Stream: Loudon Wainwright III “Motel Blues”

(from Recovery on Yep Roc)

Stream: Big Star “Motel Blues”

(from The Ardent Sessions)

My first talk with Loudon Wainwright over at O.C. WEEKLY. I did this originally for the S.F. WEEKLY Hardly Strictly Bluegrass piece but didn’t end up using it. But I’d never leave Loudon out in the cold. I just interviewed him again yesterday and he was in fine form, talking about caves and hobos and putting razorblades in Halloween apples. I always feel pretty happy with an interview when the subject asks, “Wait—is my wife going to read this?” Loudon one here and excerpted below and Loudon two coming soon. Also as a nice little ego bump, the OCW contents page actually quoted me and Loudon joking around as a teaser. What can I say? There’s a certain type I can really work with.

Wainwright has always had a special talent for writing lyrics alternately painfully funny and painfully fragile, often in the very same verse, and Recovery revisits some of the most powerful life-or-death moments of his early discography. That barely there guitar on “Motel Blues” conveyed loneliness so potent it was almost contagious; that last ragged gasp at the end of “Saw Your Name In the Paper” was as sudden and startling as a thunderclap. “Dead Skunk (In the Middle of the Road)” helped make his name, but there was real, raw humanity in his songs, too. (Power-pop iconoclast Alex Chilton even covered Wainwright during the waning days of Big Star.) Even now-Loudon admits that then-Loudon had a little something special: “I went back and listened to the original versions—most of that recorded 35 years ago,” he says, “and I was impressed overall by the quality of the writing. That guy could really write!”

“My father was a writer,” he continues—that would be Life magazine editor Loudon Wainwright Jr. “Maybe I got the writing gene or something. I didn’t think I was gonna be a writer. I went to drama school and studied to be an actor. So I was quite surprised when I started to write songs. But I guess it worked out. A friend of mine, George Gerdes, wrote liner notes for my first live album, and he said if I hadn’t picked up an ‘axe,’ I would have been an ax murderer.”

Were you flattered?

“I was,” he says. “Thank God there was a Martin D-28 in my future.”


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