Family Ties Run Deep For Loudon Wainwright
The last two years have been quite the ride for Loudon Wainwright III. He awoke one day and came to the realization that that he had reached an age older than his father ever lived to be. It’s a rather depressing thought, but one that served as inspiration for his latest album - “Older Than My Old Man Now.” On Thursday, September 12, Loudon will perform songs from this release and from throughout his 20-odd album catalog at the South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC). “Older Than My Old Man Now” made NPR’s list of Top 10 Albums of 2012. It contains 15 original songs through which Loudon examines his life, his family history, and looks at the issue of mortality with his trademark candor and humor. This is, after all, the man who first became famous when his song “Dead Skunk” became a Top-20 hit in the early ‘70s. Since that time, Loudon has paved a career filled with both introspective and ludicrous lyrics – a path distinctly unique to this folk singer.
"Contemporaries of mine have recently taken to writing memoirs and autobiographies. I decided I would try to tell the story of my swinging life in a 3 and a 1/2 minute song," says Loudon of "The Here & the Now," the song which kicks off the album. It features jazz guitar great John Scofield and backing vocals from all four of Loudon’s children -- Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Lucy Wainwright Roche, and Lexie Kelly Wainwright. Two of the three mothers (Suzzy Roche and Ritamarie Kelly) provide backing vocals as well. The album is a true family affair. It even includes lyrics lifted from the notebook of Loudon’s father and a song written by Loudon’s ex-wife Kate McGarrigle (the mother of Rufus and Martha), both of whom are no longer alive.
With song titles like “My Meds,” “Over the Hill,” “I Remember Sex,” and “The Days That We Die,” it’s clear he’s got a lot of heavy subjects on his mind. The mixture of guest voices and recitations from his father give the songs an amazingly timeless, broadly human quality. Some songs are insightful, some depressing, and some are just fun, but mostly the album is pure poetry put to music.
"One voice singing a lot about death 'n' decay can be a bit wearing, so Dick (Connette - the album’s producer), and I brought in other singers to help with the heavy lifting," said Wainwright. "The venerable Chris Smither testifies with me on ‘Somebody Else,’ for which 'High Wide & Handsome' alum Rob Moose wrote the string arrangement. Barry Humphries, a.k.a. Dame Edna Everage, does a duet with me on ‘I Remember Sex.’ He and I were romantically linked in two episodes of Ally McBeal a few years back, and I've been besotted ever since. There is no greater living and performing legend than Barry Humphries, for my money. And he's even older than I am!"
The album’s guest stars also includes the folk music legend Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, a personal influence of Wainwright’s. "After making pilgrimages to Jack's shows for half a century now, for me to sing and play with him on an album was nothing short of a dream come true," said Wainwright, referring to the album track "Double Lifetime." "Recording this song with him – perhaps my foremost musical father figure – was a gas."
Robin Mortin from the Celtic group The Boys of the Lough was another guest performer on the album. "We've known each other since the early 1970s when we were young hell-raising/up-chucking Turks on the folk music scene together," recalls Wainwright. "It was great fun to begin recording ‘Older Than’ back in May at Robin's studio in the tiny Scottish village of Temple – just a wee bit south of Edinburgh."
Loudon’s father, the album’s inspiration, was an esteemed Life Magazine columnist and senior editor. The more Loudon looked at his past and the words of his father, the more material he acquired. In the end, he not only created an album but continued on to put together a theatrical piece called “Surviving Twin.” In fact, Loudon was in rehearsals throughout August for the show, which ran September 4-8 at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Culture Vultures caught up with Loudon during rehearsals to ask him how the songs on the album led to the show and what more he may have learned about his father and himself from it.
“Connecting a few of my songs with selections of my father's writing on ‘Older Than My Old Man Now’ got me going on ‘Surviving Twin,’” said Wainwright. “Now it's a 75-minute theatre piece with excerpts from seven of his very best ‘The View From Here’ columns, 11 of my songs (old &new) and a five minute film.
“It's a posthumous collaboration since my dad passed away in 1988,” he continued. “In it we, that is he and I, focus on fatherhood - being one and having one - and how it relates to the important issues of birth, self identity, loss, fashion, pet ownership, and mortality. It's been a blast to work on it, and satisfying on many levels.”
An accomplished songwriter, Wainwright's songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Earl Scruggs, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Rufus Wainwright, and Mose Allison, among others. He was awarded a Grammy for the 2009 release, “High Wide & Handsome - The Charlie Poole Project”.
Loudon is also a familiar face on television and the silver screen. He’s appeared on such shows as “M*A*S*H,” “Ally McBeal,” “Undeclared,” and “Parks and Recreation” and in movies such as “Big Fish,” “The Aviator,” “Knocked Up,” and “Elizabethtown.” Acting is more than just a passing interest for him; in fact, he originally studied acting at Carnegie-Mellon University, but dropped out to partake in the Summer of Love in San Francisco.
Don’t miss one of America’s most creative songwriters in his only tri-state appearance on Thursday, September 12 at SOPAC (One SOPAC Way in South Orange, NJ). For more information visit http://www.sopacnow.org or Loudon’s website at http://www.lw3.com.