Monday, May 17, 2010

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."

video

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.

12 comments:

wwolfe said...

It's funny that a guy whose reputation is built on being angry writes so many appealing quiet songs. I'd never heard this and it's quite lovely. My favorite touch: the "Doot-doots" at the end. You have to have a smile on your face when you're singing that particular sound, and that's a good way to approach a reminiscence of a past love.

Anonymous said...

I have been known to call 12HE the second best American album ever(after Basemsnt Tapes) but it really is a toss up. One is written by a born American about his country while the other is probably more American; written by an immigrant who commits to "America". The songs are not only about his commitment to a wife, but also to his new country. It is a very BIG album about commitment and being part of something and what you sometimes have to leave behind. "That's progress; that's that."

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Each song you've introduced in this series has been sadly new to me -- or happily, actually: Yay new "new music" to me -- and all are terrific. Wrapping Paper still hits closest to home at the moment, but this may be largely due to the fact that it was the first one I encountered when sampling this, your amazing but true marathon ... :-)

Holly A Hughes said...

Thanks, guys, glad you're enjoying it! Thanks especially to Anonymous for adding that perspective on the 12HE album as a whole. I'm distinctly beginning to get the idea that I need to live with these albums for a few more months to really get to the heart of them. That in itself is a mark of enduringly great music!

Ohio Rat said...

You can purchase this (and the other Razor & Tie albums) direct from Graham's website: http://www.grahamparker.net

Holly A Hughes said...

Thanks for the tip. Hopefully there will be a spike in sales over there after everyone reads this blog. (I wish!)

Anonymous said...

I think the fact that anyone outside of Parkerville would find 12HE is amazing. I didn't think it would happen until I was dead, when it will be heralded as perhaps the great artistic achievement of our time. Interestigly, if you had written about Disney's America, that would be pleasing but not surprising. But "Wrapping Paper", Joe Meek's Blues, Haunted Episodes, When You Do That To Me...these are somewhat obscure, even in Parkerville. Your fresh ears are quite refreshing.

TwennydollaBill said...

Holly: Lets make it a Graham Parker Marathon May! GP in the 1990’s and beyond can be called “Grown-up songs for grown-up ears.” How do songs as well-crafted as these get made by a ‘mature’ artist? Why are so few artists able remain as prolilfic and worthwhile? There are a few reasons that come to mind. 1. I’d say GP has never really had a satisfying level of success—I think he knows how good he is, and the lack of widespread recognition he claims not to seek (“I’m not selling molasses/I’m not pushing tea/I don’t appeal to the masses/And they don’t appeal to me” Sharpening Axes from Acid Bubblegum) has kept him, err..sharp and acidic. 2. GP has been able to be a real, full-time song-writer for an incredibly long time. His early success and big label paydays have not only “kept him in swimming pools” (as he is fond of saying) but they have also enabled him to continue working at his craft well into his middle years. Working, and getting better. No day job, but not financially set from a megahit. 3 He has a work-ethic and commitment to his fans that honors the financial exchange. Graham’s ‘have guitar, will travel’ approach to the new economy of music—where the only way to make a buck is to schlep the carcass onto the boards--keeps him on the road. If the crowd is paying to see him, he is going to do his part. I think the world is ready for a Graham Parker renaissance. But, then again, I’ve been saying that for 25 years.

Holly A Hughes said...

Thanks so much, TDB, for that succinct summation of Graham Parker's unique career. Still leaves one big question for me, though -- WHY has he not had the fame he so richly deserves? Plenty of knowledgeable music fans who read this blog have admitted they haven't heard any of GP's output from the past 2 decades, and the minute they hear it they love it. It's not difficult, inaccessible music by any stretch of the imagination. His relative obscurity continues to baffle me. Don't get me wrong; I'm thrilled to have stumbled upon this cache of extraordinary music, and I'm selfishly glad that he's not selling out stadiums where I couldn't afford a seat in the rafters. The idea that he's still playing intimate venues appeals to me very much. But in terms of artistic justice, it's just not right that Graham Parker shouldn't be a much much MUCH bigger name.

Robert said...

Holly, there are so many songsmiths out there today that do not get the exposure they deserve. Very frustrating for fan and artist. Some of my favorite little known singer/songwriters that you might be interested in are Christopher Rees and Chuck Prophet. And of course the Prog/Zappaish rock band, Crack The Sky.

Holly A Hughes said...

Chuck Prophet's name keeps coming up -- a surefire sign that I need to investigate his stuff. Chris Stamey is another one that music fans I respect often mention.

And here I am, still fighting to see that Marshall Crenshaw gets the props he deserves...

wwolfe said...

I only know "Spanish Harlem" by Chris Stamey, but it was one of my favorite discoveries of last year. He, as a result, is on my "Need to Find Out More About Them" list.