Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Original One Man Guy

Loudon Wainwright III has been a good friend of mine through the years. You see, I speak as if I know him because he's been telling me about his life with every record. At first, he was an amazingly distinctive voice. I was introduced to him on his second release, Album II. How high-pitched his voice was, and how strange his storytelling. He sang about persuading a woman to come up to his hotel room, about contemplating suicide, and about himself and a cat. He was idiosyncratic like my hero Randy Newman- confessional and self-deprecating, but in a very neurotic way.

Loudon kept up the pace and established a market presence, but like many songwriters, he was upended by disco and punk. Seemingly shuttled into irrelevance after recording two albums for Arista, Loudon wasn't heard from for about five years. But then he re-emerged on the Rounder Records label, and spent the 1980s digging into the central themes of his work: exploring his need for solitude, his familial relationships, and his manhood.

Loudon uses simple language in his songs. He takes worn phrases and reverses them, creating new meaning by connecting them to his own conflicts. Over the years his voice has deepened, and his singing has become masterful. Never is this more evident than exploring the treasures in a boxed retrospective of his work, 40 Odd Years.

I strongly recommend that you sit and enjoy the DVD of performances and interviews that are included in this collection. I found myself mesmerized yet again by him. What an amazing body of work! I found myself remembering when I first heard many of the songs, and they stand the test of time nicely. He is an engaging presence - a funny guy who doesn't hesitate to show his sadness.

I've gone to hear Loudon many times, and I still follow him closely. This release gave me a chance to spend some "quality time" with him and it was extremely pleasurable. If he's a stranger to you, or if you've not listened much over the years, give it a listen. You won't be disappointed!