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Thread: Review of Loudon Wainright III Autobiography

  1. #1
    Highly Evolved Orangutan JKL2000's Avatar
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    Review of Loudon Wainright III Autobiography

    The NY Times has a review of a new autobiography by Loudon Wainright III that I thought you'd all enjoy. I'm not that into folk, so it isn't something I'd naturally be drawn to, but it sounds like his personal life was interestingly f'd up and that this might be a good read. I made one edit in the review, which was to include the real title of Martha Wainright's song, so you don't have to click on the YouTube link to see it - too foul for the NY Times apparently!


    In ‘Liner Notes,’ Loudon Wainwright Looks Squarely at His Flaws and His Musical Family Tree

    By DWIGHT GARNER SEPT. 12, 2017

    Pity the folk singer raised in the Northeast. As John Gorka put it in “I’m From New Jersey,” a nearly perfect song, “It’s not like Texas / There’s no mystery / I can’t pretend.”

    The Texas-based singer-songwriter James McMurtry has examined this issue from the other side. On one of his live albums, he comments that while a good old boy can become an intellectual, an intellectual cannot become a good old boy.

    One of the best things about Loudon Wainwright III, who was raised among the country clubs of Westchester County, is that he’s never pretended to be anything he isn’t.

    “I’d mowed some lawns and had hitchhiked to New Canaan, Conn.,” he writes about the start of his career in “Liner Notes,” his new memoir, “but I hadn’t harvested a single bale of cotton or ridden any rails.”

    Instead of inventing a mythos, Wainwright simply wrote some excellent songs — rich, complicated, sometimes dorky (one of his biggest hits is the 1972 novelty tune “Dead Skunk”), marked by unexpected wordplay and often surprisingly dark.

    His new memoir is all of these things, too. It’s a funny, rueful thing to consume. Wainwright has hurt most of the people he’s loved, and he’s loved some remarkable people. He’s written fond and sometimes acid songs about them; they’ve returned serve.
    Photo
    In a family photo, clockwise from top: Rufus Wainwright, Alexandra Kelly, Martha Wainwright, Loudon Wainwright III, Lucy Wainwright Roche and Ritamarie Kelly. Credit via Penguin Random House

    His marriage to Kate McGarrigle, one half of Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and his long relationship with Suzzy Roche, of the Roches, ended because of his philandering. He’s been a sometimes remote father to his children, who include Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche, who have gone on to have major musical careers of their own.

    You could put the best songs these people have composed about each other on a triple album, and it would be among the great, troubled documents of our time — the back catalog of their own happiness and heartbreak.

    Among the first songs on it might be “Dilated to Meet You,” Loudon’s duet with McGarrigle about the birth of Rufus. The last might be one written by their daughter, Martha, about her father, one that isn’t mentioned in “Liner Notes.” Its title is “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole.”

    Wainwright and his children sometimes perform together, but the barometric pressure between them can still be low. The author is 71, and in “Liner Notes,” while discussing his memorial service, he writes, his tongue only slightly in cheek, lines that will make any father wince:

    “It’s one thing to constantly forget my birthday or disregard umpteen text messages, but it would be a bit weird, kind of ridiculously passive-aggressive, for them to just opt out of my memorial service. Yes, I know it’s all about remembering, but can’t there also be a little forgive and forget at this point?”

    The author gave Rufus Wainwright a gift by not naming him Loudon Wainwright IV. He knows his name is pretentious. When he started playing music, his father, who wrote for Life magazine under the byline Loudon Wainwright, made him use the roman numeral so the two of them would not be confused.

    It’s a hard name to get your mouth around. The first time the author appeared on “The Dick Cavett Show,” in 1969, Cavett pronounced it “Luden,” like the cough drop.

    Wainwright attended prep school at St. Andrew’s in Delaware, where the movie “Dead Poets Society” was later filmed. He then went to the drama school at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon) in Pittsburgh. He dropped out after a year and fled to San Francisco during the Summer of Love. He got so into yoga and health food that he nearly became a lost case, a granola-victim.

    He snapped back to attention and returned to the East Coast. His first record, “Loudon Wainwright III,” was released by Atlantic in 1970. It didn’t sell, but critics praised it.

    “I was dubbed, among other things, the new Bob Dylan, the Charles Chaplin of Rock, the Woody Allen of Folk, and, my favorite, the male Melanie,” he writes. “Somehow, I had stumbled into a career.”

    He married Kate McGarrigle in 1971; they separated five years later. He was a terrible husband, he admits. He leered at other women on their honeymoon. He cheated on her relentlessly. When he later fell in love with Suzzy Roche, then a sophomore in college, McGarrigle was not in a forgiving mood.

    “Kate had the mistaken impression that Suzzy had stolen me from her, so the success of the Roches, not to mention the comparisons in the press between the two groups, made her furious,” he writes. “I’m sad to say that for the next 35 years, Kate waged a kind of psychological war of attrition on me and Suzzy, and also, by extension, on our daughter, Lucy.”

    Wainwright does not go easy on himself in this book. In typically memorable prose, he describes how he got into “the nasty and destructive habit of picking up women after shows, bringing a sort of love hostage back to the hotel room, a raunchy token of esteem.”

    He’s jealous of the success of others in his family. He likes reading his own good reviews and other people’s bad ones. He describes ogling women while doing laps at his local pool. He’s a stinking, traitorous cretin.

    And yet, as he woos his memories back, there’s a great deal fondness in this book, too. Like the best songs of the Wainwright-McGarrigle-Roche clan (Rufus has a child with Leonard Cohen’s daughter, Lorca, so this dynasty may still be in its infancy), this straightforward book makes your heart wobble on its axis. And it sends you back to the songs.

