There are so many putative Fathers of Punk that a paternity test might be necessary to permanently settle the question. Still, Graham Parker has to be on the short list. A year before Johnny and Joe, Parker was venting his working-class rage with his ferocious band, the Rumour. While Fleetwood Mac mellowness dominated radio, Parker’s songs dared to damn both God and man, to the strains of soul, rockabilly, and unfettered folk. Classic albums were made (Howlin’ Wind, Squeezing Out Sparks), live performances were legendary, many lesser angry young men followed his formula, like the lamentable Joe Jackson. Parker and band said good night in 1980. Improbably, they’re back in 2012 with the brilliant Three Chords Good (Primary Wave Records), out this week. Considering the songs touch on abortion and disappearing bookstores, it’s nice to report Parker hasn’t mellowed.
As for reforming the Rumour, he’s straightforward and unsentimental.
“I suddenly had an idea that I should do a record with [Rumour members] Steve [Goulding, drums] and Andrew [Bodnar, bass] and play as a trio,” Parker says. “Then Steve made a joke: ‘Why don’t we get a proper band? How about the other Rumour guys?’ In a fit of pique, I said, ‘I’ll show the bastard.’ I e-mailed other members of the band. And Steve was like, ‘I was only kidding.’ And I said: ‘Well, it’s not a joke anymore. We’ve got a fucking Rumour reunion.'”
Thus, one of the best, pure rock-and-roll outfits of the ’70s was reborn.
Parker’s first lieutenant, the superb guitarist Brinsley Schwarz, is pleased the recording went well. And amazed it happened.
“I had just sat down with a cup of tea when the phone rang. The last thing I was expecting was Graham asking me if I’d like to come over and play on a new Graham Parker and the Rumour album. Apart from my being jet-lagged and falling asleep over the next three days, it was a lot of fun. The playing seemed to fall into place amazingly easily, considering the 30-year gap.”
The most explosive tune on Three Chords, is “Coathangers.” Here, with withering wit, Parker talks about abortion and how, “Getting knocked up by your daddy/That’s all your fault.” It’s bound to get tongues wagging.
“I’ve no idea how it came to me. This stuff is in the air. It’s great entertainment that you have a Republican party in this world. I thought, ‘By the time I record this, it will be so out of date.’ Then that guy [Todd] Akin comes along and makes his fabulous comments about the notion of ‘legitimate rape.’ They think if a girl is drunk, she must be asking for it. I don’t want controversy or anything. But then I go and do something stupid. It sure is a big matzoh ball hanging out there,” says Parker, referencing a Seinfeld episode.
For a songwriter whose caustic lyrics and outraged bray have sometimes marginalized him, Parker is pleased to have songs and a role in the upcoming Judd Apatow film, This Is 40. Apparently, the caliph of comedy is a big fan and sought out the songwriter.
“He said he was gonna be in the city. I said: ‘Time and place. I’ll be there.’ Judd asked if I’d ever done any acting. So I launched into a very bad Sammy Davis impersonation, as one does. And he hired me! When he heard I had an album with the Rumour, he said, ‘OK, we’re gonna fly you all out to Los Angeles and do a two-day shoot.'”
Lest anyone think this a huge deal making Parker a pocketful of cash, he lampoons this with hilarious fatalism. For instance, God forbid his new high profile should merit the “re-release of the four albums I made for RCA.”
Then there’s the upcoming apocalypse.
“The movie opens on December 21. That’s the day the world is supposed to end. Smart move to put the movie out then.” Parker laughs, knowing he’s lucky. Blackly, he says: “Still, it can end after that. Being in the movie? A tour with the Rumour? It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Graham Parker and the Rumour perform at the Tarrytown Music Hall on November 24 and the concert hall at the New York Society for Ethical Culture on December 1. Three Chords Good is available now.