Loudon Wainwright III

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Loudon Wainwright III
Background information
Birth nameLoudon Snowden Wainwright III
Born (1946-09-05) September 5, 1946 (age 77)
Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S.
OriginBedford, New York, U.S.
Occupation(s)Musician, actor
DiscographyLoudon Wainwright III discography
Years active1967–present
Wainwright at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2015, at which he and Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens both received a lifetime achievement award.[1]

Loudon Snowden Wainwright III (born September 5, 1946) is an American singer-songwriter and occasional actor. He has released twenty-six studio albums, four live albums, and six compilations. Some of his best-known songs include "The Swimming Song", "Motel Blues", "The Man Who Couldn't Cry", "Dead Skunk", and "Lullaby". In 2007, he collaborated with musician Joe Henry to create the soundtrack for Judd Apatow's film Knocked Up. In addition to music, he has acted in small roles in at least eighteen television programs and feature films, including three episodes in the third season of the series M*A*S*H.

Reflecting upon his career in 1999, he stated, "You could characterize the catalog as somewhat checkered, although I prefer to think of it as a tapestry."[2] In 2017, Wainwright released his autobiography, Liner Notes: On Parents & Children, Exes & Excess, Death & Decay, and a Few of My Other Favorite Things. He is the brother of singer Sloan Wainwright and has four children, including musicians Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, and Lucy Wainwright Roche. He has been married and divorced twice, including to folk singer Kate McGarrigle.

Early life[edit]

Wainwright was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the son of Martha Taylor, a yoga teacher, and Loudon Wainwright Jr., a columnist and editor for Life magazine.[3] His great-great-grandfather was the politician and diplomat A. Loudon Snowden. His father was not a professional musician, but he played the piano and wrote some songs, exposing his children to musicians such as Tom Lehrer and Stan Freberg, whom Wainwright later cited as influences.[4] Wainwright grew up in Bedford, New York, in Westchester County. Among his sisters is Sloan Wainwright, also a singer. Like his father, he attended St. Andrew's School near Middletown, Delaware.[5]


Wainwright's career began in the late 1960s. He had played the guitar while in school but subsequently sold it for yoga lessons while living in San Francisco.[citation needed] Later, in Rhode Island, Wainwright's grandmother got him a job working in a boatyard.[citation needed] An old lobsterman named Edgar inspired him to borrow a friend's guitar and write his first song, "Edgar".[citation needed] Wainwright soon bought his own guitar and in about a year wrote nearly twenty songs.[citation needed] He went to Boston and New York City to play in folk clubs and was eventually noticed by Milton Kramer, who became his manager.[citation needed] He signed a record deal with Atlantic, which released his self-titled debut album in 1970.

Wainwright is perhaps best known for the 1972 novelty song "Dead Skunk (in the Middle of the Road)" and for playing Captain Calvin Spalding (the "singing surgeon") on the American television show M*A*S*H. His appearances spanned three episodes in the show's third season (1974–1975).[6]

Using a witty, self-mocking style, Wainwright has recorded over twenty albums on eleven different labels. Three of his albums have been nominated for Grammy Awards: I'm Alright (1985), More Love Songs (1986),[7] and High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project (2009), for which he won the Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album in January 2010.

Wainwright has also appeared in a number of films, including small parts in The Aviator (with two of his children), Big Fish, Elizabethtown, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, 28 Days, and Knocked Up, and the television series Undeclared and Parks and Recreation.[6] In the UK, he recorded sessions for John Peel from 1971 onwards and appeared on a simultaneous broadcast on BBC TV and on Radio 1 in February 1978 (known as Sight and Sound in Concert).[8] However, it was in the late 1980s that he gained much wider popularity in Britain, when he appeared as the resident singer with comedian Jasper Carrott in his show Carrott Confidential.[citation needed]

He appeared as a musical guest on Saturday Night Live in the first season's fifth episode, which was hosted by Robert Klein and broadcast on November 15, 1975. He performed "Bicentennial" and "Unrequited to the Nth Degree".[citation needed]

Wainwright has said that, like many of his contemporaries, he was inspired musically by seeing Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963. He was one of many young folk singers tagged as the "new Dylan" in the early 1970s, a fact that he later ruefully satirized in his song "Talking New Bob Dylan" from the album History (1992).[7]

Wainwright was a judge for the fourth annual AIM Independent Music Awards.[9]

The singer entered a period of deep depression following the death of his mother in 1997 and believed he could never write again. Retreating to his mother's cabin in the woods, he underwent therapy and gradually recovered, eventually recording Last Man on Earth in 2001.

Wainwright and musician Joe Henry composed the music for the 2007 Judd Apatow film Knocked Up. In addition to composing the soundtrack, Wainwright appeared in the film in a supporting role as the protagonists' obstetrician.[10] He has also composed music for the new theatre production of Carl Hiaasen's Lucky You, which premiered at the 2008 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.[11]

Personal life[edit]

Relationships and family[edit]

Wainwright's first marriage, to singer-songwriter Kate McGarrigle, ended in divorce. During their marriage, they had two children: Rufus and Martha, both of whom are musicians.[12][13]

Wainwright had a relationship with singer Suzzy Roche, during which they had a daughter, Lucy Wainwright Roche, who is also a musician.[14] The relationship ended, although Wainwright and Roche remain on good terms and occasionally appear onstage together, sometimes with Lucy.[15]

Wainwright's second marriage was to Ritamarie Kelly, and the couple lived in Los Angeles.[16] This also ended in divorce. They have a daughter, Alexandra (Lexie) Kelly Wainwright (born 1993).[17]

Since 2015, Wainwright has lived with Susan Morrison, an editor at The New Yorker.[18][19][20]

