- LOUDON LIVE: Wainwright onstage elsewhere, with his daughter Lucy Roche.
On Friday, along with a friend, I took an impromptu drive up the entire length of our state to sit in a cozy auditorium that wasn't even a third full. We were probably the youngest people in attendance by a good 20 years and got a fair number of curious looks for it. But it was well worth it to see Loudon Wainwright III, a man who once described himself in song as Bob Dylan's “dumb-ass kid brother.”
Outside, on the sidewalk of the historical district before and after the show, I found myself huddled with three fellow Loudon devotees (who were much closer to the man of the night's age than I) whose descriptions of the notorious self-deprecator were much more laudatory.
“The man's never written a bad song! Ever! Some are better than others and a few are much better than a few others, but none are bad or, for that matter, irredeemable.”
“Take ‘Unrequited,'” one said of his 1975 album. “What are you gonna compare it to? ‘Blood on the Tracks?' Everyone was too busy flipping out on Bob releasing that one a few months earlier to realize that Loudon's break-up album is 10 times richer than Dylan's!”
They compared him to Woody Allen, John Irving, Billy Collins and even Jonathan Swift. One even went so far as to say that Wainwright's canon in its entirety has a higher “batting average” than any of those four men. That kind of hyperbole is reserved, even commonplace, for manic young men in their 20s; hearing it from an affluent 65-year old is a much rarer prospect.
For the uninitiated, the majority of Wainwright's songs are simultaneously hilarious and devastating narratives in which his ego, id, libido, liver and idiot masculinity provide the language. In turn, he inspires a strange brand of dedication in normally skeptical people who have the five aforementioned attributes in spades and a crooked sense of humor to boot.
So how was the show? It was just good enough to make the leg-numbing drive. Despite the thin crowd, what Wainwright's first concert in Arkansas lacked it numbers it more than made up for in enthusiasm, even though Loudon eschewed his earlier, inarguable classics (“The Swimming Song,” “Hotel Blues,” “School Days”) and tended to stay on this side of 1985. As for his newest, unrecorded songs, he's traded in his familiar themes of dysfunctional family, sexual misadventure and smirking ennui for political satire. His cure for recession depression? Buy a ukulele. You can't play the blues on it. Try it. It's impossible! That's the exact type of signature Loudon Wainwright III Non-Advice my new retiree friends and I will happily bank on.