Loudon Wainwright III: The Fourth Member of Spinal Tap?



loudon picAside from being a talented and influential singer/songwriter, Loudon Wainwright III has become a hip household name for his sense of humor. From the road where Loudon is polishing his new Netflix special, he confesses, “I’ve always liked making people laugh, if possible. I have friends that are comics and I certainly have watched a lot of stand up. When I perform, I have a guitar that acts as a fig-leaf and as a shield for protection—so I’m relaxed.”

With 23 albums under his belt, appearances on TV—including M.A.S.H and Judd Apatow’s underrated Undeclared—and a hilarious role as an irreverent gynecologist in Apatow’s big-screen hit, Knocked Up, Loudon Wainwright III is now facing the inevitable task of aging with grace.

On his 2012 achievement, Older Than My Old Man Now, the silver-haired fox digs deep into his familial relationships, featuring duets with his kids, ex-wife, and special guest appearances from Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Dame Edna Everage. “I had other people on the record so people wouldn’t get completely bummed out by one voice,” says Wainwright. “That was the concept.”

Like the Kennedys, several generations of Wainwrights have mass appeal and are fascinating branches on the family tree. For one, Wainwright shares a grandchild with Leonard Cohen through his son Rufus. Rufus is the living definition of a cult singer/songwriter, Wainwright’s daughter Martha has gained a wide following for her work with everyone from Nelson Mandela to Hole, and his youngest daughter Lucy is tearing up Brooklyn’s folk scene.­

Currently, Loudon is beginning the preparation of filming his one-man show, Surviving Twin, for Netflix. Produced by Judd Apatow and directed by Christopher Guest, this deep dive into his genetically entwined, yet emotionally complicated relationship with his famous father (Life Magazine columnist) hits Santa Cruz on Friday May 18th. You can find tix here:

DNA: It seem like your 2012 release Older than my Old Man Now was the beginning of your journey to this solo show, Surviving Twin.

LOUDON: It’s been interesting. I don’t know if you recall but on Older than my Old Man Now, there are a few selections of my father’s writings. I used them as preambles to two of my songs. That was the beginning of the idea that became Surviving Twin. It’s been six years since that release, but I put together Surviving Twin and first performed it in North Carolina in 2013. In September of 2013, Surviving Twin premiered at PlayMakers Repertory Theatre in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, directed by the company’s artistic director Joe Haj. Dad had attended UNC after his stint in the Marine Corps, so it was a gas for me to be on the Chapel Hill campus performing his work almost 70 years later. Since then I’ve done it in London, Los Angeles, New York and outside Philadelphia, so it’s developed and travelled. The show in Santa Cruz is a warm-up because we are going to film it in LA on May 24th.

 That’s exciting. So Santa Cruz is the dress rehearsal?

Yeah. We also have one two nights earlier in Santa Barbara.

And the platform for the show is going to be Netflix?

Yeah. Netflix is putting up the money. When we film it, Christopher Guest is going to be the director. I wanted to do it in front of an audience before we have 5 cameras set-up. Once somebody is spending real money, I need it to be right.

What does Judd Apatow have to do with this show?

Judd is producing it.

Have you worked with Judd since Knocked Up?

Judd has put together a box set I put out called 40 Odd Years. He used some of my songs on Netflix for his show called Love. Three of my songs were on that. I did a Donald Trump video he put out called I had a Dream on Funny or Die:

And now, he’s making Surviving Twin happen. I continue to avail myself to Judd’s good graces.

Obviously Christopher Guest is famous for his mockumentaries and Spinal Tap. Have you worked with him before?

I’ve known Chris for 45 years. We first met in the 70’s. I appear briefly in one of his movies called For Your Consideration. But Chris and I have been buddies for a long time. When I did the show last year in LA he saw it and it really got to him. It was his idea to make a movie of it. Then he and Judd got together and they have both gotten their work on Netflix, so it was an obvious choice.

The unspoken dialogue between father and son is something that resonates with a lot of people. Being able to find the voice of your dad through Life Magazine must have been a life-changing experience, being able to hear him live again through his words and columns.

We had a complicated relationship, I wouldn’t even categorize it as close. But by human nature you are close to your parents. Through this show I celebrate his work through the columns that he wrote for Life Magazine. It is about him. One of the columns is about a suit that he bought in 1965. I actually have the suit and put it on during the show. As I say to people, my father died in 1988, but I’m getting along with him now better than I ever have. By celebrating his work and performing the show, I’m making a connection between his work and my work.  I’m making a connection every night. On a good night it’s thrilling. It’s an 80 minute piece.

Your Donald Trump video is super funny and chilling. Do you see any parallels between now and where you and Christopher Guest were at in the 70s?

Back then I wasn’t really politically active I have to admit. I’ve written topical songs and stressed the weirdness all along the way, but I wasn’t marching or protesting. I was writing songs and performing and thinking about the work I wound up doing. I met Chris when he was working a show in New York called Lemmings that was a theatre show that came out of the National Lampoon people. This was a year or two before Saturday Night Live but in that show alongside Chris was Chevy Chase and John Belushi. They were all young happening comics. Chris ended up going out to LA and doing work with Lily Tomlin on her special and, of course, Spinal Tap. Chris went off in his own direction. But we have remained in touch. Actually, Spinal Taps first incarnation was a sketch in Rob Reiners show called T.V. Show. I was actually in the original Spinal Tap as a keyboard player. They didn’t use me in the movie.

That could have changed the arc of your career!



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