    Liner Notes: On Parents & Children, Exes & Excess, Death & Decay, & a Few of My Other Favorite Things
    By Loudon Wainwright III
    306 pages. Blue Rider Press. $27.

  2. #2
    Thanks for posting this. I'm going to see Loudon tomorrow night near Philly and decided to see of PE had anything to say about him.

    Over the last couple days I've listened to his "40 Odd Years" boxed set and the album "Older Than My Old Man Now". He's an amazingly good (and frequently hilarious) songwriter, but seems like he was a right bastard to his wives and kids. I don't know if I'd want to read his autobiography - might put me off his music.

    I don't know if it's still available, but a few weeks ago I saw a thing on Netflix that had Wainwright reading articles that his dad had written and then performing songs about his family. It was pretty good. I'm hoping the show tomorrow has more songs and less recitation though.
    --
    Each generation had its magic technology:
    1990s: Superconductivity!
    1970s: Microchips!
    1950s: Atomic power!
    1920s: Tubes!
    1890s: Electricity!
    All the way back to "Thog have fire! Thog invincible!"
    -- Kip Williams, found while browsing the archives of rec.arts.sf.written

  3. #3
    Pikachupacabra spellbound's Avatar
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    Thanks for the review. LWIII is one of my favorite singer-songwriters. I will have to read his autobiography.

  4. #4
    I read the book when it came out. Entertaining. For the prog fans, there is a brief mention of touring with Soft Machine in the U.K. in the early 70's.

  5. #5
    Highly Evolved Orangutan JKL2000's Avatar
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    The song title "Dilated to Meet You" (about the birth of Rufus) is pretty hilarious!

  6. #6
    Member Ten Thumbs's Avatar
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    It's a good read, combines his recollections with some of his lyrics. Saw LWIII in Vancouver recently, he did songs, read a piece from his book, and recited one of his father's pieces. Good performance.
    I remember tomorrow

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Ten Thumbs View Post
    It's a good read, combines his recollections with some of his lyrics. Saw LWIII in Vancouver recently, he did songs, read a piece from his book, and recited one of his father's pieces. Good performance.
    That's what he did in Pheonixville, PA on Saturday night. Probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 songs interspersed with a couple readings from his autobiography and a couple recitations of his father's articles. As far as I could tell, he was reciting them entirely from memory. Impressive for a guy who's well into his 70s.

    Fantastic show overall, I'm really glad I went. The opening act was a woman named Susan Werner who played a similar style of music to Wainwright. Some serious songs, some jokey ones about things like how rediculous recumbant bikes look, friends who got bad facelifts, etc. I ended up buying her CD "Eight Unnecessary Songs".

    Loudon's autobiography was on sale in the lobby after the show, but most people bought a 2-disc collection of rarities called "Years in the Making" instead. I didn't have enough cash on me to buy both, so I went with the CDs then waited in line to get them autographed by Wainwright. One of the few autobiography purchasers was in the line before me and when she handed it to him to sign he said "HEY, you bought the BOOK!"

    I'd definitely go see LWIII again, but I don't know if I'd do so in Pheonixville. I've never seen such a clusterf**k when it comes to parking. Every square inch of that town that isn't an active traffic lane, sidewalk or building already has a car sitting on it, and nobody ever leaves. I circled around the downtown area for over half an hour getting madder and madder but couldn't find a spot for love or money. When it was starting to look like I was going to miss the beginning of the show, I said "screw it" and drove about six blocks away from downtown and finally found a church parking lot where you could park for $5. Trusting folks - there was just a sign that said to go slip $5 through the mail slot in the church office door. Surprisingly, everyone that I saw park there actually paid the $5 (including me).

    After the show I stopped into a little microbrew place across the street from the theater called the Rec Room for a couple beers. Good beer and most of the floorspace is given to ping-pong tables and those long wooden tables that you slide the little pucks down (don't know what that's called). Seems to be a trendy hang-out for the recently-turned-21 crowd though - I think I was the oldest patron in the place by at least 25 years.
    --
    Each generation had its magic technology:
    1990s: Superconductivity!
    1970s: Microchips!
    1950s: Atomic power!
    1920s: Tubes!
    1890s: Electricity!
    All the way back to "Thog have fire! Thog invincible!"
    -- Kip Williams, found while browsing the archives of rec.arts.sf.written

  8. #8
    Highly Evolved Orangutan JKL2000's Avatar
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    ^ Nice review of the evening. I hate parking nightmares like that, they have me starting to use Uber and Lyft more.

  9. #9
    Member Lopez's Avatar
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    I'll have to read this. Saw him outside of Philly in 1975 or so. Great fun.
    Lou

    Awarded the Krusty Brand Seal of Approval. It's not just good, it's good enough.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Lopez View Post
    I'll have to read this. Saw him outside of Philly in 1975 or so. Great fun.
    I'm wondering if you saw him at the same place I just saw him - the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville. I got the impression that he plays there a lot. The soundboard guy was singing along with a few of his songs.

    He opened the show by saying something like "It's great to be back at the historic Colonial Theater. It's historic because John Adams once did mushrooms here."
    --
    Each generation had its magic technology:
    1990s: Superconductivity!
    1970s: Microchips!
    1950s: Atomic power!
    1920s: Tubes!
    1890s: Electricity!
    All the way back to "Thog have fire! Thog invincible!"
    -- Kip Williams, found while browsing the archives of rec.arts.sf.written

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