Loudon Wainwright III, now 75 years old but still active, could be called the singer-songwriter with the most personal lyrics. With him no vague symbolism or dark poetry, but ironic and also sensitive reflections about his own life. It has brought him little commercial success, but still enough fame to earn a living.
He inherited his love for the language from his father, Loudon Wainwright II, a columnist for the magazine life† That seemed to Loudon too solitary a profession, he wanted a life with more excitement. He traveled the world as a modern troubadour with his guitar, made more than twenty albums and played in films. He also founded a few families in between the companies, but that did not go as smoothly.
Musically everything was fine: he married a good singer, Kate McGarrigle, and had two musical children with her, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, who even surpassed him in fame – especially Rufus – in terms of fame. But the marriage was not a success, nor was his next relationship with the singer Suzy Roche, about which he wrote one of his best songs in 1986, ‘Your Mother and I’, wrote. First stanza: „Your mother and I are living apart/ I know that seems stupid, but we weren’t very smart/ You’ll stay with her, I’ll visit you/ At Christmas, on weekends, the summertime too†
Wainwright admits that he sings “blatantly autobiographical.” “I’ve found this works best for me, even though I admire people like Frank Loesser or James Taylor who write more generally, or Dylan who has a more cryptic style.”
Fine, but how acceptable are such scriptures to family members who play a role in them? His daughter Martha writes about this in her recently published memoir Stories I Might Regret Telling You† From the review about it in The New York Times I understand that Martha had great difficulty with Dad’s candor.
When she was fourteen, she moved from Montreal, where she lived with her mother, to her father in New York for a year; mother Kate had to record an album in London. Martha did poorly at school in New York and came home late, where her father was often absent. Yet they grew somewhat closer to each other. “I started to look more like my father,” she writes, “as if his DNA was awakening in me.”
Several years later, she accompanied him on a tour of the United Kingdom, also singing father-daughter duets. One night Loudon sang his beautiful song ‘I’d Rather Be Lonely’ about a man who prefers to live alone. †I think that I need some space/ Every day you’re in my face/ How can I get rid of you/ I’d rather be lonely.” To close with: ,,Love is for the bees and birds/ Not for a human being like me†
I always thought Wainwright was singing here about living with one of his many former partners. Martha apparently did too—until, sitting in the hall, she heard him explain to the audience one evening that the song was about the year he’d been forced to spend with his teenage daughter. She had burst into tears and had wanted to leave the room, but the show must go on and she took the stage again.
This shows once again that sensitive texts are not always written by sensitive people.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of May 20, 2022