I couldn't have done it. For some reason now that I'm 60, I feel as though I'm ready. It's a weird thing. By osmosis all the English comedians in my youth that I've watched and studied and loved have all come into play. I'm pulling that out of the bag, plus I'm doing a lot of my dad, who was a funny guy.
Songfacts: I think it's interesting, because when your music first came to my attention, you were lumped in with the whole angry-young-man scene, whatever that was. And yet, you've always had a really wonderful kind of acidic sense of humor. So I can see you doing comedy just as easily.
Graham: Well, yeah. This is comedy stuff, so it's great. And I didn't have to cry on camera or anything, so it was good. A lot of my solo shows are like half stand-up comedy, anyway. So over the years I've developed a lot of that. I've developed a pretty good jokes-telling style. It's a very difficult thing, a learning process all the time. You think something's really funny and it falls flat, and the least funny thing people roar at. It's a very, very strange game. But I do a lot of it in my solo acts, so I think I was prepared in that sense.
Songfacts: Were you surprised that Judd was familiar with your music?
Graham: He used "Love Gets You Twisted," one of my songs from Squeezing Out Sparks, on the last episode of Undeclared. That was the first I became aware of his work. I saw that and I thought, what a great show. I got the DVD and watched all the shows, and then got into Freaks and Geeks because that was the predecessor of Undeclared.
So it didn't surprise me that he was a fan, because you can tell the amount of music he uses on his movies. He's very musical - just the fact that he brought Loudon Wainwright in and did a whole soundtrack, wrote 13 songs, for Knocked Up. That shows you that Judd is not a man to do what everybody else is doing, which is are they weird and trendy, or are they extremely popular? Nobody in between, please, thank you. That's basically what the business is all about now from criticisms in movies to soundtracks to everything. That's basically the paradigm. And Judd doesn't give a shit about that. He cares about what he likes and has very strong instincts. He had a strong instinct about me that I could bring something to this, and he seemed to be very happy with it and thought that his instincts paid off. So I think you've got to give him a huge amount of credit for that.
Songfacts: Are you excited about him introducing you to a newer, younger audience?
Graham: Well, it's so hard to tell what will come of it. I look at it as a nice bump at this time in my career. Because I'm in the trenches, you know. What I do is play solo, basically, for a living. I get in a car for four hours, do a gig, drive two hours the next day, do another one on the way back, do weekenders, and play with a band when I have a new album out. And really, it's a slog. I've got a publishing company who've got me a few placements on TV shows and they've actually done something. They expressed interest in spreading my catalogue. So it seemed to me a few good things were happening in that sense, because I've got a catalogue where there's an awful lot of wasted songs that only a handful of fans know that I think are really good. You're always battling with trend and commerce, as I call it, which is the superstars get used and so does the Japanese girl with one leg who lives in a trailer and plays a ukulele, that's pretty much the business we're dealing with now.
So this to me is just a great little bump. I'm happy to get whatever I can out of it.
Songfacts: I remember when I was in high school, buying Squeezing Out Sparks. I read a review in Rolling Stone, I'd never heard your name, I'd never heard of your music prior to that. And that album from start to finish is still one of the greatest albums I've ever heard. Do you recall creating those songs, and were you particularly inspired when you wrote those? When you look back, do you see it the same way that maybe your fans do, that it's just brilliant?
Graham: Yeah. A strong album is probably the one people will say is like the top of the list there, which is fine by me. I think it's good. And a lot of people discovered me on that album. What people don't know is that me and the Rumour had made two albums in '76 and my career was already well in gear before something called punk and new wave came along, which was ostensibly in the mid-to-late '70s, whenever that actually broke. So then some of the people locked me in with other angry young men and all that. I was out there doing this with the Rumour for a year and a half before other angry young men really came along. So I was on the road a lot and I was just going through this great period, really, where this was now my life of playing music and having a career. I was thinking of myself as successful, and touring places like Australia one minute and Japan the next. And then sitting on an airplane in Tehran wondering if we'll ever take off, 1979. Will we take off? Will we live?
