Sunday, 27 July 2008

From the Wainwright tapes

I'd been thinking of a way to contrive an interview with Loudon Wainwright for years, and I finally found a method, tieing the thing up to an Edinburgh show which is coming up, and presenting it as part of Scotland on Sunday's Fringe preview package. Unfortuantely, the interview was "a phoner" - half an hour of the telephone - so I never really got the material to do the great man justice. And then the article was shoe-horned into a tiny space.

You can read my article in the blog entry below. It's not as good as it should have been for all of the reasons above, plus my own inadequacies as a writer. But I read another magazine interview with Loudon which appeared yesterday in the UK, and despite that journalist visiting Loudon at his home, and writing a huge intro about dysfunctional families and what have you, I don't think the reporter got any more of interest out of the man than I did.

There's some decent exchanges on the tape too and since I didn't have much room in the paper, I'll stick a few of them here.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A year after, Martha, Loudon's daughter, appeared with him on his own live album, she wrote a song entitled You Bloody Motherfucking Arsehole, about her dad.

What about Martha’s song about you, You Bloody Motherfucking Arsehole. What did you make of that?

Arrm … well you know … it’s a very powerful … er … emotional statement. I myself have been making powerful emotional statements, so you know … if you dish it out, ya gotta take it.

My 11-year-old daughter listened to your song, Five Years Old [about his love for Martha] and loved it. When I played Martha’s song about you, she got really depressed

Well, I’m pleased to hear that, but if she’s 11, she might just change. It is part of your job as a teenager to hate your parents. I mean it er … is a natural thing. Martha’s mom and I split right after Martha was born, so that is a personal tragedy. For everybody. So anger is certainly there, and understandibly so.

'A powerful emotional statement' sounds a bit meally
-mouthed – what did you say the next time you saw her ….

Arrrrrr … I can’t remember. How’s that for a diplomatic answer?

So it was a ‘powerful emotional statement’?

Er … You do what you do. Man the torpedos!

This bit of the transcript is about Loudon's dad.

I was surprised to find your father was a journalist … Because I sense in some of your songs that you don’t particularly like journalists …

Oh … You might be thinking of that song How Old Are You. I don’t dislike them as a group, Mike. Certain journalists I don’t like. My dad was a writer, a journalist and an editor. He worked for the great American magazine, Life, which was a huge thing in the 60s and 70s and in the war years, my God, it was the most important magazine in the World for a while.

Anyway, I … er … I think my writing has a journalistic quality, you know I describe things, with a beginning, a middle and an end. Hopefully people can follow the through line. But he was a journalist and a great one too.

A great one?

I’d say so, yes. He was a great writer. He has been dead now for 20 years. I’m always … I did a thing, a show up in the state of Maine not too long ago and I stayed in a bed and breakfast. They had a couple of old issues of Life Magazine. I opened one up and there was a column my father had written. About our dog being put down. This would have been in the early 1970s. And I was just …. I knew the writer and I knew the dog. I was in bits basicly, sobbing away. But I also scanned that article and sent it out to people. My dad really was a very good writer. Wrote a couple of very good songs too, so I was very influenced by him.

Did he admire you being a songwriter?

I think he liked some of the songs, or a lot of the songs. He probably didn’t care for a few of them, but that makes perfect sense. I think he liked the idea of me being a writer. He was pleased that I did wind up doing that.

About his mum's death, and his songwriting career.

You released Last Man on Earth after the death of you mum. Since then, there's been only one album of original songs, and commissions for a film and a show, and now there's a retrospective album. Is this some new phase in your career?

It’s hard to get an overview, when you’re actually writing. If you take the last two things, the Carl Hiassen project and Strange Wierdos, they were commissions. I was writing songs with another process in mind, a film and now a theatrical adaptation. I write pretty much how I write.

But you’re right, Last Man on Earth was a particularly personal album. A lot of that album was informed by the death of my mother and that was a hugely personally devastating event.

I would imagine that something like that would be almost exhausting …

Ummmm. Well, I wrote some liner notes for that record. I remember when my mother died I kinda folded up. I cancelled shows and stopped writing songs, just went in to a very …. Ah …. I want to say a kind of fetal position. But once I started writing the songs and got back to job – which is doing that - I wrote a lot of songs and it wasn’t … it’s an overused word when it comes to song writing, but things did kind of ‘flow’. That’s my memory of it anyway – that was about ten years ago.

You've had all these titles, the new Dylan and what have you, but now you seem to be accepted just as a songwriter, in the way that Randy Newman is … Not as a folk musician or any other kind of musician. And therefore to me it seems you get asked to do film soundtracks and involved in projects like this, just a songwriter. Does that make sense?

Yes it does. And I’m happy to be thought of in that way. I love folk music and folk musicians and I was influenced by some of them. I do think of myself as a song writer. My first influences before Bob Dylan and Jack Elliot and all those guys were the writers of musicals and Broadway shows, like Rogers and Hammerstein. They were my first role models really. I think my wrting is hopefully theatrical and whatever. But I am happy to be thought of as a song-writer – I don’t think of myself much as a folk singer.

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