Life Lived Loud
Loudon Wainwright III looks back
by Adrienne van der Valk
With 22 albums worth of original material under his belt, Loudon Wainwright III has earned the right to get a little retrospective. No, he didn’t blow up quite the way fellow candidate for “new Bob Dylan” Bruce Springsteen did, but Wainwright chose a stubbornly individualistic path, and his fans have loved him for it since this “blaspheming booted, bluejeaned baby boy” hit the folk scene in 1970. His most recent album, Recovery, is a collection of his very early work, revisited and rearranged with the help of producer Joe Henry.
“Most of these songs were originally recorded with just voice and guitar, so right off the bat it was different because there are other musicians playing on every song,” Wainwright explains. “The trick was to take something old and make it sound new. My voice has changed a lot. In 30 years you change in all kinds of scary ways.”
Most of the songs on Recovery rotated out of Wainwright’s performance repertoire years ago. After going back and forth with Henry several times about the lineup, he had to remember and relearn the chord progressions on songs like “Muse Blues,” “New Paint” and “Movies Are a Mother to Me.”
“It was like doing a cover of another songwriter, except he’s me,” Wainwright says. “I’m still writing about a lot of the same things now that I wrote about then. I always wrote autobiographical songs. I was writing about getting old in the ’70s.”
An LW III show is guaranteed to generate lots of laughter, but don’t expect comedy all night long. Gimmicky tunes like “The Acid Song” (about tripping when you really should know better) might precede a song like “April Fools Day Morn,” a shockingly confessional account of returning home to his mother after a night gone drunkenly wrong. Known for his candor, sarcasm and astute observations, Wainwright isn’t afraid to dabble in subject matter that listeners might not be prepared to absorb.
“Occasionally I’ll sing a song that makes the audience uncomfortable,” he says, “But I consider that to be part of my job. This is not music to relax to. I want it to have an effect on people. I’ve ruffled some feathers, but I enjoy doing it.”
In addition to resurrecting relics from his fledgling songwriting days, Wainwright has been acting (look for him as Katherine Heigl’s obstetrician in Knocked Up) and writing for film soundtracks and, most recently, for a musical theater production based on Carl Hiaasen’s novel Lucky You. Projects like these are fun, says Wainwright, and provide a nice contrast to the sometimes uneven experience of waiting for inspiration to strike.
“I have found that I can write to order,” he observes. “Someone calls and says ‘I need a song about this by this time,’ and I can do that. But otherwise weeks or months might go by and I think, ‘I’d better write a song, or I’m going to be out of a
Loudon Wainwright III with fellow folk icon and guitar master Leo Kottke 8 pm Thursday, 10/10. McDonald Theatre $31.50