Graham Parker repeats the Rumour
By Geoffrey Himes
Friday, November 23, 2012
In the new Judd Apatow movie, “This Is 40,” Paul Rudd’s character runs an indie record label that reunites Graham Parker and the Rumour, the brilliant London pub-rock band from the ’70s. But Parker and the Rumour did not reunite for the movie; they’re in the movie because they had just reunited.
After enjoying critical acclaim and modest commercial success with the Rumour and less acclaim but more success without the Rumour, Parker fell off the major-label merry-go-round in the early 1990s. He adapted by making low-budget records, playing more solo shows and touring with young bands. But by 2010, it had become almost impossible to make money selling albums. Like so many in his position, Parker, 62, looked to film and television.
In a 2010 entry on his entertaining blog, “The Thoughts of Chairman Parker,” he wrote, “Although CD sales for most of us are, ahem, not very good (!), songs don’t go away.” He went on to explain how his new publishing company, Primary Wave, encouraged him to create theme songs for television shows. The songs were rejected, but Parker decided to record an album of theme songs for nonexistent TV shows. At the end of the blog, he added the line “Judd Apatow, call me.”
Then a funny thing happened. Apatow called.
“He wanted to know if I could act,” Parker says by phone from his home in New York’s Hudson Valley. “I said, ‘That’s a terrible idea. Pop singers should never be actors, because they’re all terrible. But if anyone could do it, it would be me.’ I don’t know why I said that, but I was selling myself like a whore because I really wanted to do it. I could tell he still wasn’t sure, so I added, ‘And oh, by the way, I just re-formed the Rumour.’ That sealed it.”
Parker had planned to make another album and play all the parts but the drums, but then he decided to bring in the Rumour’s drummer, Steve Goulding, and bassist, Andrew Bodnar, and cut the basic tracks as a trio.
Parker says that during rehearsals, Goulding joked about bringing in the rest of the original band members: guitarists Martin Belmont and Brinsley Schwarz and keyboardist Bob Andrews. But Parker thought it would be an even better joke to go ahead and do it.
Schwarz was the hardest part, Parker says, because he had stopped playing in public. “But I called him and said, ‘Brinsley, I’ve done the strangest thing. I’ve invited the guys to do a Rumour record and we need you.’ And he said okay. They were all eager to do it, like they’d been waiting for the e-mail for 30 years. There was still this symbiosis between Martin and Brinsley on electric guitar and me on acoustic. I don’t know how it happens, but it does. . . . With any band, whether it’s the Rumour, the Police or whoever, there will always be something special about that first combination when they hit it, when it all finally comes together. There’s a chemistry because you’ve been desperately searching for the right musical balance, and then you find it.”
The reunited band quickly bashed out the dozen new songs for the new album, “Three Chords Good.” It begins with “Snake Oil Capital of the World,” a blistering attack on right-wing talking heads built atop a reggae-rock groove that would have fit on the band’s first album, 1976’s “Howlin’ Wind.”
But the very next song is “Long Emotional Ride,” a Motown-ish ballad that finds Parker confessing that for a long time, he kept his feelings hidden to remain the detached observer. “Maybe I’m just getting old or something,” he croons like his ’60s soul-music heroes, “but something broke down my resistance and opened the door.”
“Age is a leveler in a way,” says Parker, who just turned 62. “I read somewhere that when you see artists in a crowd they seem to be alone because they’re always standing back and observing everyone else. I’m very close to that. In this song, I recognize that it’s okay to be emotionally involved in these big events just like everyone else, whether it’s 9/11 or a friend’s wedding. As you get older, you learn this, you get more accessible. Even Dylan seems more normal in his recent interviews, somehow more accessible.”
The sharp turn from the irate screed of “Snake Oil” to the vulnerable honesty of “Long Emotional Ride” might give the listener whiplash, but it’s also refreshing to encounter an artist who’s neither angry all the time nor sensitive all the time. The rest of the album goes back and forth in the same way: from a rock-noir assault on gossip (“A Lie Gets Halfway ’Round the World”) to a ballad about the helplessness of love (“That Moon Was Low”); from a pugnacious indictment of antiabortionists (“Coathangers”) to a jazzily swinging plea for reconciliation (“Live in Shadows”).
Sometimes both sides of Parker’s musical personality can be heard in the same song. “Arlington’s Busy,” for example, is angry at the Pentagon for the lies behind its wars but also sad about the casualties. The title track pulls off the difficult challenge of creating a smart, up-tempo love song. For the Apatow movie, Parker and the Rumour perform an even newer song, “What Do You Like?”
“In a lot of scenes I had to improv,” Parker says, “which was scary because I’ve never been an actor. The first thing I saw on the set was John Lithgow and Albert Brooks doing a scene with Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd, and my first thought was, ‘I should turn around and walk away, because these guys are experts.’
“But my solo show has a lot of talking, almost stand-up comedy really, so I had that to fall back on. And the Rumour loved being part of the movie because they treated us first class. It wasn’t like showing up at some rock club when the sound engineer isn’t there and the dressing room is a stinking hole.”