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Loudon Wainwright III Reflects On Life, Mortality And More In ‘Liner Notes’

Ross Halfin

Loudon Wainwright III’s new memoir, Liner Notes: On Parents & Children, Exes & Excess, Death & Decay, & a Few of My Other Favorite Things, is out now. Wainwright, an acclaimed singer-songwriter and actor, discusses his family life in this new work, including his relationship with his father, the late Life editor Loudon Wainwright II. His own children, Rufus and Martha (from his marriage to the late Canadian singer Kate McGarrigle) and Lucy Wainwright Roche (from a relationship with Suzzy Roche), are acclaimed musicians in their own right.

Wainwright will be at the Wichita Art Museum on Friday, Oct. 20, in conversation with Sarah Bagby of Watermark Books and Café.

Listen to his full conversation with KMUW's Jedd Beaudoin:

Interview highlights: 

On his early days as a songwriter

I was East Coast, so I started out playing in little coffee houses and basket houses, open mics in New York and Cambridge, Massachusetts. The really exciting [Greenwich] Village scene had happened five or six years earlier with Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and those guys. But this was the second wave, the late ‘60s.

Dylan was missing in action, he’d had his motorcycle accident, so I think a lot of labels were looking around for a new Bob Dylan or at least somebody who could sell records like that. I started writing songs in 1968. I was recording my first album in 1969. That gives you an idea of the struggle I had to get a career.

On his brush with mainstream fame

The first two records I made were for Atlantic Records and they were completely unadorned. They were voice and guitar records. I think on the second one there’s a harmonica on a track and my then-wife Kate McGarrigle singing harmony with me. They’re strong records and the critics really liked them, but the radio didn’t play them. People didn’t want to hear that, I guess they decided, the radio people.

When Clive Davis signed me to Columbia in 1972, I was put together, it was his idea, with a kind of folk-rock band called White Cloud. A really fine group of New York-based musicians. We made a record and, sure enough, there was a hit single on it, it was with a band, it was a song called “Dead Skunk.” So, we had a formula! Funny animal songs! The problem was that on the next record there wasn’t a funny animal song because I was really wasn’t interested in doing that.

On depression

I’ve used my bleaker feelings and constructed songs out of those feelings and written about the situations that create those feelings. It’s not any kind of therapy, it doesn’t solve the problems. If I write a song about a dysfunctional Thanksgiving dinner which is, you know, [something everybody knows], there’s a recognition with the listener.


Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.