Usually if a family includes an artist, he is an outlier. By comparison other family members are likely to be practical, with more reliable income. The view of their artistic relation probably hovers between bemused and tolerant. And that’s for the supportive families.
Then there is the rare family where not being an artist is the exception. A leading example of that genre is the complex family which has Loudon Wainwright III as its patriarch. The musical gene runs mighty deep in the house of Wainwright.
I was musing on this Sunday evening during a Loudon Wainright concert in Seattle. I became a fan of daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche several years back when I heard her perform at a summer outdoor concert. I have her three CDs and have seen her perform several times since. I adore her sweet soprano voice and she’s not a bad songwriter to boot. I also admire her brother Rufus, whose music ranges from folk to Judy Garland to opera.
Loudon has had a vibrant 40-year career, including his songs being covered by Mose Allison, Johnny Cash, Earl Scruggs and many others. This was the first time I had heard Loudon perform live. He’s making a West Coast swing (Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, Berkeley and Los Angeles) to promote his new album, “Older Than My Old Man Now.” He headed here after his entire clan gave a concert last Friday at Town Hall in New York. Had I been in NY that’s where I would have been; I’m sure the evening was a treat.
Much of the set list Sunday came from Loudon’s new album. Now 65 years old, Loudon has embedded the hooded guy with the scythe throughout his lyrics. Family, its bonds and its fissures, is also a recurring theme. As Loudon sang on perhaps his most affecting song, In C: “And if families didn’t break apart, I suppose there’d be no need for art.”
During Sunday’s concert I heard an almost eerie expression of his family’s dominant musical gene. A note that Loudon hit and held on a few songs is the very same note that son Rufus hits exactly the same way in his music. Blindfolded, I doubt I could tell if it was father or son singing at that moment.
If I’ve made you curious about this talented group, check out this interview with the extended Wainwright/Roche tribe that the New York Times published last week, accompanied by a 2.5 minute video.