So it was a lot of excitement. Squeezing Out Sparks was fueled by all this, really. I can remember coming back from Japan having all these words flying through my head that came to make the song "Discovering Japan" for instance. I didn't write the songs particularly on the road, because I'm not good at that, but I definitely got the balance for the album from living such a crazy lifestyle, from coming from 1975 when I was living with my parents in a village in the country working in a gas station. Before that, I'd traveled as a hippie to Morocco, to France and Spain, and I was a bit of a nomad. And then I decided okay, no more traveling until I get paid for it. Now I'm going to become a professional musician.
Songfacts: You don't strike me as one that would make a very good hippie, by the way.
Graham: Oh, man. I was the real deal. I was a bit of a Timothy Leary, actually. I proselytized on the advantages of LSD, quite strongly. I was quite strongly into that scene, very much so. And when I came out of the end of that, as it were - you never quite come out of the end of it, I've never really come down, quite frankly. But as Jerry Garcia said, "Nobody's saying there won't be a few scars." I'd got right back into the music that I'd loved when I was 14, 15, 16, even 17, which is soul music. And that fueled a lot of my early writing. If you listen to Howlin' Wind you'll hear it in there.
Also I discovered Dylan when Blood on the Tracks came out. Strangely enough, I heard him on the radio, I knew who he was, I knew he was powerful, but I never really got into him. There was a lot of Van Morrison; Astral Weeks was one of the kind of stoner albums that some groups of friends and I had listened to. And I never really got it when I was in my psychedelic phase, because it was so bluesy. I was much more into Hendrix and more far-out stuff, really. But Van Morrison kind of brought me down to earth a bit, that album. And as I came out of that psychedelic phase, I bought Tupelo Honey, and it was like, Wow, this is it. That really shook me up what he was doing, that mid-period Van Morrison, as I like to call him, Hard Nose the Highway and St. Dominic's Preview. I was inspired by that and listening to the soul records that I used to dig as a kid. I didn't go out and buy them. I wasn't much of a collector, but I'd have the pop radio on in England, drive around the car and listen to Wilson Pickett when "In The Midnight Hour" would come on, because they always played hits. And "Brown Sugar" would come on. And nobody was doing this stuff, apart from Van, who was, of course. But I so conveniently ignored that. And so I said, I'm gonna be the guy who does this. And I had all these contemplative lyrics, which probably came from my psychedelic period, to throw into the mix.
So that's when I just said, "Okay, I'm staying with my parents and working in a gas station in the mornings, cleaning houses in the afternoon, and writing songs. And that's what I did. Which somehow led me to write all these songs that I finally realized when I was 24 and 25. I've got to strike now. I'm not getting any younger.
And I had people say - I read on Wikipedia the other day that before I made it I was in Beatles and Stones cover bands. I read Wikipedia and now it's like, "Why do I believe Wikipedia? When it's so full of shit about me?" It was quite a revelation to realize that the one thing that I do know about, which is me, is totally wrong. I had no career. I was a gas station attendant. I had a pretend band when I was 13, I did a photo of us, but we didn't play. We didn't learn to play. We ignored that step of the process. We just dressed up like the Beatles and pretended to play to a few of our kid friends once. And maybe at the age of 15 me and a few high school kids, we'd get together in somebody's front room or garage and bash around, but we still never learned to play.
It wasn't until I'd done all my hippie traveling and being a freak and all that, and got back and lived with my parents and started to absorb all influence of my earlier years. All those song hits, really. Bob Marley came out with Catch A Fire, and again, it was like wow. I was trying to play star music, I think the first song I learned to play on electric guitar when I was 15 was Desmond Dekker's "007 Shanty Town." Three-chord trick on electric guitar, I sort of learned that. I played it in my own fashion. So star reggae grooves were in my blood.
