30 October 2008

Loudon Wainwright III

While at work on a sunny summer day I heard something interesting on the speakers. I thought, "Is this the new Ryan Adams? But it's…good!" It wasn't Ryan Adams, and that guy still stinks. It turned out to be Loudon Wainwright III. Album II. "Me & My Friend the Cat." I started doing a bit of research and found that Loudon has existed on the periphery of fame for nearly 40 years. As the singing surgeon on M*A*S*H*, the original sidekick to David Letterman, and the dad of both Martha and Rufus Wainwright, Loudon has reasons for fame aside from his incredible 38 year, 22 album career.

I found that some of his music was a little hit and miss, but overall, bafflingly good. He mixes humour with heart-wrenching pain, nostalgia, and self-deprecation better than any songwriter I've ever heard. He was originally heralded as "the new Bob Dylan", but unlike Dylan, Loudon didn't reinvent himself a dozen times, never lied about where he came from, and doesn't suck live.

His talent lies in his willingness to discuss personal details fully and precisely, such as the time he hit Martha in the car, or his divorce from Kate McGarrigle, or his career failures. Loudon can construct songs in a variety of genres- lounge, reggae, folk, country, rock, blues- and always sound comfortable and authentic. A reggae song about being a pathetic tourist in Jamaica, or a rowdy bar song about the alcoholic implications of dinner parties with friends ("drinks before dinner and wine with dinner and after-dinner drinks"), or a cheesy "Running-On-Empty"-esque country song about his biggest fan (both literally and figuratively) being a bigger fan of both Bob Dylan and Neil Young: this is all just typical Loudon- personal, funny, and poignant.

All this has gotten him a decent career and following, but rarely any commercial success. His only real single was "Dead Skunk," a minor AM radio hit over 35 years ago. He's had acting roles in a variety of things, notably Tim Burton's "Big Fish," and the TV show "Undeclared," but it's probably too late for a full-blown entry into stardom. So ol' Loudo will have to remain on the fringes, as he's done for nearly 40 years, getting his name spelled wrong on marquees worldwide.


Me & My Friend The Cat.mp3
The Swimming Song.mp3
Wine With Dinner.mp3
T.S.M.N.W.A. (They Spelled My Name Wrong Again).mp3


Robert Henson said...

"...heart-wrenching pain, nostalgia, and self-deprecation...willingness to discuss personal details..."


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