Graham Parker starts a fire

  • Article by: NEAL JUSTIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 15, 2012 - 3:05 PM

For decades, he has been painted as one of rock's angry men. Suddenly he has a lot less to rant about.

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Graham Parker

The first time Graham Parker heard of Judd Apatow was in 2002, when he was informed that the writer/producer's sitcom "Undeclared" would feature an appearance by Ben Stiller and a rendition of Parker's "Love Keeps You Twisted."

It turned out to be the show's final episode.

"I cursed it," said Parker, who performs Wednesday at the Fitzgerald Theater. "Typical of me."

In a more blessed career, the 62-year-old British musician would be as celebrated as his contemporaries Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson, thanks to more than three decades of smart, sassy, soulful punk-pop singles. Instead, he's better known as a bitter underachiever who has burned more bridges than Gen. Sherman.

But Parker's luck -- and mood -- may be changing.

Apatow, who turned around an underwhelming TV career with the movie smashes "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up," asked Parker to play himself in the new film "This Is 40," opening Friday.

That same week, Parker decided it was time to record and tour with the Rumour after a 31-year break. Many of the songs from their new collaboration, "Three Chords Good," will be spotlighted at Wednesday's show along with the group's best-remembered numbers from the late '70s ("Local Girls," "Discovering Japan") and chestnuts from Parker's solo career ("Get Started, Start a Fire," "I'll Never Play Jacksonville Again").

Apatow, who claims to own all of Parker's 20 studio albums, hopes the reunion and the movie will introduce the musician to a new audience.

"Paul Rudd's character [in the movie] is desperately trying to figure out how to help Graham sell records," Apatow told the Associated Press. "Now that the movie's coming out, we're all desperately trying to help Graham sell records."

But in typical fashion, Parker hasn't made it easy for himself.

Radio programmers are bound to think twice (if not 18 times) before playing such new numbers as "Coathangers," which deals with abortion, and "Arlington's Busy," an antiwar zinger that name-drops Donald Rumsfeld, and not in a good way.

"So many young artists are whining about themselves and their girlfriends," said Parker, who famously trashed his former record label on the song "Mercury Poisoning." "No one else is examining these issues, and if they are, can they do it as good as me?"

Dylan's secondhand fandom

It's not that Parker can't write moving love songs. It's just that they don't jibe with his image as rock's angry man. It's telling how he responds to praise for his ballad "Wrapping Paper," which begs for forgiveness with such heartfelt emotion that you'd think he recorded it on his knees.

"The only person that's picked up on the beauty of that song is Bob Dylan," said Parker, who opened for him during a 1991 tour. "Every night when I would do that song, he'd come out and sit behind the speakers. On one of the last nights, he sent out a costume lady to tell me how much he liked it and that he wanted a cassette."

Accolades from Minneapolis fans may not mean as much as a secondhand compliment from rock's bard, but Parker has made room in his schedule for the past nine summers to give a solo performance on the rooftop lawn at Brit's Pub.

"It's not just a case of him coming and collecting money," said Shane Higgins, general manager of the downtown Minneapolis bar. "He gets a good crowd, and he knows he's appreciated."

Parker doesn't expect this sudden bump in attention to trigger lines around the block the next time he plays there. In fact, he's skeptical that the current tour with the Rumour will even turn a profit.

But maybe, just maybe, this turn of events will finally bring him the respect he has craved for more than three decades.

"I don't believe in men in the sky pulling strings, but when this all happens at once, you can understand why people believe in that sort of thing," he said. "I just want people to exploit my material. In my opinion, there's a gold mine out there."

njustin@startribune.com • 612-673-7431 • Twitter: @nealjustin

  • GRAHAM PARKER AND THE RUMOUR

    When: 7:30 p.m. Wed.

    Where: Fitzgerald Theater, 10 E. Exchange St., St. Paul

    Tickets: $37. Ticketmaster.com or 1-800-745-3000.

    SEE THE BAND'S NEW VIDEO FOR "LONG EMOTIONAL RIDE" AT STARTRIBUNE.COM/A1946.

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