FIRST ANNUAL GRAHAM PARKER MARATHON
"All Being Well" / Graham Parker
All good things must come to an end, and so this Graham Parker Marathon -- which was only supposed to last a week in the first place -- winds up today. Not that I'm going to stop listening to Graham Parker, mind you. No, I'm renting a room in Parkerville on a permanent basis (it hasn't got a garden but it's got a lovely patio). Once you're hooked on an artist this great, there's no going back.
So perhaps it's fitting that the final song in this marathon should be "All Being Well." As the last track of GP's 2007 album Don't Tell Columbus, it's a sweet farewell song, a tender valediction. For those of you who still think of Graham Parker as an angry young man, here's proof positive that he's got a sensitive side and he's not afraid to show it.
The structure is dead simple, as befits a folky acoustic ballad. (The song this most reminds me of, oddly, is an old John Martyn song, "May You Never"). Each verse has four lines, alternating between imagined future scenes when the lovers might meet -- "I'll see you when the leaves are falling," "when the candles flicker," "when the shadows fall," etc. -- and the repeated "all being well." But the third lines of the verse add a sense of mortality, speaking of stalling hearts and failing eyes, and they nudge the song toward realism. Even the repeated "all being well" -- which at first seems so comforting, dropping down to his low, warm register to resolve the melody -- isn't a gilt-edged guarantee. (Mindless optimism? Not in the Graham Parker universe.) The more often he repeats it, the more I brood about its meaning. That conditional tense is significant -- I realize that there's no certainty that all will be well. We can only hope that the stars will align.
So what does he offer to hold back the darkness? Listen to the chorus: "I'll hold you in my arms and tell you / That nothing can break this spell / I'll see you when the road stops winding / All being well." (I love how the melodic phrase on "nothing can break this spell" jumps upward, breaking the downward pattern of the verse.) Yes, love is our best option for getting through life. We've heard that a million times before, but Graham Parker rescues this tired cliche and gives it renewed conviction. I get the sense that he's not a hundred percent sure that nothing can break this spell, but he's telling her this tender lie anyway -- he wants it to be true, because he loves her so. And it's not just until nighttime, or until the next season, but forever, unto death ("when the road stops winding"). They're partners for life. (Check out track one of 12 Haunted Episodes.)
This song is such an unheralded beauty, tucked away at the end of an album that's largely satiric ( incisive, funny songs like "I Discovered America," "England's Latest Clown," and the Bush-era "Stick to the Plan"). Graham Parker's albums are full of surprises like this. The marathon isn't really over; there's so much of his music I need to really listen to and learn by heart. What a pleasure to look forward to!