And so all of those things came together and luckily I just pushed myself out in the world, got to London and met the right people, including Dave Robinson, who became my manager. He put the band the Rumour around me. So that was basically the beginnings of my career. I was just basically what I consider to be a successful singer/songwriter/musician by the time I came to write Squeezing Out Sparks. It was very inspired times for me, and that's what resulted in that album.
Songfacts: Do you remember when you realized that you had a gift for writing songs?
Graham: I always thought I did, really. When I was 13 I had melodies in my head. I was just very lazy and a very bad learner. It's like whatever I learn to do, I never learn it properly from the ground up, I always do it my own way, and that's what I did with music. And that's why I was 24 and still working in a fucking gas station. Even though I thought from an early age I had some facility with music, it got to me emotionally. I could play little things on guitar, but I never followed through. I think when I was 21 and 22 I got into the singer/songwriter thing, the James Taylors and the Neil Youngs, all those people were very influential. That became a great background for my songwriting. Because I had a guitar, in fact, when I did the hippie thing and went off to France and hitchhiked all my way to Morocco, I had a guitar on my back. And I'd find myself on the banks of the River Seine fingerpicking with a bunch of other freaks. I was just beginning to write songs then, but it was a bit of the sub-singer/songwriter thing. A bit of the lonely guy who's been around the world and knows everything, you know.
So it wasn't mature enough. It wasn't till I got to about 24 and injected the kind of soul music thing into it with a healthy dose of Dylan-esque lyricism in it, that it really became a mature kind of thing. But that singer/songwriter phase is very much a learning period for me, to be traveling around with the acoustic guitar. I find myself on a soccer field in France with some girl whose boyfriend is playing on the field, and she's saying, "Oh, pick up Stevens, can you pick up Stevens!" and I could play a bit of "Moonshadow." And it was just a bit of it, "Leonard Cohen, we love Leonard Cohen!" Suzanne takes you down... I could play a bit of that.
Songfacts: Enough to impress the girls, right?
Graham: Exactly, yes. The French girls loved that shit, you know. Cat Stevens and Leonard Cohen we love. It made them swoon. There's all these small threads that come into my background as a songwriter. But it didn't really come together properly until I was 24 and 25. I think I was 24 when I found myself rehearsing with the Rumour in the summer of 1975, I was still 24 years old then.
Songfacts: Well, I have my personal favorites of yours, but do you have any songs that when you look back over your catalog that you're particularly proud of?
Graham: I think, as the old, old story, that I like what I'm doing now. The Rumour album won't come out until September, because it's a no-brainer to try and tie it in with this movie, which is coming out in December. So I've got to wait all this time which is extremely frustrating, because there're all these great songs by what I consider one of the best bands that ever played together. So that's the kind of stuff that I love, that I can't really go into too much detail about, because I don't like to preempt things and say, "Oh, it's like this or it's like that." That's what I'm most excited about, always. And that, when I'm doing touring or gigs just solo, even, what kind of gets me excited about it is often throwing a brand new song into the mix. It's like I have that to look forward to. I think my old songs hold up great, and doing them solo is fantastic, because I can take all kinds of liberties with the arrangements. As I go along I can throw something in when I think the crowd needs to hear something. Howling Wind I think is a great first album. I think that stands the test of time, the songs really do.
I think it's easier to look at the stuff which is weaker, and I think that was a lot of the '80s period stuff. But other people don't agree with me. Other fans do not think that Steady Nerves is a weak album. I do. I don't like it. Basically, as much as anything, it's because in the '80s we all got into this kind of sound above song thing. We all argued: I want you to sound like a massive drum sound and lots of reverb and lots of chorus. I wanted to do that, so it's all my fault. But looking back on it, it was like when I got to Mona Lisa's Sister, I suddenly figured it out again.
Songfacts: I love that album.
