“The strangest story ever told/Was how I got to be this old.” That’s the opening couplet from the opening song on Loudon Wainwright III’s 2012 CD release Older Than My Old Man Now. The 69-year-old singer-songwriter-actor began his musical career at the beginning of the 1970s with a pair of acoustic albums on the Atlantic label, and turned up (with his guitar) on a few episodes of the TV series MASH.
As his starkly confessional songs attest, he grew up in posh Westchester County, the son of the same-named Life magazine columnist. “I think it’s natural for people to escape or even surpass their parents,” Wainwright says, speaking by phone from his home in California. “It’s a normal stage of development.” But it was a struggle for him as each of his parents died.
His album History, from 1992, documented his own challenges as a dad, with songs like “Hitting You” and “A Father and a Son,” and, in “A Handful of Dust,” set lyrics by his own father. The song “Surviving Twin,” which first appeared on the 2001 album Last Man on Earth, is a kind of reconciliation with his dad.
Loudon Wainwright Jr. has figured more and more frequently in his son’s songwriting and performances, and Surviving Twin now titles the show the younger Wainwright brings to the Egg on Friday. It’s been gestating in recent shows. “During the last two years, when I’ve done shows, I’ve occasionally read some of his columns, but this is the show in its completion,” he explains. “It includes seven selections of his writing, 11 of my songs, a little film and also some other visual elements.”
He gave us a preview three years ago at the Egg, when his setlist included his father’s 1971 essay “Another Sort of Love Story,” about as poignant a piece of writing as you’re likely to encounter. “He was a great writer,” says Wainwright. “I feel that the things that I’ve chosen to include in the show are some of his best work. He was a very graceful, very strong and powerful writer.
“He’s been dead for over 25 years now, so this is an opportunity to keep getting to know him. And I’m really enjoying celebrating his work and collaborating with him, albeit posthumously.”
As a public figure—Wainwright has been in the movie Knocked Up and the TV series Parks and Recreation and Person of Interest—he attracts his share of public comments, and some of his fans are given to online grumbling when the live performances don’t comprise old favorites. “Yes, it’s different from what I normally do, and that’s my intention. I want to do something that’s interesting to me, and that I hope will be interesting to my fans. But I also do regular shows every night where I don’t do the songs that people want to hear. Time marches on!”
Loudon Wainwright III will perform at 8 PM Friday (Oct. 2) at the Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany). Tickets are $34. For more info, call 473-1845.