FROM THE LIP "That's what I've been doing for 40 years, is writing about what's been on my mind,"
says Loudon Wainwright III.
The reason why Loudon Wainwright III drives us crazy is the same reason why we love him so much. Few singer-songwriters have such flimsy boundaries around their personal lives or such lack of self-censorship. On 1971's Album II, the then-25-year-old singer sang of the shame and self-pity of sneaking an underaged girl into his motel room ("Motel Blues"), and the hard facts of adjusting to life with a new baby ("Be Careful There's a Baby in the House" — written before famous firstborn Rufus was around). He also sang of the assorted objects on an airplane ("Plane, Too"). In contrast to the extra coat of editorial finish that contemporary wise-kid Randy Newman put on his early work, the equally astute Wainwright was a young soul with frayed ends and loose synapses, as awed with love and sex as he was with the sheer stupidity of life itself.
"I think that the everyday world is full of ridiculous, funny, terrible things; so hopefully the album is a reflection of that," says Wainwright by phone from California. We're talking about his latest effort, Older Than My Old Man Now (2nd Story Sound Records), which the singer enthusiastically refers to as a "full-frontal assault" on the age-old subjects of death and decay. On "In the Here and Now," Wainwright flips through the pages of his life story and wonders how he got to the present tense. For "Ghost Blues," he imagines his own memorial. Like a mischief-maker at an Irish wake, Wainwright spikes these songs with the same bite and humor he has for the past four decades. The Wainwright children are along for the ride; not to mention Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Chris Smither, and even Dame Edna Everage on the novelty duet "I Remember Sex." Wainwright uses the guests and the laughter as a counterweight to his own musings, making the record sufferable, even fun.
At 65, you might expect to read something about how the prolific and mercurial tunesmith has come to terms with aging or how he has finally matured, but that would be false. Wainwright has been thumb-wrestling with the grim reaper for at least 20 years. On his 1992 LP History, Wainwright worked through the death of Loudon Wainwright Jr., an amateur musician and well-known journalist for Life. "He was my father," says Wainwright, reflecting on his dad's profound influence, belying to some degree his own complicated relationships with his own children. "Your parents are the giants in your life."
On "Older Than My Old Man Now," Wainwright dovetails a recitation of some of his father's original writings into an original composition about his own humble existence ("Just because you survived/Doesn't mean you feel alive"). The fact that Wainwright's father has popped up again shouldn't be a surprise. Unlike many songwriters who eschew reality in favor of idealism, Wainwright has seen many shades of adulthood and aging. It's not just a dozen rock-and-roll records and then the token old-man record. "That's what I've been doing for 40 years, is writing about what's been on my mind," says Wainwright. "Up until now that's been my identity and also how I earn a living. So when I think about getting older, or surpassing my father in terms of age, quite naturally I will write a song about it, as I pretty much have done my whole career."
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