Brent Johnson’s Lost Songs: ‘Motel Blues’ by Loudon Wainwright III

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?)


  1. You have decided that the song is addressed to a Prostitute?????

    That meaning NEVER occurred to me in 40 years of listening to the song, including live performances of the song in 8 live shows this May.

    Did you actually listen to the lyrics? Like the line “your girlfriend said that you were 19” . . .

    Sorry, but it was never about a prostitute, just a female fan.

    • I find this response a little sharp, so what if he made an error – the fact is he found Loudon and his amazing music, let’s focus on the positives.

      Guys do pick up prostitutes in bars (who also have friends). I actually think it’s just a female fan – but it’s not impossible!

      Do let us know what other songs you’re moving on to.

  2. Davey Boy:

    Love the passion. It’s clear I’m not quite as bright as you. I’ll admit that.

    It also seems I forgot that it’s impossible for a 19-year-old prostitute to have friends.

    Regardless, your interpretation is spot on: It does make more sense for this to be about a female fan. It’s also funnier that way. Hence, I made the change above.

    I did listen to the lyrics. But sometimes, a song is just so good and so sharp and so subtle that it can go a tad over one’s head. Forgive me.


    B. David Johnson

  3. Geez Dave… one takes from a song the meaning they want to take. I bet even Loudon would appreciate the different interpretations. Lay off the coffee or go take a walk or somethin’… yikes dude…

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