Take Me to the River

Rock & Roll Books

Take Me to the River

Carp Fishing on Valium: Stories

by Graham Parker

St. Martin's, 227 pages, $22.95

Add Brit R&B blaster Graham Parker to the growing ranks of rockers like Greg Kihn, Joe Jackson, Richard Hell, Pete Thomas, and yours truly who have turned from the comfy format of three-minute songs to book-length prose for self-expression.

When I think of Parker's performances onstage, I remember a short man full of vitriol and intensity, wicked humor, and sarcasm tinged with a shade of cruelty -- a bittersweet guy who, despite all his angst, seemed quite capable of taking care of himself. I expected much the same from his first book. I was not disappointed. Carp Fishing on Valium is a collection of short stories following the life and careers of Brian Porker, from childhood adventures growing up in the south of England to his career as a rock vocalist whose insecurities, idiosyncrasies, and bad habits distinguish him as an interesting character to read about, if not someone we would trade places with.

With "The Sheld-duck of the Basingstoke Canal," Parker introduces his young protagonist at the age of 13, when his "grey plimsouls had wings." Brian, it turns out, is known as an "egger," one who steals eggs from the nests of mother birds in order to add to his prize collection of all the local species to be found. Adolescent Brian's exploration of nature through this odd hobby are reminiscent of Mark Twain's Huck Finn stories, but also reminded me of all the times I tried to bring home a frog in my pocket, only to find that it had mummified en route. Adolescents, in other words, are hell on nature and little creatures, but Brian, like most of us, manages to grow out of that phase before any major extinctions take place.

Parker is a hyper wit and has an ear for dialogue that makes even the lesser stories in this collection sing. Occasionally his scenes sag from being overdressed with detail in the way that a new writer writes when he's still in love with almost everything he writes. However, if you've any doubt about sticking this one in your cart, take a look at "Me and the Stones," which is worth the price of the book and then some. In it, Keith Richards invites Brian to audition for the Stones as lead vocalist after Mick Jagger is run over by a bus. Keith and the boys are conjured so successfully you'll want to air out your clothes after reading it because of all the Rebel Yell and cigarettes consumed with such tawdry vividness. Parker himself seems to be airing more than a few grudges and prejudices, but he isn't afraid to make his protagonist look small and wanting when measured against the Mount Rushmore of cool.

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Carp Fishing on Valium: Stories, Graham Parker

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