Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Letter To Nick Blakey

Please read the following review of "Don't Tell Columbus":


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


jc said...

Well done,sir--it's long past time for some lazy jounalist-pushback.

Burf said...

Graham--Beautiful! And I love the new blog format, please blog as often as you can, this is great stuff.

Kansas Territory said...

Well done. I've been thoroughly enjoying Don't Tell Columbus. I'm sorry we didn't hear any of that in Rumson here recently. Maybe that wasn't the crowd for it ?

Cash said...

"The murky abyss of prickdom."
Prickdom? Oh yes, of course, Dick Cheney's birthplace. If it looks, sounds and smells like a prick...

migdd said...

I thought I had read every published review of GP's glorious new album, Don't Tell Columbus, and all of them were very positive. Thus, reading Mr. Blakey's curious take on an album he admits he cannot connect with or understand took me by surprise. I don't think I could assume to criticize any work of considerable emotional depth without at least some small understanding of the work, whether I thought I "liked" it or not.

Cash said...

"Protection" has just reached a record high of 7,000 views on YouTube...one of Graham's best performances(IMHO).

[LawClerk] said...

Two lines from the playwright Ionesco seem appropriate here, one for each man.

For Mr. Blakey: "The critic should describe and not prescribe."

For the chairman, who really shouldn't spend his time responding to the critics in the first place: "A man with a soul is not like every other man."

I deeply regret that I can't make it to Brit's tomorrow. I was hoping the chairman would sign my Pink Parker 45...


Sears said...

I applaud your restraint when dealing with narrow-minded and prickish people.

ms said...

It is always fascinating to me that people feel the need to criticize others so harshly in public discourse. Did these words lead this reviewer to feel his ideas are some how now more relevant and important? It seems to me that just the opposite is true. Most thoughtful people see through such drivel and instead of reading it, decide to make up their own minds.

Kudos to GP. Your response to this was tempered and well said. The new album is a peach and the gig at Brit's was a blast.

howard in nyc said...
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howard in nyc said...

i for one am grateful for such garbage spewed from the fingertips of another clueless music 'critic' in that such drivel resulted in such a wonderful retort from our chairman.

not only for the humour, for the phrase "murky abyss of prickdom" (and already i am figuring on ways to work that into cocktail party conversation), but best of all, in answering this twit gp has given us a peek, well, several peeks, into his creative process.

we all know there is a tremendous depth of intelligence, effort, difficult decision making and other considerations behind your music. reading just a few of those details is a great treat for this fan. and hey, i liked 'heat in harlem'. a lot.

see you at the next show in the area (hopefully up in norwalk ct next weekend)

best regards

howard (the doctor)
new york city

alexm said...

Excuse me for ignoring the moronic review (although your response was a silver lining in a cloud of turd).

I was interested to read your thoughts on "Heat In Harlem", which I think is a great piece of work. How does that song, then, stand up against "Watch The Moon Come Down", in your reflective opinion?

And if I may change the subject a little, I'd like to just throw in the random opinion that "Kid With The Butterfly Net" is in my all-time Top Ten. (That is a brilliant album, also.)


GPM said...

I do not think that Mr. Blakey savaged "Columbus" even as I essentially disagree with his assessment of "Reservoir." He was more than occasionally positive and even reverential in comments made about GP's latest effort, and the only fault I can find with his comments is Graham's accurate rejoinder that "Reservoir" is light years superior to "H in Harlem."

And GP, you left yourself open to one mighty "right-back-at-cha," too: To say that ANYONE, these days OR those days, wishes to carve out a name for himself by "slamming" an album made by Graham Parker is ludicrous to the zenith degree. Mr. Parker, as sad and as corrupt as it is to say, you, I, and everyone who knows and respects your immensely satisfying body of work also knows that no critic is going to get famous having you as a notch on their PDA belt.

Rob Smyth said...

The most offensive element of many in Blakey's 'review' (I use the term loosely) was his continual use of the word "dude" when addressing its subject. This word is the badge of idiocy and those who wear it should be pitied rather than rebuked.

In fact, I'm not sure why GP bothered to reply - it will only encourage Blakey if he thinks people are affected by his half-arsed opinions.

gmc said...

Graham, I enjoy your writing and your music. Keep up the energy and get Columbus on vinyl.

willlandstrom said...

Graham. I could not agree with you more about your thoughts about the world's idiotic and destructive religions. Quite honestly I cannot remember a time in my life, even when I was a kid, when it was not obvious to me that all religions were just stupid. So hats off to you again Graham for having the balls to discuss things so many in this country (USA) as well as the whole world avoid-that being how utterly DESTRUCTIVE all religions are. Hey, are you ever coming back to the Stanhope House in NJ? I live close to there so would love to see you play there again. Thanks, Will

doitdave said...

thanks again for a great time at britts pub, i am enjoying cd loose monkey and thanks for signing my ladies cd mary anne, hope to c u next year also. mr. broken leg . thanks for eva cassidy heads up! she will be missed but not forgotten.

dante said...

Remember, Monday is "Don't Tell Columbus" Day. I'm putting aside some time to give it another few good listens, and also to review the re-revisionist history that tells us Columbus (and the rest of the invaders) stumbled upon a corrupted and immoral society and really did them a favor by introducing disease, weaponry and religion. Good Times!!

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Vũ Hoàng said...
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Tam Bang said...
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Rocky Ward said...
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Rocky Ward said...

(Previous comment removed due to a glaring spelling error)


Thank you so much for this. Your comments were even more fun to read than the death threats I received from some of Interpol's fans, most of whom by now have probably forgotten the review I wrote in Chunklet in which I compared their beloved heroes to The Knack (probably a delayed insult to the ghost of Doug Fieger, which was never my intention).

To acknowledge Mr. Smyth, I do cringe at the admitted overuse of the term "dude" and praise GPM for his actual grip of what I was attempting to say. I honestly didn't like the record, but I wanted to like it. Badly. Mr. Parker's "Temporary Beauty" still stuns me and since I recently discovered that "Howlin' Wind" was one of the late, great Peter Laughner's favorite songs, I declare it should be required listening for everyone who claims to like music.

The poke at Mr. Parker for using Mr. Gent over Mr. Hayes on drums has more to do with the fact that my wife is very good friends with Pete and, frankly, I love Pete's drumming more than Mike's. On another personal note, Brett Rosenberg never got enough air time as a lead player in general, and someone as talented and breathtaking as he should have more work than they would know what to do with. I digress.

This review was more or less a lifetime ago. I never got paid for anything I wrote for this publication (not the editor/publisher's fault) and if I were to let every person who disagreed with a review I wrote get under my skin I'd be cowering in a rubber room somewhere mumbling about how Mirrors never got their right and proper due or just how good and screwed Gene Clark got by the machine some call the industry. Indeed, you can't be too strong. Thank gawd - and I mean this (not that you care) - Mr. Parker still has fans like all of you to keep his fires burning. That's all anyone could ever ask for.

Mike Gent attempted to introduce Mr. Parker and myself a few years ago and nothing came of it. I would have accepted his punch with a smile.

Funny thing: just today a few people asked me if I knew where Mr. Parker was playing in our area since they had heard he was on tour. Guess a lot of you have forgotten as well, eh?

Rock on,

Nick Blakey

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