Graham: Yeah, that's a good album. I figured it out. But the only thing that counts is the singer and the song. It's not the drum sound. Why is the drum sound the most important thing on everyone's record now? It just suddenly seemed like that is over to me now. That's finished. I can't do that anymore. And that's how I made Mona Lisa's Sister. I'm going to be the producer, I will not get talked into trying to sound like anybody else. And so since then it's been much more enjoyable making records, quite frankly. And I've been the producer and I have a vision for each album. It's a lot of work to get there, because I can't relax and say okay, let this guy take it now. I've got to take the weight of it and try and come up with something conceptual every time I make a record.
Songfacts: Is that important to you to have a concept, to have something that helps this album hang together as a whole?
Graham: Yeah. I might want a really dense sound, because dense sounds are my favorite thing. I want a lot of acoustic on every track. And it could be like the last album, Imaginary Television, where I actually wrote a brief synopsis of "Imaginary Television Shows" and I got those ideas and then wrote the songs around them, so that all the songs would be theme songs for TV shows that don't exist. And that was very inspiring. So the concept of the album was to make a very strong pop sounding album.
Songfacts: Are you a fan of SCTV, the old imaginary TV network?
Graham: What is that?
Songfacts: It's called SCTV. It was a comedian thing that if you haven't seen it, you need to. It had like John Candy and Rick Moranis and Eugene Levy and all those guys. It was like the Canadian version of Saturday Night Live, but it was all based on a fictitious TV network.
Graham: Oh my God, no. I missed that. It rings a bell, but somehow that went past my radar entirely.
Songfacts: Have you ever written a TV show theme song for a real show?
Graham: No, I haven't. I did Imaginary Television because my publishing company forwarded some block emails from TV shows that wanted theme songs. And for some reason I launched myself into it and wrote songs for these shows. But they got rejected, of course. But they were so good and so catchy that then I said, Well, why don't I make up my own TV shows and write the songs, and therefore I cannot get rejected? Because it's all mine, baby, and it's all imaginary. So that inspired me to make that album, actually. And I integrated those songs into it. So basically the concept really snowballed from there.
Songfacts: It's ironic that we're talking about this now. I don't know if you've heard the news, but Davy Jones from the Monkees passed away from a heart attack today.
Graham: Well, I did. It was a heart attack? Yeah, I was sorry to hear that. We're talking about an imaginary band, there you go.
Graham: That was a concept and a half, wasn't it, really.
Songfacts: Yeah, and actually was successful in spite of itself, huh?
Graham: Yeah, absolutely. I hated them at the time as a kid, because even though I was very young, I had a kind of "it's got to be real" kind of ethic. I thought that they were too pop for me, they were too lightweight, and I thought the show was just too silly; they were phonies and he was like somebody that came from the theater, you could tell it a mile away. Of course now I love their songs. They're very good records.
Songfacts: Is writing songs something that comes easily to you, or is that something that requires a lot of work?
Graham: It's never been easy. It's never easy until the easy one pops out of the mix, and that's really a joy. For me it's like you've got a blank slate in front of you and it's the most terrifying and humbling thing in the world. I get this thing every year or so and think, Wow, my last album was out six months ago. That's really old and tired to me. I start to think about writing, and I'll do anything to put it off. It's just a horrible, horrible, thought. I'll start off on rhythm guitar, and it's like this is no good. You're working with the same three and a half chords, generally speaking. And how do you get something original and fresh out of that again? When I start, I usually do not get something original and fresh. I'll spend months battling with something not good enough, and it's only the battle that leads me to something better.
At some point I'll pick up a guitar and I'll go away from that old dog that I'd been trying to write and suddenly I'll get something new that probably will have nothing to do with that piece of rubbish. Or maybe it will. Maybe that thing I've been working on and getting nowhere with will have something in it that will spark the real song. And I never know when this is going to happen. It's an arduous process for me. But then I suddenly find myself with a page of lyrics in front of me and a pretty good melody, which has a freshness to it which tells me, okay, even though it's the same old thing that we're all doing, pop music, there is something in there that is new.
