Things just "happen" to rocker Graham Parker: A movie, a reunion

Judd Apatow (left), writer-director of "This Is 40," and musician Graham Parker, who appears in the film along with the members of Rumour.
Judd Apatow (left), writer-director of "This Is 40," and musician Graham Parker, who appears in the film along with the members of Rumour. (SUZANNE HANOVER)
Posted: November 27, 2012

When it comes to his career, Graham Parker says, he doesn't do a whole lot of planning.

"I just sort of drift along, and things happen to me," the perpetually underappreciated British rocker says.

So he had not originally intended to reunite his storied '70s band, the Rumour, with whom he made incendiary, R&B-laced rock as well as the 1979 classic Squeezing Out Sparks. Yet here they are, with an excellent new album, Three Chords Good, and a tour that brings them to the Theatre of Living Arts on Friday night.

And the 62-year-old certainly was not looking for a role in a major motion picture. But that's what he has, after getting a call from writer-director Judd Apatow. And so Parker and the Rumour, playing themselves, appear in This Is 40, opening Dec. 21 and billed as a "sort-of sequel" to Apatow's 2007 hit Knocked Up.

"So all these things fell together without me thinking about them," Parker says over the phone from Vermont.

Parker had parted ways with the Rumour after 1980's The Up Escalator because he wanted to work with other musicians, although he did use individual band members on later albums. When he was getting ready to record what he thought would be his latest solo record, he thought he'd like to use the Rumour rhythm section of drummer Stephen Goulding and bassist Andrew Bodnar.

"I e-mailed both and asked, 'What do you guys think?' " Parker recalls. "And Steve made a joke: 'Now if you got hold of Bob and Brinsley and Martin, that would be a proper band.' And then he said: 'Kidding!' And I said, 'Right, I'll show him.' "

Parker e-mailed keyboardist Bob Andrews and guitarist Martin Belmont.

"Both came back immediately, as if they'd been waiting 30 years," he says. When he was finally able to reach Brinsley Schwarz, the guitarist also gave the OK.

"So, with very little fuss, I made a crazy commitment," Parker says.

Call it crazy, but the music on Three Chords Good vindicates the decision to reunite. Parker's trademark snarl and lyrical bite are evident on such numbers as "Arlington's Busy" ("and nobody cares") and "Coathangers," an attack efforts to control women's bodies. But there are also tender, open-hearted ballads such as "Long Emotional Ride" and "That Moon Was Low" that once again belie Parker's angry-man image.

For the singer and the band, making the album was a better experience this time around for one main reason - there was no outside producer. (Parker has been helming his own records since 1988's The Mona Lisa's Sister.)

"It's a very weird thing when you're working on some songs like I have, a dozen songs for a year, and suddenly this guy turns up who you hardly know," he says. "So in the old days there was always a lot of tension about that, about what direction albums were going in."

If that's a sore subject with Parker, well, he has had more than his share of tribulations in a career that took him through a long list of record companies. (He most famously took out his frustrations with his original label with the lacerating "Mercury Poisoning," on which he called himself "the best-kept secret in the West.")

"That was the trouble with the '70s," Parker asserts. "Everything was about, 'How do you get a drum sound as good as that band over there? How do you get the drums to sound louder and bigger?' Everyone was just chasing this elusive, magical sound, which culminated in the '80s with the Phil Collins drum sound, which ruined everything. . . .

"Jack Nitzsche was the best for Squeezing Out Sparks, because he wasn't really thinking in those terms. I learned how to produce from him, in a way."

Parker and the Rumour were known for scorching stage performances (check out Live at Marble Arch, for one). Before they performed live this time around, they listened to some of the old tapes.

"We all said, 'We don't want to do that, that's bloody horrible,'" Parker recalls. "We took 'Fool's Gold' and turned it into something the speed of 'Anarchy in the U.K.' It's [supposed to be] a mid-tempo anthem!"

"This is a great band now. We always were a great band, and we had moments on stage that were sublime, don't get me wrong. But we also ruined a lot of songs because we did them incredibly fast."

This time around, "The intensity is triple what it was, but in a different way."

As for This Is 40, Parker sounds somewhat amazed that he and the Rumour didn't end up on the cutting-room floor, considering the vast amount of footage Apatow shoots. (That includes filming 12 full-song live performances by the band, as well as documenting the making of the album in the studio.)

"The best thing is, it's a really good movie," Parker says. "That's the thing that really meant the most to me when I saw it. Then suddenly about 10 minutes into it my name popped up. 'Oh, . . ., I'm still in it.'

"You don't know, because he had whole other things going on with other stuff that didn't make the movie. . . .

"And then there's the DVD. Who knows what's going to be on that."

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