Loudon Wainwright III, Poet Laureate of Bloomingdale
Loudon Wainwright III is on tour and will be playing at Pace on October 11th. That got me to thinking about local treasures. And surely he is one albeit a treasure of Westchester origin.
Some days it can seem like when it Wainwrights it pours. I mean how many singing-songwriting Wainwrights are there? I'm going with five (LW3, sister Sloan, and children Rufus, Martha and Lucy), but someone could easily be missing from that count.
Since he's written so many delicious slice-of-life songs, I've singled out several at the end of this post, both from LW3 solo and from a couple of members of the Wainwright clan.
Sitting pretty on a mountain of impressively high-quality output, Wainwright is now into his fifth decade of expressing himself through his brand of stripped-down and personalized folk. He is raw. He is tender. He is poetic, lyrical and smart. He's a terrific wordsmith. And he is funny. Compared favorably to the greatest, LW3 was heralded as the next Bob Dylan in the early days of his career. (I won't go on about Dylan as I cannot yet connect him to our neighborhood, but when I do, the ink will flow). Made back in the good days of the 1970s, suffice it to say, the comparison was meant to be a favorable one. However it may have done LW3 more disservice than good. It shadowed him enough for him to turn and tackle it in a song. So as Bob Dylan did for Woody Guthrie in a "talking blues" style shoutout, Loudon did for Bob in his song "Talking New Bob Dylan":
"Yeah, times were a changin', you brought it all home
'Blonde On Blonde', 'Like A Rolling Stone'
The real world is crazy, you were deranged
And when you went electric, Bob, everything changed
Yeah, today is your birthday, have a great one, Bob
Bein' the new you is one hell of a job
My kid cranked up her boom box to almost groan
When I heard you screamin' from her room
"Everybody must get stoned"
Thanks a lot, Bob"
from Talking New Bob Dylan by Loudon Wainwright III
When offering these mea culpas, he manages to have an unapologetically heart-melting way: "Another Song in C" and "When You Leave," (both below) have delicate, poignant observations laid utterly bare. He has a song about slapping his out-of-control-in-the backseat daughter that sears the already indelible family moment onto his listener. When he wants to, he delivers his truths like x-rays deliver theirs.
It's easy to get heavy with Loudon Wainwright. But he knows how to keep things featherweight, too. The life-affirming, banjo-propelled "Swimming Song" -- a frolic that is the yin to Kate McGarrigle's wistful "Saratoga Summer Song" yang -- is one such bonhomous bonbon, just when you thought brooding was his business. Kate, like Loudon, knew how to tread the edge between light and dark. Kate, with her sister Anna, made "Swimming Song" entirely hers, pulling it northward and soaking it in Acadian sound. I've included both versions below, because after all, you have no Rufus and you have no Martha Wainwright without the majestic Kate.
Here's a quintessential sample lyric from Loudon that brings a smile to my lips everytime I hear the repetition of the syllable "form":
This summer I swam in a public place
And a reservoir, to boot,
At the latter I was informal,
At the former I wore my suit, I wore my swimming suit.
from Swimming Song by Loudon Wainwright III
And so, citizens of Bloomingdale, for your consideration, my nominee for Poet Laureate: LW3.
By Caitlin Hawke