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Fountain of Youth

music LoudonLoudon Wainwright III talks family, folk music, and the art of being funny

Aside from being a talented singer/songwriter, Loudon Wainwright III has become a household name for his sense of humor. From the road in the Northeast, where Wainwright is beginning a tour that runs through the fall, he confesses, “I’ve always liked making people laugh, if possible. I have friends that are comics and I certainly have watched a lot of stand up. When I perform, I have a guitar that acts as a fig-leaf and as a shield for protection—so I’m relaxed.”

 

With 22 albums under his belt, appearances on TV—including M.A.S.H and Judd Apatow’s underrated Undeclared—and a hilarious role as an irreverent gynecologist in Apatow’s big-screen hit, Knocked Up, Wainwright is now facing the inevitable task of aging with grace.

On his latest achievement, Older Than My Old Man Now, the silver-haired fox digs deep into his familial relationships, featuring duets with his kids, ex-wife, and special guest appearances from Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Dame Edna Everage. “I had other people on the record so people wouldn’t get completely bummed out by one voice,” says Wainwright. “That was the concept.”

Like the Kennedys, several generations of Wainwrights have mass appeal and are fascinating branches on the family tree. For one, Wainwright shares a grandchild with Leonard Cohen through his son Rufus. Rufus is the living definition of a cult singer/songwriter, Wainwright’s daughter Martha has gained a wide following for her work with everyone from Nelson Mandela to Hole, and his youngest daughter Lucy is tearing up Brooklyn’s folk scene.

Wainwright understands the benefits of working with his infamous relatives. “I’ve worked with my family before, certainly my kids—a lot of the songs have family aspects.” He is practical, but also knows talent when he hears it. “My kids are pretty good singers and have interesting, distinctive voices, so it seemed like a logical choice to bring in the progeny. It was also a good way to sell records.”

His ex-wife, Suzzy Roche—a former member of the successful all-girl, all-family band, The Roches—explains what its like to collaborate with Wainwright. “Loudon is great to work with because he knows what he likes, respects what other artists bring to the table, but is fiercely committed to staying true to his own vision,” says Roche. “You ask: Is he hilarious? The word I’d use is authentic.”

Although Wainwright’s songs have been compared to humorists Tom Lehrer and Stan Freberg, he insists that his songwriting process is not focused on writing wacky tunes, but on writing well-structured ones. “I don’t think quirky when I write a song—I think beginning, middle and end,” he says. Wainwright does not mnd the comparison, however, seeing as Lehrer is one of his heroes. “I really wanted Tom Lehrer to sing on this album, and if he’s reading this, please come to the show, you’re on the guest list.”

With more than 40 years of touring experience, Wainwright understands the importance of getting the audience to identify with the performer. “The trick is to get a group of people together in a room or a cow pasture, or wherever it is, and do a show for them,” he says. “Audiences are much the same after a while, and they’re either good or bad—they’re either laughing or they’re not. The trick, or the goal, is to turn them into a good audience, to the best of your ability.”

But humor took a backseat to substance on one of Wainwright’s most recent projects, a contribution to Occupy This Album, a compilation of songs performed by artists that were inspired by the Occupy movement. “The song that I contributed to the record is a song I didn’t write,” he says. “It was written by a great singer/songwriter, Hezekiah Jenkins, who wrote it for the first Depression. I was happy to make that kind of historical contribution—it’s a great song called, ‘The Panic is On.’”

The Occupy movement has gotten Wainwright thinking a lot lately about the state of the world, and his feeling of helplessness regarding the direction in which society is heading. “I don’t know what to do about damn near anything,” he admits. “But things are f*cked up, and it’s good to remind people—because it’s incredible how it’s possible to forget that.”  Photo: Ross Halfi

Loudon Wainwright III will play at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 29 at Kuumbwa Jazz, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $25/adv, $25/door. For more information, call 427-2227.

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Heart Me Up

In defense of Valentine’s Day

 

“be(ing) of love (a little) more careful”—e.e. cummings

Wednesday (Feb. 10) is Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. Friday (Feb. 12) is Lincoln’s 207th birthday. Sunday is Valentine’s Day. On Ash Wednesday, with foreheads marked with a cross of ashes, we hear the words, “From dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.” Reminding us that our bodies, made of matter, will remain here on Earth when we are called back. It is our Soul that will take us home again. Lent offers us 40 days and nights of purification in preparation for the Resurrection (Easter) festival (an initiation) and for the Three Spring Festivals (at the time of the full moon)—Aries, Taurus, Gemini. The New Group of World Servers have been preparing since Winter Solstice. The number 40 is significant. The Christ (Pisces World Teacher) was in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights prior to His three-year ministry. The purpose of this desert exile was to prepare his Archangel (light) body to withstand the pressures of the Earth plane (form and matter). We, too, in our intentional purifications and prayers during the 40 days of Lent, prepare ourselves (physical body, emotions, lower mind) to receive and be able to withstand the irradiation of will, love/wisdom and light streaming into the Earth at spring equinox, Easter, and the Three Spiritual Festivals. What is Lent? The Anglo-Saxon word, lencten, comes from an ancient spring festival, agricultural rites marking the transition between winter and summer. The seasons reflect changes in nature (physical world) and humanity responds with social festivals of gratitude and of renewal. There is a purification process, prayerfulness in nature and in humanity in preparation for a great flow of spiritual energies during springtime. Valentine’s Day: Aquarius Sun, Taurus moon. Let us offer gifts of comfort, ease, harmony, beauty and satisfaction. Things chocolate and golden. Venus and Taurus things.

 

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