The folk icon discusses his new album, family, aging, and death.
For someone who has claimed to be a one-man kind of guy, folk singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III sought the help of a surprising number of friends and family members while making his new album, Older Than My Old Man Now. Wainwright—in town for an album release Wednesday and Thursday at Hugh’s Room—recorded tracks with his children Martha, Rufus, and Lucy. He also enlisted ex-wife Suzzy Roche and father figures Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Barry “Dame Edna” Humphries. Even Wainwright’s own late father gets involved, when Wainwright reads one of his prose pieces.
“I’ve been playing the family card for a long time,” Wainwright said over the phone. “I’ve written about my kids, my parents, grandparents, and sister, so that’s not new. But I think there were certain songs where it certainly made sense to get the family members on the record. They all happen to be good singers, so that helps.”
During a duet with Martha on one the new album’s tracks, “All In a Family,” the two wrestle with complicated issues of genetics, as summed up in the lyric, “What family is not insane?” Wainwright considers the subject a universal one.
“I’m writing about stuff my listening audience knows about, because they have kids and parents and ex-spouses, and current spouses,” he said. Though his lyrics sometimes air his family’s dirty laundry, Wainwright is not concerned. But he does recall at least one instance of over-share.
“I once wrote a song called, ‘I’m Saving All My Blackheads For You,’” he said. “I thought, ‘No, people don’t want to hear that.’”
Wainwright has been working on his acting chops: He was in Tim Burton’s Big Fish, Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown, and the Judd Apatow TV series, Undeclared. The premature cancellation of the latter after only one season left a bitter taste in his mouth, just as it did for the show’s fans.
“I wish we could have done it for a few years, that would have been a lot of fun,” he said. “I loved doing that show, working with those guys and gals.”
Wainwright has just completed a run with an off-Broadway play, and he appears in a new film, Sleepwalk With Me, which is expected to be released later this year. “I’d call it a marginal, occasional career,” he said. “I enjoy it when I get an acting job, but primarily I make my living as a musician.”
As should probably be expected of a habitually forthcoming 65-year old songwriter, much of the material on his newest release is candid on the subject of aging and death. Wainwright sees nothing wrong with growing reflective at this stage of life.
“They say, ‘Don’t look back.’ I’m looking back all the time. I’m ignoring Bob’s advice,” he said, referencing the Bob Dylan documentary. The future, however, remains significantly murkier to him. “I’m enjoying the job, hope to hold onto it a few more years. Or at least through the weekend.”
As for his lasting legacy, Wainwright dismissed the question with a characteristic cocktail of tongue-in-cheek arrogance and morbid humor.
“I’m just writing songs. I put out a record every once in a while. Hopefully people will realize my greatness a hundred years from now. If not, I’ll be dead so it won’t matter.”