"Get Started. Start a Fire." /
HAPPY 60TH BIRTHDAY TO THE GEEP!!
Sixty years old? Graham Parker can't be sixty years old. The guy's still too full of piss and vinegar, still rocking WAY too hard to be a senior citizen.
Why, just a couple weeks ago, on one night I could see the difference between Nick Lowe -- white-haired, courtly, a tiny paunch on his rail-thin frame -- strumming and singing for the sedate crowd at the City Winery, while across town Graham Parker was tearing up the lino at a grubby little East Village bar, where the buzz-worthy scene spilled out onto the sidewalks. You guys know I love the Nickster, but really, ask me which event was more fun.
As you know, I went through quite a Graham Parker phase a few months ago, but that was only the beginning. I recently splurged on all the other Parker CDs I didn't buy the first go-round, and diving into these new (to me) albums has provided me with hours of insane delight. So here is yet another amazing song that I didn't get around to in my first Graham Parker marathon...
On Graham's 1988 album Mona Lisa's Sister, this is more or less the title track, verse one being about said sister (who, in the cover art, bears an uncanny resemblance to the Parkerilla, black shades and all). Unlike her famous sibling, Mona Lisa's sister tried to pose for Leonardo but was rejected, unwilling to muster even the half-smile her sister produced. Verses two and three feature their own defiant heroines -- Marilyn Monroe in verse two, Joan of Arc in verse three -- none of whom meet a happy end. Historical accuracy isn't the point (at one point Joan is caught smoking illegally in an airport), but in Graham's eyes they're all rebels, tragically caught in the flames of their own iconoclastic fates.
It's a good story hook all right -- though what this song is really about is that propulsive rhythm line, with the repeated chant "Get started! / Start a fire!" underlaid by a prowling bass line and darting bursts of guitar. For this record Parker had rounded up some of his old backing band the Rumour -- Brinsley Schwarz on lead guitar, Andrew Bodnar on bass -- and it's a wonderful reminder of how explosively tight this ensemble could be at its best.
Very few songs manage to hold my interest for five minutes, yet somehow these guys pull it off -- not with drawn-out solos and ever-louder repetitions of the same damn chorus, but with irresistible syncopation. The tempo's seductive, not frenetic, and just listen to how that melodic line cascades, like waves lapping the shore. I swear, this song hypnotizes me, every time.
When people ask me to describe Graham Parker's music, I'm always at a loss. It's too swinging to be punk, too soulful to be New Wave, and way too spiky for feel-good pub rock. Graham Parker has often been lumped in with all these musical genres, and unfairly so. We music fans seem to need a label to hang on to, but GP is a marketer's nightmare -- he doesn't really fit any label, and the problem is compounded by his own chameleon-like tendency to change styles from album to album. Even if we did have a label to sum him up, it probably wouldn't convey the sheer intelligence of Parker's music, his bone-deep sense of rhythm, and his incredible ear for hooks.
I put this record on and I know I'll be walking to its beat for days, softly singing to myself, "Get started! Start a fire!" I'm telling you, if I get arrested for arson, Graham Parker better be willing to post bail.