Then I'll start to tie other bits of songs together, and in the midst of that I will find myself writing a complete song that has nothing to do with any of the others I'm writing. It's like it's fully grown and pops out of this inspiration. It's a kind of a mental plane that I'm on that is not my normal state of mind. So it's generally a cluster of a couple of months that I go into this strange state, an almost an out-of-body state. I know a lot of writers say this - it's very pretentious, because it becomes a little mystical to talk about this - but when you find a page of lyrics in front of you where there was nothing for months, then you're in this kind of spell. And then I've got the songs, and I spend six months tinkering with them and agonizing over them and trying to find the concepts and all the riffs are coming to me, the guitar lines and the keyboards, some of which come to me as I write the songs. Sometimes they actually start the song on a riff or a groove. So it's the same mysterious process that it's been since I wrote all the songs that became my first two albums. It's the same thing.
Songfacts: Are lyrics easier than music?
Graham: None of it's easier than the other thing for me. Maybe I come up with a lot of good riffs that don't become songs because I can't find the words for them. So it may be for me that riffs and grooves are easy or melodic structures, but that doesn't mean they're the right ones for me. I have a certain kind of net that I cast as Graham Parker, as an entity. And when I got outside of that, it's like, well, that's not good enough. It's like I will try to write a commercial song and it's like, this just isn't good. I don't like it. So I've got that kind of perimeter around me. And that brings out the solid stuff that I think is credible.
Songfacts: Is there one song that you think is more misunderstood than any of your other songs?
Graham: Wow. That's interesting. Well, there are so many examples, really. People hear what they want to hear, which is kind of what artists should hope for. You paint a picture and you hang it on the wall and you walk away from it, and paint another one. And then people are looking at that picture. They're getting whatever they want from it, and adding all kinds of dimensions that you never thought of, never really intended, perhaps. So I don't really understand whether that's misconception or what. It's hard to say what is misconception, really. There's all kinds of things where people get one lyric wrong, and I think that just destroyed the whole song, when they quote one lyric and it's like, No, that's not what it's about, man, that's so wrong. I suppose a funny example really is recently there was a list of 50 favorite songs of conservatives.
Songfacts: You got on that list?
Graham: Yeah. I was on the list, with "You Can't Be Too Strong."
Songfacts: Because of the anti-abortion sentiment?
Graham: They decided it was an anti-abortion song. [laughs] And of course it's a much more questioning song than that. It's a deeply emotional song that is not making any rules for anyone at all. But people do see it that way. I wrote some blogs on my Web site a few years back. One was deeply anti-religion, and the other one was a message to President Obama, which basically I was telling him to tell the Republicans to go fuck yourself. Because that's what they did to Democrats for eight years under Bush. Get with the program, Obama. Don't be wimp. He still hasn't taken my advice yet. But probably a good thing.
Anyway, somebody had a CD table at a gig came up to me and said, "So you're finished with that conservative kind of thing, are you?" Because they suddenly found out I'm a raving liberal. I'm anti-religion and I'm anti-republican. [laughing] And I looked at him and said, "Well, yeah, for whatever." I just didn't know what to say really.
Songfacts: But you can take just a part of somebody's work and build a whole case that is completely different from who that person really is.
Graham: Yes. Absolutely you can. I can't remember many of the songs on the list. I think the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" was on there, as well. Conservatives think, "We won't get fooled by the liberals selling this climate science shit! We won't get fooled again!" [laughing] It was a very funny list. But that's the kind of thing where people are putting up a rigid interpretation on a song based on ideology. But other people get lyrics just flat out wrong. Little bits of lyrics. And what can you say, really? It's kind of interesting, I suppose.
Songfacts: Well, Graham, it's been a treat to talk to you. I was looking over your albums that I seem to have missed along the way, and now that we've talked, I'm going to have to go back and investigate some of those.
Graham: If you've missed Deepcut To Nowhere and Struck by Lightning, I'd have to say those two were up there amongst my best, is my opinion. And a great thing you've got with the songwriting thing. I've read some of the stuff, and it's really informative. Well done. Thank you for having me on it.
We spoke with Graham Parker on February 29, 2012.