Squeezing Out Sparks

Squeezing Out Sparks was my introduction to Graham Parker way back in 1979.

I became a fan then of this London-born, now American musician who was never able to make the place I think he deserved in the rock world.  With a sound as snarky as Elvis Costello, as passionate as Bruce Springsteen, as resigned and angry as Bob Dylan, he tried to find his own way.

In some quarters, he is considered to have blazed the trail for punk rock.  The musicHound Rock guide says of him: “Against a high-octane blend of R&B, soul, and Dylanesque cynicism, Parker churned out memorable attacks against former lovers, hipster poseurs, and record company suits.”

parker-squeezing.jpgOn Squeezing Out Sparks were such great tunes as “Discovering Japan,” “Passion is No Ordinary Word,” and “Protection.”  The latter stated: “Everybody tells me don’t be scared/ Act as if you never cared / So I wear a blank expression / To conceal my true impression…”  (To sample the album go here.)

I connected with the angry young man vibe of the album without really listening to the sources of that anger: I just enjoyed that raucous energy.  This album, by the way, was the height of Parker’s work with his band, The Rumour, which featured Brinsley Schwarz on guitar.

The Rumour were still involved in the next album, The Up Escalator from 1980, but didn’t get credited on the cover.  Up to the present day, this has been my favorite Parker album.  It came to mean a lot to me as a reporter and photographer on a small weekly newspaper in a tiny town in the interior of British Columbia.

I lived in a miniscule walkup apartment on the main street of town.  Below was a hair salon, and I was often treated to the sharp, unpleasant smell of perms.  I was lonely, suffering from the end of an ill-advised engagement, stuck in a dead-end job, still and always fantasizing about writing.  At night I often skipped rope in time to the music that gave me the beat I craved, just to move and move and not think. 

parker-escalator.jpgThe Up Escalator was part of that and words like those to Empty Lives – “The up escalator going down the cracks … I am a candidate for elevation/ When I woke up this morning / I was all sensation” – and to Endless Night – “If there’s a wire / Must cross it / If there’s a coin / Must toss it /If there’s dirt / Can’t wash it / It’s my head / d-don’t cosh it” – suited my mood very well.

As did of course the song, Manoeuvres: “My whole life\ is one more move\ too late.”

I said Escalator was my favorite Parker album, but I just bought his first CD in many years, Don’t Tell Columbus, and it is growing on me greatly.  His voice is reedy now, veering toward Dylanesque nasality, but the songs still rock and his lyrics insinuate their way into my skull.

parker-columbus.jpgIn “I Discovered America,” he sings,

      And when the mighty chains of darkness

      Had me on the ropes

      Everybody said quit now

     That’s when I found hope

     Yeah, that’s when I found hope

And in “Love or Delusion”:

      I was out of my head

     Between the living and the dead…

     In a system so advanced

     That it runs on blood

     And it works by chance

There are references direct and indirect about the current state of the US. Here’s one of the more direct:

     Put on your uniform and go to the front

     Don’t be too sensitive

     That’s a stunt you don’t need

      When you’re stripping them naked

     And attaching the wires

     Because it’s only a frat party

     And all Arabs are liars

Despite remnants of his usual well-directed anger, in the end the album reflects, in the words of another song, where he seems to be now:  

   And that you’ve settled down,

   And accepted the vastness of it all.


Explore posts in the same categories: Culture, Music, Remembering

2 Comments on “Squeezing Out Sparks”

  1. emalyse Says:

    You’ve certainly got excellent taste. I think I first heard Graham Parker via his ‘The Pink parker’ EP (a frighteningly long time ago). He tended to get lumped into what was seen as ‘pub rock’ which put him in with Ian Dury,Nick Lowe,Wreckless Eric and Dr Feelgood but I’m not sure he really got enough recognition here in the UK. He should have got out of the UK when Joe Jackson did though it does sound as though he has had a more long term appreciative audience in the States.

  2. fencer Says:

    Hi emalyse,

    Thanks for coming by!

    It seems like he never quite hit his stride or the right timing somehow, and was eclipsed by other similar acts. You may well be right that he should have moved to the States long before he did. Funny how that kind of move works. Lots of North American acts have to go to England or Europe to get some recognition…


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