Graham Parker Perks Up

Rock's premier tough-but-tender songwriter flips on the tough switch again with Acid Bubblegum

"Oh, really?" feigns Parker. "That was a big hit in Germany. They played it in transvestite clubs."

Regardless of the motives behind The Parkerilla, the recording fulfilled Parker's obligation to Mercury and opened up a fierce bidding war, which Arista won. While recording his landmark Squeezing Out Sparks album, Parker still had time to record "Mercury Poisoning," the infamous pot shot at his former landlords.

"My manager, Dave Robinson [founder of Stiff Records], suggested I do a whole album of scathing Mercury songs. I thought 'Mercury Poisoning' was enough." Arista, unsure if attacking one's old label under the auspices of a new one constituted "bad sportsmanship," left its logo out of the dogfight. The label issued "Poisoning" on a highly collectible, promo-only 12-inch, pressed on gray vinyl with blood dripping letters and a skull and crossbones on the label. "You could do more fun things like that in those days," muses Parker. "Now they wouldn't let it out the door."

Parker label-hopped throughout the '80s, the worst experience being his abortive stay at Atlantic Records in 1987, which resulted in no releases.

"My manager at the time was into 'working with the record company,' which is why he isn't my manager anymore," Parker says. "That's the biggest load of bullshit. I don't work with the record company on songs. It doesn't happen that way.

"Atlantic in '87 was 'Phil Collins this, Phil Collins that.' They were like, 'You've got to do this right.' I was saying, 'Look, there isn't any "right." The most "right" is me producing the record.' So we just argued for a year. I wrote more material, which became The Mona Lisa's Sister, and they didn't think that it was up to much. I got to RCA, said give me the money and I'll make the record and everything will be fine. And everything's been fine since."

In 1995, Parker signed with the Razor & Tie label, which he jokingly refers to as his 'minor-label debut.' His first effort for the label raised a few eyebrows. When a friend suggested he should make an aggressive album, Parker got pissed off and wrote an entire acoustic recording called 12 Haunted Episodes, self-described as a cross between Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks (Parker's favorite album of all time), and Van Morrison's Astral Weeks. It's unequivocally one of Parker's best efforts.

"I haven't heard anything much like that for a while, so that's the direction I was aiming for [on Acid Bubblegum]. I prefer listening to acoustic music. Aggressive music is okay on the radio, but I don't normally put it on and listen to it at home. I've found a lot of new punk unlistenable. Acid Bubblegum and this whole thing with the Figgs is a reaction to that."

The deliberately soft focus of 12 Haunted Episodes seems to have left Parker with a surplus of hostility on Bubblegum: "I don't know where I found it. It's just applying certain areas of one's talent, going in one direction and staying with it. That's what I do these days, as opposed to a whole mish-mosh of songs. On a lot of my albums, I was trying to cover all the bases. I like to be more centralized now, so you're going on one trip when you listen to it, even though I still have to put some ballads on it. "The Girl on the Pier" is fairly pleasant until the monkey gets it in the bridge."

There's even a song called "Obsessed With Aretha" that documents the Queen of Soul's (and everyone else's) corresponding loss of soul.

"Look, I don't blame Aretha for hawking Wheel of Fortune," he allows. "I'd do the same. It's a good money gig. But if I'm commenting on something, somebody's going to get clipped about the ears."

Graham Parker is scheduled to perform on Sunday, November 10, at the Rockin' Horse in Scottsdale, with the Figgs. Showtime is 8 p.m.

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