40 Odd Years into an exceptionally prolific and storied career, Loudon Wainwright III is being celebrated with an aptly named career-spanning 4-CD/1-DVD box set, including a 40-page book, with an essay by renowned journalist/author David Wild and an introduction by filmmaker and box set co-producer Judd Apatow, to be released by Shout! Factory on May 3, 2011.
The first 200 to pre-order from ShoutFactory.com will receive an exclusive booklet signed by Loudon Wainwright III himself. Click here for more information.
40 Odd Years features songs from throughout Wainwright’s career, including works of brilliance such as “The Man Who Couldn’t Cry” from 1973’s Attempted Mustache, which Johnny Cash would record with producer Rick Rubin decades later, to the genuinely odd “Dead Skunk,” which became a #16 pop hit and thus a true novelty in the Wainwright canon, to highlights from his most recent projects, including cuts from the Grammy-winning album High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project. The 3+ hour DVD includes an extremely rare documentary made for Dutch television entitled One Man Guy, TV appearances on the BBC, Saturday Night Live, and Austin City Limits, as well as several unreleased concert performances.
Famed comedy powerhouse Judd Apatow, who co-produced the set with Wainwright, and who credits the artist as a great influence on his own career, writes in his introduction “I wanted to do what he has always done: to be brutally honest, emotional, hilarious and sweet all at the same time. Whenever I wonder what my tone might be, if I am confused, I just listen to a Loudon Wainwright song.”
In his essay, David Wild notes that “Wainwright has long been one of our most fearless troubadours. His art is fearless even though his songs are shot full of fear and fun, false pride, tortured insecurity and a lovely and graceful kind of self-deprecating genius. Whether he’s being devastatingly funny, fully self-lacerating or just brutally confessional, Loudon Wainwright III has always been a writer who sharply expresses his own distinct point of view on our larger human comedy.”
The New York-born Grammy-winning songwriter has traveled a remarkable path. Discovered by Atlantic’s Nesuhi Ertegun and John Hammond, Sr., the Columbia A&R man who had already signed Bob Dylan and would soon sign Bruce Springsteen, Wainwright established his literary yet utterly unpretentious take on the grand folk music tradition right from the start. The son of Loudon Wainwright II, a prominent editor and columnist for Life magazine, Wainwright III studied acting at Carnegie Mellon University before dropping out to pursue a music career. After a short time performing at clubs in Boston and New York City, he signed his first record deal, in 1968. As Wainwright recalls, “I made the first two albums that were critical successes, but no one bought them, and Atlantic dropped me. So then Clive Davis signed me at Columbia with the understanding that I’d actually try and play with some other musicians too.”
A year or two later Wainwright appeared, albeit fleetingly, as Captain Spaulding — “the singing surgeon” — on three episodes during the third season of the historic television series M*A*S*H. That was the opening salvo of an impressive second career for Wainwright — as an actor. He played a fantastically flawed father on the Fox TV series Undeclared, his first in a series of projects with famed comedy powerhouse Apatow. He has also appeared in such films as Jacknife, 28 Days, Big Fish, The Aviator, Elizabethtown and Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, in which Wainwright played an obstetrician and contributed some fantastic songs, including “Daughter” (written by Peter Blegvad) and “Grey In L.A.”
40 Odd Years — which gathers together all of Loudon Wainwright III’s best work — displays his unique approach to music making. Rather than write about global politics or simply sing shallow love songs, Wainwright has focused on writing about life’s more domestic, and ultimately universal, aspects. He has written extensively about family and his children, three of whom – Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, and Lucy Wainwright Roche – are songwriters. Other themes include love, lust and the horrible and unkind things we do to one another in our personal lives.
Regardless of prevailing trends or commercial pressures, Wainwright has always continued to follow his beautiful, often heartbreaking muse, no matter what the consequences. This is why his music endures, 23 albums and 40 odd years later, and why Loudon remains a true American treasure to this day.
“I’m lucky — it still feels like there’s work to do, and I’m doing it,” says the 64-year-old singer-songwriter. “I hate the travel, the airports, the hotels, but I love the job itself, which is writing the songs and doing the shows. As a kid I had a dream of being a performer, and lo and behold it came true. Not only that but it turned out I was a writer, something I didn’t necessarily want to become, probably because my old man seemed so tortured and miserable about his work. But I became one anyway. So now the plan is to keep performing and writing for as long as possible.”
It’s all enough to make you hope for another 40 Odd Years.
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