In the mid-1970s Graham Parker was portrayed as a quintessentially Angry Young ManÂ®, a pub rocker with an attitude who helped shape the British New Wave (a movement that remains perhaps the most creatively vital five years in recent rock history).
15 years later he had matured into a Responsible AdultÂ®, with 1991’s Struck By Lightning offering us songs about marriage, domesticity, kids and dogs. As he sings in “A Brand New Book”:
I once read the story of somebodyâ€™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
There was happiness a lot of weirdness and a sprinkle of tragedy
I pulled it by chance from a second hand bin
But it couldâ€™ve been written just for me
Because the words came out not twist and shout
Cause thatâ€™s not what a grown man writes about
That chapterâ€™s over, let it blow over
I found that Iâ€™ve become the owner of a brand new book
For talented artists who begin their careers with the sort of verve and energy Parker brought to his first few efforts, the arrival of the family life is often the kiss of death. But that wasn’t the case for GP, who managed to maintain his edge even as he “settled down.”
But surely by the time he hits his late 50s he’d be on the lounge circuit, right? Well, you might think so, but in 2007 Parker released Don’t Tell Columbus, the rich, reflective story of one Brit’s “discovery” of America.
But I had that positive feeling
I knew I was on the right track
When a Flat Earth Society member
Told me I must turn back
He said I’d reach the abyss
And keep on going down
So I gave him my last pencil
And I flattened him to the ground
Then an army of Christian soldiers
Broke through the ranks and charged
With their ice cream vendor buddies
And their milquetoast rearguard
They had wheelbarrows full of elastic
And paper mache hearts
And things I did not recognize
Impaled upon their darts
What’s most remarkable, perhaps, is how GP manages both the acerbic edge of the young man and the thoughtful wisdom we’d expect of a man his age. Nowhere is the wit more apparent than on “Stick to the Plan,” his Bushevik-centered homage to Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited.”
Well God said to the president listen to me
I will advise you on the way it’s gonna be
So the president got to his knees
And accepted his fate
It’s a done deal now if you got
Some objections too late
Meanwhile in the corner there’s
A drunk on a stool
Slurpin’ up ketchup and acting the fool
Pretending to fight for the truth
But he ain’t getting far
Because he’s workin’ for the same team
Just from the other side of the bar
As I ponder the accomplishment of Don’t Tell Columbus – and make no mistake, if GP never produces another note, this CD will serve as a fitting cap for an epic career – I was struck by how much it reminds me of Hart Crane’s The Bridge, an ambitious but little-remembered long poem that cast the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge as a metaphor for the greatness of America. Like Crane, Parker is erecting a mythology about America, a parallel that’s most evident in “Suspension Bridge.” Of course, Parker’s portrait of his new homeland is a tour de force of ambivalence.
We born-n-bred Americans often get myopic about our beloved Republic, and the fact that we’re fed a steady diet of slobbering Toby Keith/Lee Greenwood-style self-worship doesn’t help. So there’s tremendous value in stepping back and seeing ourselves through the eyes of people who weren’t raised on red, white and blue pablum. Parker has chosen to be here, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t aware of the glorious shining beast’s dark underbelly. In this sense, perhaps Parker’s greatest discovery arises from what’s best about America – the fact that we’re free (for the moment, anyway) to look in the mirror, critique what we see and work to improve on it.
Don’t Tell Columbus is five stars our of five and a certified A+, and I’m proud to present Graham Parker with the not-terribly-coveted Slammy for 2007 CD of the Year.
Categories: Arts/Literature, Politics/Law/Government, United States
This is a great album and a worthy recipient of this somewhat dubious honor. 😉
But you giving Parker the nod for album of the year is like me giving it to Macca for MEMORY ALMOST FULL. No matter how critically fair and balanced you’ve been, people are gonna say you’re schmoozing a personal fave.
Do I think it’s the CD of the year because he’s a fave, or is he a fave because he keeps cranking out amazing CDs?
Besides, as much as you like the Macca disc, I haven’t heard you make the argument that it was the BEST CD of 2007.
I’d place this album 3rd below “Back To Black” by Amy Winehouse and “The Reminder” by Feist.
What does my award look like?
Iâ€™d place this album 3rd below â€œBack To Blackâ€ by Amy Winehouse and â€œThe Reminderâ€ by Feist.
Hi, Graham. As noted in the Platinum Awards post, I love the Winehouse CD, too. I think it was in my top 3, along with The Good, the Bad & the Queen.
The Feist CD fails to hit me like it did a lot of other folks. I listened to it. I tried to like it. But in the end it struck me as sort of … how to express this best? … an okay effort despite being an example of what’s not so compelling about “indie” these days? I felt like the New Pornographers did a lot better job working that vein.
That said, a lot of people I respect I disagree with me on this, and now I know you’re one of them. And hell, your opinion on the Winehouse (which you noted in our interview) almost caused me to rate her over you. So your opinion is greatly respected around here… 🙂
What does my award look like?
Make all the copies you like.
That thing frightens me. Sorry, Sam, but I’m gonna have to turn down my “Best Collaboration with Engelbert Humperdinck” award.
Wait a sec, Mike – I thought you were the Zamfir, Balanese gamelan, and toko drum guy….
Musta been someone else.
I’ve read every review of DTC(including writing one on Amazon). Yours is the best. Brand new Book is the fulcrum of his career…you explain it well. I guess it takes a great review or a semi-bad one to get a rise out of the guy…let’s get him off the slopes and into a studio and stop this talk about never producing another note.