FIRST ANNUAL GRAHAM PARKER MARATHON
"Haunted Episodes" / Graham Parker
I know, I too expected this marathon to last just one week. But that was before I got going, before I really started listening to all these new Graham Parker CDs I snapped up. There are certain albums you just can't skip over, and one of them has to be 12 Haunted Episodes.
Now don't go looking for this 1995 album on iTunes; even Amazon.com only offers copies from second-party sellers, since it has been discontinued by Razor and Tie Records (guess they're too busy with other more valuable artists, like Twisted Sister, Simply Red, and Michael McDonald). As I recall, Razor and Tie also let Marshall Crenshaw slip away a few years ago. As Arte Johnson used to say on Laugh-In, "Verrrrrry INteresting."
But I'm not here to get into record company politics. I see that Graham Parker has done plenty of label hopping in his 30-plus-year music career, and it can't always have been the suits' fault. Who cares? The past is past -- which brings us to the topic of today's track, "Haunted Episodes."
Though it's the title track from this beautiful album, in some ways it's a bit of an outsider in an album that seems largely about his relationship with his wife. (With a few satiric songs interspersed -- well, it wouldn't be a Graham Parker album without a few satiric songs.) "Haunted Episodes" is a sort of love song, but it isn't about the girl he married, rather about an old girlfriend. You could easily put this on a playlist with Nick Lowe's "Long-Limbed Girl," Elvis Costello's "Just About Glad," and maybe Joe Jackson's "Rush Across the Road," three tender charmers about old flames.
The "haunted" in the title's a bit misleading, too -- he's not haunted by this old relationship, merely musing over where she is today. There's nothing spooky or brooding about this light, flowing melody; in fact, this song makes me think of something sunny that Donovan might have written, like "Jennifer Juniper." The jazz flute that embroiders this track is the final sweet touch.
Regrets? That's not even on the table. He's not claiming that he's better off without her -- in verse one he freely admits that "Things round here don't get any clearer / Stuff that once seemed in reach is not any nearer." But verse two is like a shrug of inevitability: "I wonder who was more demanding / We were just young I guess / Neither would settle for less." He does keep referring to a house -- perhaps someplace they once lived together -- and wondering whether it's been knocked down or if it's still standing in ruins. (Metaphor alert!) But there's no score settling going on. He almost seems afraid to imagine her life turning out badly, hoping that she's "takin' the knocks" all right. That tentative solicitude rings so true, revealing a reservoir of fondness beneath the touchy surface of their past.
Did I say that this song doesn't belong on this album? Oh, no, I did not. It only seems like a side track. Sure, it's not about his wife. But a man who can reflect this gently about lost loves isn't in any danger of being tormented by the past. "Still, it's not a whole life story, is it?" he asks himself. "It's just a page I turned / And there you were in it." He can afford to wonder about her calmly because the big love, the real love -- the main plot of his life story -- finally did show up. Lucky man.