GRAHAM PARKER: Thin Skinned or Sanctimonious?

Music Features
GRAHAM PARKER: Thin Skinned or Sanctimonious?
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Jul 30, 2007, 05:19

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On June 14th we ran Nick Blakey's review of Graham Parker's newest album, Don't Tell Columbus as recently released on Bloodshot Records.

The review itself was written in the form of a “Dear John” letter and wasn't altogether negative and on a whole it was relatively respectful of the artist despite the reviewer's obvious disappointment in the album.

Now as any long time Your Flesh reader knows, as wide and varied our reportage can be, Graham Parker isn't exactly the kind of artist we go out of our way to cover but being we give our writers free reign to wax on about what's moving/motivating them one way or the other—and that Nick considers himself a fan—we saw no reason to squelch his enthusiasm to do so.

What transpires below is the result of this conceit, and amusingly enough, extracted a response from the artist his-own-self we never in a million years would have expected nor could we have scripted any better ourselves…

As you'll see, the rest of the story here is pretty self-evident and sets itself up well enough where it really isn't in need of any further exposition… Funny though: over the last 25 years having published countless scathing reviews—many, many far more inflammatory than this one—this is the first instance where an artist has EVER bothered to call us on it. And challenge us to re-print his rebutal word-for-word too. How cool is that?

Whether it 's a good or bad thing is up for you to decide. As far as we're concerned, we're tickled pink to have inspired him to start his own blog. If nothing else, an accomplishment in its own right we no doubt will have to live with taking credit for...

LETTER TO NICK BLAKEY

Dear Mr. Blakey,

Seeing as your review was written in the form of a letter, I presume a reply would be the correct and polite response.

Let's jump right in at the shallow end, the territory your piece most frequently inhabits.

With the benefit of over 30 years of experience, I spend a great deal of thought on choosing the right people for the job. Look at the credits on "Songs Of No Consequence." Take note of the drummer credits for "Go Little Jimmy" and "Evil." Jesse Honig, who has a great swing feel and is adept at using brushes plays on the former and Mike Gent, who can really handle a reggae number, plays on the latter. Now why would I use those guys when Pete Hayes was in the studio, playing percussion alongside them? Because they were the right people for the job. Pete Hayes, professional that he is, understood these choices.

Which brings us to "Don't Tell Columbus."

With the exception perhaps of the more pop/rock "Total Eclipse Of The Moon" it was obvious to me (and I think to many of my rather savvy fans) that "Columbus" was not a job for Hayes, or indeed the Figgs. Listen to "Ambiguous," listen to "Stick To The Plan." These tunes swing. They require a drummer with markedly different abilities to the sterling, solid work of Pete Hayes. He is great in a different way. (In fact, he has performed "I Discovered America" with me and the Figgs twice onstage and told me that Mike plays in such a different style from his that it was a bit like learning drums again to tackle this song.)

"Why stop now?" you ask, in reference to my use of The Figgs. Who says I've stopped anything? Artists don't stop. They change the landscape to suit their work, and I will continue to do so, and if The Figgs are the right outfit for the job, I'll probably use them again.

Also, among the many inaccuracies in your piece—which I will determine to take apart as my response continues—one of which you are (faultlessly, in this case) unaware of is that Mike's first instrument was the drums, an instrument even a cursory listen to "Columbus" will tell you he has mastered with a fine degree of skill. In as much as you are oblivious to that mastery, I'm afraid, you are not faultless.

Where is Brett Rosenberg, you ask? Not a bad question, unless you have chewing gum in your ears when you listen to the nuance-perfect execution of the lead guitar parts on "The Other Side Of The Reservoir," a song you criticize and foolishly compare to the vastly different and vastly inferior "Heat In Harlem," a number that was soundly and fairly criticized back in the day for my ignorance in calling that particular area of NYC "Harlem Town." (Ugh.) Also, it is an overblown piece of tosh, quite frankly.

When it is appropriate, no one can rip from the John Platania, Peter Green—even Richard Thompson—canon the way I can. (I am not comparing my guitar playing to these people, they are far superior, but I am able to assume their soulfull delicacy better than more accomplished guitarists.)

Every riff, every ascending or descending run I perform on "Reservoir" does exactly what it should do and follows the complex emotions of the song in an intimate way that nobody else could. That is why I'm playing on it and on every other track on the album: because the exquisite and richly emotional tone of many of the songs demands the investment of the man who wrote them on what is obviously the key lead instrument on the album: the electric guitar. Simply put, I again chose the right man for the job.

