Graham Parker back with his band after 3 decades
Stone Ridge, N.Y. • The bass player is a librarian. One guitarist fixes guitars, the other teaches people how to play. The drummer and keyboard player have scattered to other gigs.
Yet when Graham Parker decided to reassemble the Rumour, the backup band that played on his first four albums before their breakup more than 30 years ago, no one hesitated to say yes.
The reunion includes an album, "Three Chords Good," and theater tour, and is giving the singer a renewed burst of attention. Parker's role in filmmaker Judd Apatow's new comedy, "This Is 40," will get him noticed even more upon its release on Dec. 21.
"It will disappear as soon as this is over and people will say, 'Brian who? Brian Parker? Never heard of him,'" he joked. "At the moment I feel like everybody knows me. It's a very strange thing."
Coming out of England in 1975, Parker's tightly wound rock made him a critical favorite. After disbanding the Rumour following the 1980 album, "The Up Escalator," Parker moved to New York's Catskills region and has steadily written, recorded and performed. As with most artists of a certain age (he's 62), the music world's attention moved on. He plays on a recreational soccer team and recently introduced himself to a fellow player, who cluelessly remarked that Parker had the same name as a musician he liked.
Back in the day, Parker wrote and sang with a snarl.
"I was so intense that I wanted to basically injure people with music," he said. "It was a bit 'Spinal Tap.' Make some ears bleed."
New songs like "A Lie Gets Halfway 'Round the World ..." and "Coathangers" show he hasn't lost his lyrical bite. But Parker has heart, too. He's funny. The song "Long Emotional Ride," written after being overwhelmed seeing a documentary being made on his life, proves he can be sweetly nostalgic, too.
Judging by the smiles worn by Parker, keyboard player Bob Andrews, guitarists Brinsley Schwarz and Martin Belmont, bassist Andrew Bodnar and drummer Stephen Goulding onstage in Tarrytown, N.Y., during their first show back, they're having fun reliving their youth. The versatile Rumour brings out the soul, jazzy swing and reggae influences in Parker's songs.
The reunion was set in motion when he asked Goulding and Bodnar to help him on a new CD, and they suggested getting the full band together.
It had crossed Parker's mind before. The breakup wasn't bitter; he just wanted to try playing with some new people, he said. Getting together earlier probably wouldn't have made financial sense, but now he said there seems to be more interest.
After organizing the reunion, Parker had a brief moment of terror wondering whether the songs he'd written would suit them.
"It would have been awkward to say, 'Sorry, guys, I just don't see you playing this stuff,'" he said. "They can play anything and play it good, but would it be stimulating for them and would it be the right thing musically?"
That quickly proved not to be a problem.
While this was happening and before anyone knew about it, Apatow contacted Parker's agent. The filmmaker had used Parker's song "Love Gets You Twisted" in the final episode of his TV series "Undeclared." He read some things Parker had written on his website about trying to get more of his music placed on movies or television. "Are you listening, Judd Apatow?" Parker wrote.
"I took it as a sign," Apatow said.
"This Is 40," which stars Leslie Mann and Megan Fox with Paul Rudd, is a sequel to Apatow's comedy "Knocked Up."
In the movie, Rudd's character heads an independent music label who bets the success of his company on Parker. Not wise. Parker is the visible manifestation of a good artist forgotten by time. Apatow said the joke is on the industry, not Parker, although the laughs come with a wince when in the movie Parker complains about his gout.
The portrayal was fine with Parker.
"I'm very self-effacing about my position in the world of pop," he said.
Apatow's valentine to Parker was including Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong in the sparse crowd of people watching the band's showcase set. That's major cred by association for a young generation.
"Paul Rudd's character is desperately trying to figure out how to help Graham sell records," Apatow said. "Now that the movie's coming out, we're all desperately trying to help Graham sell records."
Parker delayed the album's release and tour for much of the year to coincide with the movie.
"Being famous has got to be the biggest pain in the neck in the world and I don't want any part of that," he said. "But at the same time, I want my songs to make a living for me and I always have from the very beginning. So if this helps me, that's good. I think there are a lot of neglected great works there. There are songs that only fans know about. And I'm lucky that Judd Apatow is a fan."