Loudon Wainwright III Writes Songs About Death That Will Make You Laugh
See also: John Prine and Loudon Wainwright III at The Orpheum Theatre, 11/19/11
Michael Wilson Loudon Wainwright III
See also: Loudon Wainwright III on 40 Odd Years, Rufus, Martha, and Emotionally Flashing
The Who's Pete Townshend may have famously penned the line "I hope I die before I get old," but in many ways, it seems like Loudon Wainwright III has been singing about aging forever.
His latest, Older Than My Old Man Now, is a reflection on mortality (Wainwright calls it "death and decay"), but it's hardly a stuffy, morose collection of songs. With jazzy motifs, harmonica, and contributions from his children Martha, Rufus, and Lucy Wainwright, his ex-wife Suzzy Roche, John Scofield, Dame Edna Everage, and more, the record is quite simply the funniest meditation on death I can think of.
Wainwright discussed the record with us in advance of his show tonight at the Musical Instrument Museum.
Up on the Sun: When I caught you at the Orpheum last fall with John Prine, you really cracked the crowd up with "My Meds," which is featured on the new record. It's a pretty unique take on a "drug song." Folks really seemed to enjoy it.
John Hooper Loudon Wainwright III in the 1970s
Loudon Wainwright: Well, that's the idea with that song -- get people laughing. It usually does, unless I screw it up somehow. People are taking medication, and if they're not taking it, they know they will be.
There are some very heavy moments on this record, and some very light ones. Your career has always skirted the lines between those two, but was there an emphasis on making sure the novelty songs -- like "I Remember Sex" or "My Meds" -- more overtly funny? Try and craft them more as zingers and balance out the heavier stuff?
Well, the producer, Dick Connette, and I were aware of the fact that the novelty songs would hopefully leaven the proceedings. I didn't want to make a record that would depress people. Death and decay, those are powerful topics. But there are funny and ridiculous things about them, though. So, yeah, I've always done that. I've always had comedic elements in the work, both on records and during shows. I have no shame about writing a novelty song. I like amusing people and see it as part of my job and the ability to do so part of my arsenal.
Songs like "Double Lifetime" are a good example of you walking that line. It's funny, but there's an element of staring down the end of things. It takes a very unique touch to pull this kind of record off. It might be the funniest album about death I can think of off the top of my head.
Well, that would be good. That would be a good thing.
I think my favorite song is "In C," which features the line "sometimes a fella has to sit down just to sing about the heavy shit." You don't play a lot of piano normally, do you?
[Laughs] No, can't you tell? I hardly play the piano at all, and I reference that in the song itself. I've written a few songs on the piano and they are all in the key of C.
It's a pretty good key. The arrangement is very stark and fits the song. What led you to to the sit at the piano for that song?
It's a very mundane fact. Somebody, a few years ago we were living out here -- I'm in L.A. today, so -- we were here in Los Angeles and a friend moved away and needed a place to store and keep their piano. So their piano was brought over and we kept their piano for the year that they were gone. So all of the sudden there was a piano in the house, and I sat down at it. You start with the first line, "Here's another song in C," and then you know, sometimes, something happens. In that case, something developed. It was going to be a jokey song about not being able to play the piano, but it became something else. The song would probably not have been written if weren't for that piano being there. Songs happen that way. Life intrudes and you get a song out of it if you're lucky.