Everything Is Free with Greg Parker
June 2006

First of all, I want to say a belated thanks to all the Greg Parker fans throughout the world who have made all of our recent success possible. Over the last two years we’ve played over 300 sellout dates in 18 countries, spanning the globe from Japan to Greece, and many, many points in between. We spent an entire month in Japan, where I am quickly becoming some sort of modern Japanese deity. I kept seeing show posters everywhere with big halos painted behind my head. But do I let it poison my ego and inflate my self-image beyond reason? Of course not. When I’m not flying around the world in my luxurious personal jet, drinking wine older than my granny, I spend several seconds of every day thinking about all the little tiny people who made my new life possible.

Like this column for instance. I don’t have to write this tripe, not a word of it. But I do, because I want to stay connected to you, my millions and millions of adoring fans.

I had my first show at Madison Square Garden last Saturday night. It is amazing how quickly things have exploded for me, and it makes me think back to a time when things were a little more real, if only a little more. It seems like only yesterday when I was paying club owners $50 to sing for the cleaning crew at 3 a.m.

For instance, the last time I played New York, it was at Irving Plaza, a much smaller venue. I opened for that crazy Cat Power/Chan Marshall chick, and she was in rare form, even for her. We got done with our set, which I am not too modest to say was an ABSOLUTE, UNEQUIVOCAL SUCCESS, and Chan gets up there about an hour after we get done and struggles through about four or five songs. She was obviously ill at ease, and finally she forgot the words to this one song right in the middle of it. Instead of continuing to play, she just stopped completely. For perhaps a minute, she sat there, unflinching, looking down at her piano. The crowd was silent at first, but then you could hear a few murmurs, then a few people yelling, and then it seemed like half the place was yelling at her to “PLAY THE FUCKING SONG!” You know what she did?!? She had a large cardboard box behind her piano filled with bananas, and she threw those bananas as hard as she could out into the audience. She kept doing this until people started throwing them back at her. Once she got pelted with a couple, she ran offstage. I thought these demure little indie rocker kids were going to riot like it was some kind of Guns N’ Roses concert. It was downright scary out there.

So Chan is swearing up a storm backstage, “goddammit” this and “fuckin’ little banana-covered shits” that, and I go over to her.

“Chan, somebody has to do something, or those kids are going to eat each other alive.”

“Can you read sheet music?” she asks. She passes me the music for the rest of her set. I love a lady who comes prepared.

I took the sheet music, huddled the band together, and gave them a Knute Rockne speech for the ages. “Boys, if we don’t go out there and play these weird ass Cat Power songs like they’re the best thing in history, everybody in this place is either going to die or be covered in bananas by the end of the night. And I don’t know about you, but I want to live to see another day, and I fucking HATE bananas, so I’m going to learn how to read music between here and the time I get behind the microphone. You guys are going to pretend like your lives depend on playing every note with every last bit of artistry in your bones, because I can assure you that they do.

“We are going to get out of here alive, and we won’t even have to take these nice, shiny suits to the cleaners.”

And with that, we took the stage. Those kids were stomping, yelling, and tossing bananas everywhere when we first came out, but by the time we assumed our respective positions, they all but stopped. I think we surprised them. I got behind the mic and tried to think of the perfect thing to say given these peculiar circumstances.

“Have any of you ever seen Coal Miner’s Daughter?” Silence. “It’s OK, you can answer me. So have you?” A few cheers, but mostly they’re wondering why I interrupted their banana riot to tell them about some old movie. “OK, I’m just going to assume that maybe a third of you have seen the movie, and another two-thirds haven’t, and I’ll just clue everyone in at once. Coal Miner’s Daughter is a biopic, the life story of Loretta Lynn, one of the greatest country singers in history. Remember how, towards the end of the movie, Loretta is touring all over the place, doing two shows a night, and finally one night she can’t even remember the first line of the first song? She just stands there as the band keeps playing, waiting for her to start. Finally they stop, and she tells the crowd that she’s tired, she wants her life back, and she’s sorry, but there’s no way she can sing for them that night. Then, she collapses.

“Did the crowd throw bananas at Loretta as they were carrying her out of the auditorium? No, they didn’t. They were stunned and concerned. I hope you will show the same concern for this woman whom all of you love so much that you paid $45 a head just to watch her sing.”

There were a few jeers, probably those making note of the fact that the two instances weren’t all that similar, that Loretta never threw the first banana, and that my example was something I got out of a movie. But all in all, they seemed to be in accord with the crux of my argument, thank God.

“Now Miss Chan can’t come back out here tonight. We’ve seen to it that she gets lots of rest. But she cares about your good time so much that she has requested we play the remainder of her set for you. How does that sound?” I would say about half of the crowd showed ambivalence, and the other half were intrigued and excited. “OK, well, here’s the next song. It’s called ‘Fool.'”

I looked down at that sheet music, and suddenly, those treble clefs, half notes, and all that other junk made sense. I started playing and signing, and the band did just as I told them - every note was a whole new catharsis for us and the audience. This is the kind of magic that has me on par with the Buddha in Japan. We played Cat Power songs for another hour and a half, and I had a whole new appreciation for her music, which I had only bothered to listen to for about five minutes right before the show. Actually, my guitar player locked me in the bus, put You Are Free on the stereo, and held me down on the floor until I scratched his eyes out. “How’s that for Cat Power, you stupid bastard,” I told him as I ran out the door. Luckily he doesn’t need his eyes to play guitar.

When we got done with the set, Chan showed us the utmost in gratitude for our reality-defying gesture. “What can I possibly do to repay you?” she asked me. She’s quite a doll.

My mind wandered. Then, the prudent gentleman won out as he always does. I hate that guy sometimes.

“I tell you what,” I said. “I think you need to cut a record in Memphis. Al Green has just put out a couple of pretty good new records in the last couple of years using his old team. I think you would sound dynamite with similar treatment.”

“I love Al Green.”

“I know you do. Who doesn’t who’s worth a damn? Anyway, call up some of those musicians that played on those old Stax and Hi records, write some songs that will work, and go down to Memphis and cut an album. Can you do that for me? I’d love to hear it.”

She jumped on me and clung to me like one of those clip-on koalas. I hadn’t seen this side of her before. I’m not sure anyone else had either. “That’s the best idea I’ve ever heard. I’m going to do it.”

"Good. You'll be a modern-day Dusty Springfield, and you'll have me to thank for it."

A few months back, The Greatest was released, twelve fresh tracks of sweet Memphis soul from Miss Chan Marshall. The inspiration for the album title, and the opening track, came from yours truly.