"The production already makes it sound dated," you assure yourself. Yes, perhaps if your ears are still residing in the '80's when a snare drum had to sound like a ton of glass falling off the Empire State Building and all the instruments were so hyper-pumped and affected it sounded like they had been immersed in some kind of aural testosterone. "Columbus" is a paradigm of modern, natural production.

Also, the sequencing on the album was, as is typical of my sequencing, deeply considered in order to make an album, not just a bunch of disparate songs stuck together in order to grab the "impatient listener."

And in the middle of a fair critique regarding my voice resembling Dylan's these days perhaps a little more than it should, you suddenly throw in a reference to Jesse Fuller so irrelevant to the point you were attempting to make it defies reason. Like much of your work this comes off as a lame attempt to go against the grain of the resoundingly good reviews this album has garnered. Whatever, it defines lazy writing.

From this these examples, it seems clear to me that you are one of that strange, off-kilter breed one runs into now again who thinks that anything a creative artist is doing right now completely wipes out the possibility that they could and probably will return to something at least resembling what they did the year before, or years before. It's like you have a head full of soup. The essence of being a creative artist is to freshen things up a bit on a regular basis and to also return to — if the artistic muse dictates — the past. This is as clear as an unmuddied lake.

Right after your feeble dig at the kazoo (an instrument completely appropriate to the characters who inhabit the song — I'm obviously blowing a huge wet raspberry at the whole wretched lot of them), in the same paragraph, you call "Bullet Of Redemption" a "good modern protest song." You've got the good part right at any rate, but unfortunately you are not alone in hearing the word "bullet" and going off on some Iraq war fantasy protest thing. For the record, "Bullet Of Redemption" is about a teenager who committed suicide, and my wrenching vocal will tell anyone who is really listening that it is not about a case that I saw on the evening news. This is the most serious song I have recorded since "Can't be Too Strong," but because of the lackluster journalism that abounds these days, has not been recognized as such.

"Fire my press officer," you insist in the next paragraph. I can assure you that the Bloodshot staff I have dealt with on this album are as confident of its brilliance as I am. (Also, I am not in the position of being able to fire Bloodshot staff.)

There is no lack of faith involved in using the statement you mention, which I myself wrote. Their tongues, like mine, are firmly in their cheeks; they have a sense of humor! Which is something you seem completely lacking in. Of course it's a playful remark! Your earnest mention of the other artists that follows shows your total misunderstanding of the playfulness involved, and therefore, a pretty serious misunderstanding of much of my intent throughout much of my career. (Here, one can't help but quote the brilliant line spoken by the puppet Kim Jong-il in the movie "Team America: World Police": "Why is everyone so fucking stupid?")

And I just looked back at the blurb on their website and saw no mention of the "angry young man" bit, and if they have used it elsewhere, I'm confident that it would appear in quotation marks and as an obvious reference to the past.

"I know you can kick some serious ass...and have proven so" you blather on again in the next installment of inanity. Yes, I did so on the last two albums I released as you pointed out earlier and was OBVIOUSLY not trying to repeat the ass kicking on this one!!!!

(OK, there may be hope for you: you did at least realize that the "white chick singers" credit was humorous. I'll give you that much.)

God, the inaccuracies go on: "Dylan's too busy re-writing his back catalogue..." Gallons of soup are involved with this one. Dylan may well be appropriating blues archetypes and ripping a few lines from some obscure civil war poet, but there is not a single song on "Modern Times" or some of the albums before it that even remotely suggest he is doing anything of the sort.

And..."Springsteen's still trying to pass himself off as a man of the people..."?

Trust me, Bruce has no need to try to pass himself off as anything and is not doing so. Taking what I considered to be the hackneyed "Mighty Wind" folk monolithium of Pete Seeger and turning it into an electrifying and utterly credible modern album is one huge achievement.

But why are you reviewing this album, one has to repeatedly ask? It seems probable, as I mentioned earlier, that you have noticed the overwhelmingly good notices for "Columbus" and are trying to make a name for yourself by not following the trend. Unfortunately, the absurd construct of your criticism only leads you into the murky abyss of prickdom.

I trust that you will in kind publish this reply unedited and in its entirety for the entertainment of your readers.

Yours sincerely, Graham Parker

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