Sunday, July 8, 2012


If Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and Leonard Cohen can release albums with ruminations on growing old, Wainwright can too.  Of course, he takes the concept, and beats death to death, with his usual aplomb and lack of subtlety.  You get it all here, from memories of childhood to becoming a ghost, and all that's in between.  He makes no bones about it either, he's old, getting older fast, and he doesn't like it.

He'll make you laugh, and if you're over fifty, he'll make you scared, too, as he reminds you that you have more past than future now.  The whole thing seems to have come about from the realization that he's now older (64) than the age at which his father died.  The album opens with his life story in four verses and a chorus, in typically blunt fashion ("I took a wife, we had some kids/Screwed that up and went on the skids").  All four of his kids, and two of the three women he married (Kate McGarrigle had recently died) join in on the vocals.  It's simply audacious, and works perfectly.  There are some poignant songs along the way, including In C, about the Great Unknown that we all battle in live, the one that somehow broke apart his parents, and his own first marriage.  I guess Kate's death weighed on Wainwright as well, because that marriage, and kids Martha and Rufus get several mentions here (although that's true about several of his songs since the 70's).  In tribute, he includes the one song the couple wrote together, back in 1975, Over The Hill, almost as if they predicted this album all those years ago.

The sequencing of the album deserves special mention, as the flow of the songs helps keep the collection from being overly sad, or too silly.  When a song hits you particularly hard, or makes you think, you can be sure the next one will lighten the mood.  Included is a number about every one of the many, many medicines he's familiar with, from an arsenal of antidepressants to heat pads and baby Aspirin.  Most silly is a duet with the one and only Dame Edna Everage, but who better to coo a British music hall number with, especially one called I Remember Sex?

It's all quite powerful  He reads a piece written by his father in 1981, a brilliant essay about relationships between parents and grown children, and their past complicated any current friendship.  That is followed by a duet with Rufus, about how hard it is for father and son to change, and that battleground.  Whew.  Every moment of Wainwright's life is fair game for his material, and he never comes out looking great, and often, not very good at all.  But you can't help loving the flawed man.

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