Sunday, 7 August 2011
The Great Man speaks (and sings) - again!
Posted on Jul 29th 2011 3:00PM by Dan Reilly
Cramming a four-decade career into one package is no easy task. For Loudon Wainwright III, curating the box set '40 Odd Years' was such a painstaking experience that he compared it to "drowning kittens."
But a few months after the May release from Shout Factory, Wainwright is as upbeat as ever. In a lengthy chat with Spinner, the singer-songwriter was candid about the tense times with his children, renowned artists Rufus and Martha, his late wife, Kate McGarrigle, how his friend Judd Apatow helped him get the box set together and what it's like to be a grandparent alongside Leonard Cohen.
You said that putting this box set together was "like drowning kittens." Have you guys calmed down since it's been out?
I've mourned over the kittens that have been put in the sack, that didn't make it into the box. That was an aspect that was difficult at that stage -- choosing what could be included and what couldn't be included because there were digital space requirements.
You've worked with Judd Apatow on 'Undeclared' and 'Knocked Up,' but how did he get involved in this project?
Well, I would see him and he would say, "You gotta have a box!" And I'd say, "Yeah, sure, I agree." But because of his interest and his influence, he was able get together with the people at Shout Factory and encouraged them to make it happen. And he was also quite involved from the creative side of things. I sent him my choices, and the DVD was pretty much created by him and his team. So, he's a very big part.
In another interview, you said that one of your songs made you "wince," and that it was a good thing. How many moments of wincing did you have while putting together the set?
Not a lot. I took one song off because it made my wife wince too much. I cut her some slack. It takes a lot to make me wince; as far as I'm concerned, bad taste is timeless. I like to wince. I like to think that people are going "Eeeghegh!" I put one song on there that I never had the guts to put on a record -- which was this song called 'Laid' -- so I thought, "What the hell? I'm almost dead. I'll put it out there."
Was there a point where you weren't so honest in your songwriting? A lot of singers portray themselves as better people in their autobiographical songs.
If you go back, as I did with this box set, and I listen to my earliest songs, the very first song on my very first record -- it's this song called 'School Days' -- it's very autobiographical and confessional. So, I suppose, the propensity and tendency is something that I've always had. And just honestly, I don't think about "Now I'm going to be honest." I just think about describing things. Maybe that's a kind of honesty, I don't know. I suppose I'm more of a realist painter as opposed to a surrealist? I don't know.
How many times has that honesty gotten you in trouble?
Oh, you know, there's been a couple of tense Thanksgiving dinners along the line. But I think that people that I know, people in my family, the community at large, expects me to write about myself and the people that are in my life, the people that I care about. They're the most interesting people to me. Now we're just talking about personal songs -- there are other categories of songs that I write, but I think in terms of those songs, people know what to expect.
Is songwriting a means of therapy for you?
I suppose so. A friend of mine once said if I hadn't picked up a guitar, I may have been an axe murderer. That's a little bit dramatic I think, but "therapeutic" implies a cure. Of course, people stay in therapy their whole lives ... I dwell on these subjects, I don't know if it is a therapeutic exercise. It could be argued that it could make things worse. But I don't know. Again, I'm writing about the stuff that interests me. When I'm writing the song, it makes me feel better, so I guess in that sense it's therapeutic.
You really dwell on the object of fatherhood. Now that you're a grandfather, do you have a different perspective on it?
I got a couple of songs about it [laughs]! The main difference is that there's quite a remove when you're a grandfather. You can kind of hand them back off and say, "So long! See you in two weeks!" [Laughs] I used to do that anyway when I was a father, but that can lead to some problems at home. It's great. Being a grandfather so far has been a ball. I suspect I will down the line, but so far I haven't had to change one diaper.
Has that changed your relationship with Rufus and Martha?
It's the only context with which to hang out with them. Martha was here just a couple of days ago with her son Arcangelo and we had a lovely couple of days. I have a new song called 'All in a Family' and it kind of talks about this idea of the new baby and what it can do. And the same is with Rufus's daughter Viva who I've spent some time with. I saw her about two weeks ago. It's a ball.
How aware were you of Rufus' plan to have a baby with Leonard Cohen's daughter?
They've been friends for a long time and this is something they've been talking about for some years. It didn't come totally out of the left field.
Have you and Leonard come together as grandparents?
We've ooh-ed and aah-ed at the baby a few times in the same room. I had met him a couple of times before and now we have a new context in which to hang out.
Maybe she'll be the next generation of singer-songwriters in the family.
We'll see. Maybe she'll be a nuclear physicist.
What kind of emotions did you go through when including 'Weave Room Blues,' the song you recorded with Kate, on the box set?
Well, you know Kate McGarrigle was a big person my life when we were married and when we were hanging out and young -- and obviously because we had two kids and stuff. In addition to all that, she was a great musician and somebody that I used to really love to play music with. It seemed important to include something with the two of us. 'Weave Room blues' was the choice.
We like how you can hear her laughing between the verses.
Yeah, we were having a lot of fun. And that was what I wanted to convey with that choice, that we did have fun.
That's why it got picked over some other tracks?
There were some other tracks. There was a version that she and I did of a Bob Dylan song, which was great, 'You Ain't Going Nowhere.' It's just like 'Weave Room Blues,' it's an old song and I like that she cracks up a couple of times.
How often do you reflect on your life and where you are now?
Every time I open up the obituaries page I think about my own life and where I am now [laughs]. I'm at of the age now -- more and more people are passing away. It's on my mind, I suppose. It's an interesting subject. I've been writing songs about it because it's what's going on.
Did you consult with your kids at all about what was going on the box set?
No, not really. I was the decider. I picked what I like.
And now Rufus has his own box set coming out with about a dozen discs, right?
I hear that it's 19 discs.
Is he trying to one-up you?
It's more like 15-up me! But don't worry -- I don't suffer from box-set envy.
What's next for you? Are you going to work on something similar to 'High Wide and Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project'?
I'm focused right on my next record, which I'm going to start making soon. It's songs from my swinging life. That's my focus now. Down the line, I don't know if I'm going to do any more concept records like the 'Charlie Poole' thing. That was a really fun exercise; I got to work with some of my favorite musicians on the East Coast. Who knows?
Do you have a title yet?
We're playing around with a couple of ideas. There's a lot of death and decay material, so we thought we'd call it 'Death n' Decay' -- kind of make it sound like it's a candy bar.