Loudon Wainwright III is an industrious singer-songwriter of 34 years whose humorous and candidly honest autobiographical songs have produced a cult following. To be frank, I didn't know a lot about Wainwright (except his name, also the name of his famous son, singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright) before writing this piece. I did know the show is in Denver and I desperately need to leave town to regain a shred of sanity. Furthermore, the show is at the Lion's Lair on Colfax Avenue, a perfect spot to grab a copy of the Modern Drunkard and listen to music in perfect dive-bar euphoria.
Wainwright's career has taken him to a regular role on the TV series M*A*S*H, off-Broadway productions, and the big screen (he played the mayor in Big Fish), but his stage performances are where it's at (so I've been told). He began in the late '60s as a folk artist playing candidly introspective songs that would make Woody Allen wince at the level of self-disclosure. He's continued in this vein, releasing more than 17 albums.
The title track of the 1995 release Grown Man is one of many brutal deconstructions of the male persona. And though his lyrics are certainly recognizable to the infinitely more perceptive female, the process of self-revelation for the stubborn male most likely takes the form of denial, painful recognition, and then embarrassed acceptance. Talking about the relationships of "mature" men, he sings: He wishes he were young, a little better hung/ And he's paranoid you feel that way too/ So reassure him, you'll never cure him/ But he still needs his daily dose of you.
The insecure should not worry though. Wainwright is not all about man bashing. He praises Elvis, and he's male. In the 1993 release "Happy Birthday Elvis," Wainwright immortalizes the King: Happy birthday, Elvis, you're alive in '93/ They took away the body but who the hell was he? /Who was that tall fat man they buried in your place? /Just another imitator; plastic surgeons did his face.
Apart from the humor, Wainwright dives into the muddier waters of human relations, the pain but also the gratification. In the 1992 track "A Father and a Son," Wainwright cuts incisively into emotions pulled from his own experiences as a father to Rufus, waxing poetic over intergenerational turbulence: I don't know what all of this fighting is for, but we're having us a teenage/middle-age war/ I don't want to die and you want to live, it takes a little bit of take and a whole lot of give.
Wainwright's scope is broad, taking the listener up and down over limitless subjects, revealing a mind that is observant and analytical. The beauty of his work is the capability to perceive and relate the more somber aspects of life while focusing on the humorous and whimsical that, of course, is so much more enjoyable. Whether mocking the numerous misspellings of his peculiar name in "They Spelt my Name Wrong," or examining the phenomenon of roadkill in "Dead Skunk," Wainwright has a knack for returning to the positive.
-- Aaron Menza
Loudon Wainwright III
Friday, Dec. 17, 10:30 PM
Lion's Lair, 2022 E. Colfax Ave., Denver
$5 at door or at www.nipp.com