The first time Graham Parker heard of Judd Apatow was in 2002, when he was informed that the writer/ producer’s sitcom “Undeclared” would feature both an appearance by Ben Stiller and a rendition of Parker’s “Love Keeps You Twisted.”
It turned out to be the show’s final episode.
“I cursed it,” said Parker. “Typical of me.”
In a more blessed career, the 62-year-old British musician would be as celebrated as his contemporaries Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson, thanks to more than three decades of smart, sassy, soulful punk-pop singles. Instead, he’s better known as a bitter underachiever who has burned more bridges than General Sherman.
But Parker’s luck — and mood — may be changing.
That same week, Parker decided it was time to record and tour with the Rumour after a 31-year break. Many of the songs from their new collaboration, “Three Chords Good,” will be spotlighted on their current tour along with the group’s best-remembered numbers from the late ’70s (“Local Girls,” “Discovering Japan”) and chestnuts from Parker’s solo career (“Get Started, Start a Fire,” “I’ll Never Play Jacksonville Again”).
Apatow, who claims to own all of Parker’s 20 studio albums, hopes the reunion and the movie will introduce the musician to a new audience.
“Paul Rudd’s character is desperately trying to figure out how to help Graham sell records,” Apatow told the Associated Press. “Now that the movie’s coming out, we’re all desperately trying to help Graham sell records.”
But in typical fashion, Parker hasn’t made it easy for himself.
Radio programmers are bound to think twice (if not 18 times) before playing such new numbers as “Coathangers,” which deals with abortion, and “Arlington’s Busy,” an antiwar zinger that name-drops former U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and not in a good way.
“So many young artists are whining about themselves and their girlfriends,” said Parker, who famously trashed his former record label in the song “Mercury Poisoning.” “No one else is examining these issues, and if they are, can they do it as good as me?”
It’s not that Parker can’t write moving love songs. It’s just that they don’t gibe with his image as rock’s angry man. It’s telling how he responds to praise for his ballad “Wrapping Paper,” which begs for forgiveness with such heartfelt emotion, you’d think he’d recorded it on his knees.
“The only person that’s picked up on the beauty of that song is Bob Dylan,” said Parker, who opened for him during a 1991 tour. “Every night when I would do that song, he’d come out and sit behind the speakers. On one of the last nights, he sent out a costume lady to tell me how much he liked it and that he wanted a cassette.”
But maybe, just maybe, this turn of events will finally bring him the respect he’s craved for more three decades.
“I don’t believe in men in the sky pulling strings, but when this all happens at once, you can understand why people believe in that sort of thing,” he said. “I just want people to exploit my material. In my opinion, there’s a gold mine out there.”
opened Friday in Washington area theaters.