'We're being brainwashed'

Pub-rock cult icon Graham Parker answers the phone with a jaunty “GP here,” and keeps talking for a half-hour straight in his gravelly British accent. We managed to get in a few questions about his latest album, Imaginary Television, which features theme songs for TV shows Parker made up.

What are some of your favorite TV theme songs?

I grew up in England, of course, and I guess we had a TV when I was about — I must’ve been 10 or 11 by the time we got TV, maybe 12. I know it was just before the Beatles came along, which was ’62, ’63. Much of the television that we got into was American. You’d see Bob Hope … and what’s his name, “Say goodnight to the folks, Gracie”? George Burns, all those great comedians were very much a part of what we first saw on TV. I’ve always thought of TV as being quintessentially American. And then came stuff like The Dick Van Dyke Show, 77 Sunset Strip, I Love Lucy. …A lot of these things, I think they were all very good in their own way.

Graham Parker

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A lot of stuff comes from when you were a kid. I just woke up this morning singing `singing` “It’s better in the Bahamas.” It’s these fucking adverts again. You only have to hear a bad tune three times, it’s there. … That’s the power of TV. We’re being brainwashed.

So were you picturing these shows you were making up as being on American TV as opposed to being on the BBC?

Well, apart from one of them `“It’s My Party (But I Won’t Cry)”`, where I deliberately say that it’s a BBC production that’s aping the productions of the ’50s, the one-camera shoot. Our idea of TV was three guys in the lunch room of a factory, you know. … And you’d come to some kind of vague understanding of their dull, dull-ass lives, and that would be an English TV show `laughs`. That was what we had, whereas you had `sings a medley of The Dick Van Dyke Show, 77 Sunset Strip, and Gunsmoke theme songs.`

I read the idea came from you being contacted to write a couple of actual theme songs. How much information did they give you?

Their plot sketches were much rougher and thinner than mine are. That’s the funny thing. Basically they gave a rough idea, but then what they did was they hedged their bets about the kind of song they wanted. They said, “It can be an instrumental, but it can have lyrics. It has to be a bit like this and bit like this, but go with your gut.” Every line they wrote contradicted the last line. It was crazy. And there was all this, like, “We don’t want it to be like this show,” nudge nudge, “but maybe a little bit.” … And they also made it like a competition. It was, like, so sick, you know. And it was also like, “We need this by next week, and it has to be exactly a-minute-40-seconds long.” … Ultimately they weren’t accepted.

Back in 1983, there was going to be a show on the TV, and they wanted to use one of my existing songs `“Life Gets Better”`. … It was pretty cheap, pretty lowball. The show sounded ridiculous. It was about a lawyer who shares office space with a chiropractor, and there was a window so you would watch the chiropractory going on while the clients came in. It was just absurd. It lasted about three episodes, and the third episode, they got so desperate they got Wonder Woman in it, the girl who plays her `Lynda Carter`. I had to watch it just ’cause I liked looking at her, you know, who doesn’t? But the amazing thing was, they were going to use one of my songs, and in the end it fell through at the last minute, and I thought, well this has happened for me before, par for the course. … And what they did, they went cheap. They decided, “Fuck it. We can’t afford this. This show’s going to be a flop. … Let’s just get a guy to write a piano thing.” So somebody wrote a piece of piano music, and I could tell they told him, “Listen to this song by Graham Parker,” and nudge, nudge, wink, you know what I mean? … These people are quite ruthless. But the fact is, I’d probably do it again. •

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