Loudon Wainwright III

September 5, 1946
  • Songs
  • Artistfacts ®
  • Loudon Wainwright III inherited more than his father's name: he also got his way with words. Loudon Wainwright Jr. wasn't a professional musician, but a renowned journalist with Life magazine. In an interview with the A.V. Club, Wainwright III explained how his own work has a journalistic quality:

    "He wrote for Life magazine and had a column called "The View From Here," which in a way could be the title to almost any of my records. He had a free hand at Life magazine; he could write about anything he wanted to, and he wrote about a lot of stuff in the same way I write topical songs and novelty songs, and occasionally kind of generic songs. But his best stuff was always his personal stuff, like about the day we had to put our dog down, or finding old photographs of his father, or passing a guy he went to boarding school with on a street in New York. Very specific, detailed, descriptive columns that he wrote. I think in a way, it could be argued that my best songs are that way too. They're almost journalistic in that they're very clear, and very specific, and they describe things."

    Wainwright Jr. was a columnist and editor for Life magazine off-and-on from the early-1960s until his retirement in 1985, just three years before his death from colon cancer (he was 63). He also wrote the book The Great American Magazine: An Inside History of Life.
  • One of the prominent themes in Loudon Wainwright III's music is love - more specifically, love gone wrong. Wainwright married Canadian folk singer Kate McGarrigle (known for performing with her sister Anna) in the early 1970s and soon after, future indie singers Rufus and Martha were born. The marriage's down spiral was captured in songs like "On the Rocks," "Mr. Guilty." and "Whatever Happened to Us," in which Wainwright sings, "And all I wanna do is to forget you and our lousy love affair."

    They divorced by the end of the decade and Wainwright moved in with Suzzy Roche of another singing-sisters group, The Roches. She inspired the song "Ingenue." "I'm not looking for one true love, just an occasional ingenue," he sang.The lovers produced yet another future singer, Lucy Wainwright Roche, but the relationship wouldn't last.

    In 1992, Wainwright's new girlfriend Ritamarie Kelly gave birth to their daughter Alexandra. The singer gave matrimony another go when the two married in 2005. Kelly, along with the rest of the Wainwright extended family (except for Kate McGarrigle, who died of cancer in 2010), is featured on the 2012 album Older Than My Old Man Now.
  • Loudon studied to be an actor before he became a musician and has made several cameo appearances on film and television throughout his singing career. He was a priest in The 40 Year-Old Virgin, a doctor in Knocked Up and Barry the "nutso community-forum attendee" on Parks and Recreation, to name a few. But it was his role as a singing surgeon on M*A*S*H that first entertained 1970s TV audiences. Wainwright appeared as Captain Calvin Spalding, "The Singing Surgeon," in three episodes of the show: Rainbow Bridge, There Is in Nothing Like A Nurse and Big Mac, which were all featured in the show's third season (1974-1975).
  • By appearances, Wainwright III didn't blend in with other Folk singers in the '70s with their cultivated hippie chic style. He preferred what he calls the "preppie psycho-killer look," that was based off of his boyhood boarding-school attire. "I've always dressed the way I dress and it's become a part of me. Maybe it's because I'm anti rock establishment, I don't know, but these are the clothes that I have and I wear them. Most of the clothes I've had for years and they're comfortable and I like 'em. Going out and spending eight hundred dollars on a new wardrobe would just bore me," he told Melody Maker in 1974.
  • Journalist Chris Charlesworth described Loudon's unique stage presence in a 1974 issue of Melody Maker magazine: "No-one can possibly take the man seriously as he stands bobbing up and down as if he's dying to relieve himself, and pulling faces to match."

    His audience may not always take him seriously, but sometimes Wainwright prefers it that way. In that same article, the singer says to do anything other than "bobbing" would be unnatural, stating, "I don't use a band or anybody else on stage and I am a rather limited guitar player and although I can sing I don't have an incredible rock voice, so the jumping about is just something that I do. It comes very natural to me…I've tried standing still, but it doesn't work at all. It's like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube, just focusing energy on me."
  • Loudon appeared in two movies with actor Steve Buscemi: 28 Days (a Sandra Bullock rehab movie) and Big Fish. It was during the filming of Big Fish that Wainwright and Buscemi made a pilgrimage to country music legend Hank Williams' gravesite in Montgomery, Alabama. Wainwright describes the event, sans Buscemi, in his song "Hank and Fred," from the 2005 album Here Come the Choppers:

    Driving through Montgomery I hung my head and cried, then visited Hank Williams' grave the day Fred Rogers died.

    Fred Rogers is, of course, "Mr. Rogers," the cultural icon who hosted the children's show "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood." He died on February 27, 2003 after a bout with stomach cancer. Williams, who had a penchant for alcohol and painkillers, died suddenly on January 1, 1953 at just 29 years-old:"On New Year's day Hank slipped away slumped over in the back, oh I hope he had his cardigan on in that Cadillac."
  • In Wainwright's Songfacts interview, he talked about how "Dead Skunk" had a deleterious effect on his music in some ways, as it put pressure on him to have another hit. Said Wainwright: "Some of those records were compromised to a degree because I was worried about 'is this gonna get played on the radio,' rather than 'is this the right production for this particular song?' As my career progressed and I realized that I was never really going to sell a lot of records - that I wasn't Billy Joel or something like that - then I just focused more on making records that felt right to me and had the correct production values."
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