brent johnson digs up another lost treasure, this week from Loudon Wainwright …
Ever know about a musician but never take the time to really listen to their music — until, one day, you get curious, pop on a few songs, and marvel at what you’ve been missing?
The other night, that happened to me.I’ve known about Loudon Wainwright III for a while. I knew he was one of the many critically praised but commercially failed songwriters that populated the 1970s. I knew he sometimes starred in movies. I knew he’s the father of alt-pop singer Rufus Wainwright. I’d heard his songs in passing before, too. I even had ‘Dead Skunk,’ the novelty song Wainwright took to the Top 20 in 1973, on my iPod.
But I never really dug into his work. Then, on a late night at work last week, I was suddenly inspired to listen to a string of his songs on YouTube. All of them were great. But one of them floored me.
It was called ‘Motel Blues.’ It had a soft, weeping folk melody. And it had lyrics I couldn’t quite figure out — though they seemed to be about a lonely pop star politely begging a young female fan to spend the night at a cheap motel. For 20 minutes, every time the song ended, I pressed play again.
Was the song sad? Was it funny? Could it be both? It turns out Wainwright has spent decades straddling that line — like Randy Newman with an acoustic guitar. All I know is: I’m glad I finally discovered him.
(Side note: Am I the only one who think Mr. Wainwright looked liked Dane Cook with a scruffy beard?)