Humor, family key to Loudon Wainwright’s legacy
By PAUL DE BARROS September 19, 2012 5:50PM
NEW YORK - JUNE 08: Loudon Wainwright performs at the 25th Anniversary Summerstage Gala "The Music Of Simon & Garfunkel" at Rumsey Playfield, Central Park on June 8, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Loudon Wainwright
Wainwright III; Dar
♦ 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22
♦ Dominican University Performing Arts Center, 7900 W. Division, River Forest
♦ Tickets, $10-$25
♦ (708) 488-5000;
The extended family tree of singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III is beginning to look like one of those intermarrying European royal families.
Wainwright sits at the hub of a musical dynasty that includes his first wife, Kate McGarrigle; his second, Suzzy Roche (of the Roches); and his son, Rufus Wainwright. But when Leonard Cohen’s daughter, Lorca, volunteered to carry Rufus’ baby for Rufus and his partner — hey, that was like Henry VIII marrying Catherine of Aragon.
“We’re just acquaintances,” said Wainwright of Cohen, in a phone interview from his Long Island home. “Now we’re co-grandparents, or co-grandfathers, or whatever the term would be. I suspect we’ll be seeing a bit more of each other.”
That’s a typically dry response.
On his most recent album, “Older Than My Old Man Now,” an eloquent meditation on mortality, there is a song called “I Remember Sex.”
Tongue-in-cheek, surely, right? (Wainwright is only 66.)
“Well, I had to put my tongue somewhere,” Wainwright commented.
Humor is one of Wainwright’s staples, starting with the 1972 novelty song, “Dead Skunk (in the Middle of the Road),” his first (and only) real hit. He grew up on comic singers such as Tom Lehrer and Allan Sherman.
“The novelty songwriter had a bit of a cachet,” he said. “And if you go back and listen to ‘Poisoning Pigeons in the Park’ (Lehrer), it holds up. ‘Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah’ (Sherman) holds up. It has a tensile strength to it.”
One of the best new songs is a duet with the great “cowboy” folk singer, “Ramblin’ ” Jack Elliott, “Double Lifetimes” (“I want a double lifetime, I wasted my first one”). But Wainwright plucks more serious strings on “All in a Family,” when he sings “Forgive and forget, and finally see/the forest from the family tree.”
“People in your family and people you are close to have the ability to hurt you,” he reflected. “But forgiveness is an important thing to work on. Because I think you can’t forgive yourself unless you forgive these other people.”