A troubadour for our times: Loudon Wainwright III coming to Beaver Creek
VAIL CO, Colorado
In these uncertain times, Loudon Wainwright is a cynic. Fans seem to like him that way. Listening to his most recent album, 2010’s “10 Songs for the New Depression,” Wainwright’s cynical musings are heard through the jolly melodies and cheerful guitar strums. The album opens with “Times is Hard,” and its clear Wainwright doesn’t think thing are going to get easier anytime soon.
“We’re still in a mess,” Wainwright said during a phone interview this week. “It’s still pretty rocky out there.”
Wainwright will perform for local audiences Sunday at the Vilar Performing Arts Center, closing out the venue’s Underground Sound series. The musician’s special blend of social commentary, wry observations of everyday life, and humorous lyrics still keep the crowd entertained after more than four decades. Some may recognize Wainwright’s music from the film “Knocked Up,” which he wrote songs for and also had a small role in. The prolific songwriter released a box set called “40 Odd Year” in February, a reference to his years in the biz, but don’t expect Wainwright to retire anytime soon.
“When I was a kid, I wanted to be a performer, it was my dream to be an entertainer,” Wainwright said. “I did what I wanted to do, not many people can say that … It’s a great job, I’m hoping to hang onto it for a few more years. I don’t want to join the legions of jobless people out there.”
Wainwright did join some of the jobless last week when he went down to Zuccotti Park to play for the Occupy Wall Street protesters. With songs about home foreclosures, the struggle to find work, and “Cash for Clunkers,” Wainwright’s tunes fit right in. But Wainwright is cautious when it comes to singing the praises of music’s power.
“I don’t necessarily believe in that Pete Seeger idea that music can change the world,” Wainwright said. “Will music save the world? I doubt it. But it can enrich the thought process; people thinking can provoke some action.”
James Harrison, a fan from Golden who plans to attend Sunday’s show, started listening to Wainwright when he was 13.
“My dad played guitar, and he knew a couple of Loudon Wainwright songs,” Harrison said. ” I just thought that they were incredible. I had a little job at the time, and I used the money to go to the record store and I bought the first thing I could find from him.”
Originally from Liverpool, England, Harrison owns nearly all of Wainwright’s records. Now 28, Harrison is excited to see Wainwright in concert, something he hasn’t been able to do since his teen years.
“He’s incredibly dynamic,” Harrison said. “He interacts with the audience, there’s a lot more expression in his songs live, he’s funny. He’s human and his songs are all about such wonderfully human and normal things we can all relate to. It always really gets to me. Listening to him sing about his father’s death, it just breaks your heart because he communicates emotions so well. “
Wainwright said his forthcoming album, to be released next year, will be about the death of his father. Wainwright’s father, Loudon Wainwright II, a well-known journalist, didn’t know how to play the guitar. When a friend gave one to him as a gift, he gave it to his son instead. That guitar started a musical legacy that now includes son Rufus Wainwright and daughters Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche, all three of whom are professional musicians. At 65, now having surpassed his father in age, Wainwright is using music to come to terms with his father’s death.
“The album’s going to be called ‘Older Than My Old Man Now,”’ Wainwright said. “A lot of it is about death and decay, hopefully in a way that won’t turn people off. I want it to be engaging and entertaining and not just a bummer.”
When asked to describe his own music, Wainwright calls it “something special.” Not quite folk, not quite comedy, and not quite angry enough, Wainwright defies music genres. He crafts songs that convey his particular point of view, yes, but his acute, often spot-on, examinations of the world speaks to a broad audience.
“People respond to the songs, they identify with the things that I’m talking about,” Wainwright said. “If it’s not happening to them, they know people who don’t have a job or who lost their home. I think the songs resonate.”
For Wainwright, performing is not only a way to connect to fans, but to also get his message across the only way he knows how: through music.
The chorus from “Times is Hard” says it best: “All I can do is sing this song.”
Rosanna Turner is freelance writer based in Vail. Email comments about this story to email@example.com.