Inspiration for songs[edit]

Wainright's son, Rufus, was the inspiration behind two of Wainwright's songs: "Rufus Is a Tit Man" (referring to his breastfeeding) and "A Father and a Son", a retrospective.[17][21][22]

Wainwright's songs inspired by Martha are "That Hospital" (about visiting a hospital during her gestation for an attempted abortion)[23] "Pretty Little Martha" (about her as an infant), "Five Years Old" (about missing her fifth birthday), the confessional "Hitting You" (about assaulting her), the duet "Father/Daughter Dialogue", and "I'd Rather Be Lonely". In 2005, Martha told The Guardian, "For most of my childhood Loudon talked to me in song, which is a bit of a shitty thing to do, especially as he always makes himself come across as funny and charming while the rest of us seem like whining victims, and we can't tell our side of the story. As a result he has a daughter who smokes and drinks too much and writes songs with titles like 'Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole'."[24][25]

Regarding "Hitting You", Wainwright has said, "I would never forget that event, that incident... hauling off and whacking my kid...it's not something I would ever forget. There was an interesting song there".[26]

Martha had originally presumed that "I'd Rather Be Lonely" was about an old girlfriend and was shocked when Wainwright told an audience that it was about his daughter. She revealed that she "always felt terribly sorry for the poor woman I thought it was about because of the line: 'Every time I see you cry you're just a clone of every woman I've known'. Then one time I was on tour with Loudon and he said to the crowd: 'I wrote this song about my daughter'. I had no idea. We lived together for one year in New York when I was 14 and it was a disaster, and 'I'd Rather Be Lonely' was about that year. He really crossed the line there".[24] In her memoir, Stories I Might Regret Telling You, Martha wrote that when she heard the song's key lines, "You're still living here with me / I'd rather be lonely" and realized that the song was about her, "A part of me wanted to jump to my death from my tiny seat. Or, better yet, take off into the night, leaving him standing there waiting for me. But the show must go on, so I dried my tears and went down the stairs and on to the stage".[27]

Rufus has written the song "Dinner at Eight" about his conflicted relationship with his father.[28] Martha and her father sang a duet on "Father Daughter Dialogue" (on Loudon's 1995 album, Grown Man) and collaborated on the song "You Never Phone" (on Loudon's 2003 live album, So Damn Happy).

Wainright's first wife, Kate McGarrigle, wrote her song "Go Leave" about Wainwright. In it, she recounts how in the 1970s, her then-husband ran off to Europe with performance artist Penny Arcade. McGarrigle, who was pregnant at the time, traveled from Canada to England in search of him. After finding him, she lost the baby, and Wainwright informed her that he was leaving her. Martha has said that it is "the most gut-wrenchingly painful song ever. At the end, you hear the sound of a tear falling on to a string of her guitar. I used to listen to it as a child and cry my eyes out".[24]


Studio albums



  1. ^ Thomas, Huw (April 22, 2015). "BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards: Cat Stevens, Loudon Wainwright honours". BBC News. Retrieved August 30, 2017.
  2. ^ "Loudon Wainwright III". Lw3.com. June 20, 1999. Archived from the original on July 27, 2011. Retrieved April 9, 2012.
  3. ^ "Loudon Wainwright, III Biography (1946–)". Filmreference.com. Retrieved March 19, 2014.
  4. ^ Needles, Tim (June 2010). "Legendary Songwriter Loudon Wainwright III". Short and Sweet NYC. Retrieved January 19, 2012.
  5. ^ "St. Andrew's School Magazine, 1989 Winter | standrews" (PDF). libraryarchives.standrews-de.org. p. 29. Retrieved July 1, 2023.
  6. ^ a b imdb.com – Loudon Wainwright III Retrieved October 6, 2008
  7. ^ a b "Loudon Wainwright III Web Site: Bio". Archived from the original on July 27, 2011. Retrieved August 25, 2011.
  8. ^ BFI Film & TV Database Retrieved January 16, 2011
  9. ^ Independent Music Awards – Past Judges Archived July 13, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ imdb.com – Knocked Up Retrieved October 6, 2008
  11. ^ "Carl Hiaasen's Lucky You". Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Retrieved July 16, 2008.
  12. ^ Tucker, Ken (April 19, 1998). "Rufus, Son of Loudon, and His Take on Love – Biography". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 27, 2017. Retrieved January 24, 2010.
  13. ^ "Relative Values: Kate McGarrigle and Rufus Wainwright". The Sunday Times. London, United Kingdom. October 17, 2004. Archived from the original on February 9, 2019. Retrieved January 24, 2010.
  14. ^ Dan Markowitz (April 14, 1996). "Turning 50, Songwriter Sings About Life". New York Times. Retrieved July 12, 2012.
  15. ^ David Corriveau (March 20, 2019). "Highlights: Wainwright-Roche family road show stops at Chandler". Valley News. Retrieved June 11, 2023.
  16. ^ "Patriarch". The New Yorker. September 14, 2009.
  17. ^ a b "Loudon Wainwright III Opens Up About The 'Exes & Excess' That Inform His Music". NPR.
  18. ^ Seabrook, John (September 21, 2009). "The Patriarch". The New Yorker.
  19. ^ Dollar, Steve (May 15, 2012). "Barking Up the Family Tree". Wall Street Journal.
  20. ^ Kelly, Lexie. "Wainwright & I" (PDF). Ross School. Retrieved March 25, 2016.
  21. ^ "Rufus Wainwright: 'I am somewhat imprisoned by my fabulous career'". The Independent. April 13, 2012.
  22. ^ "Rufus Wainwright reveals father Loudon's 'tremendous jealousy'". Belfasttelegraph.co.uk – via www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk.
  23. ^ "Songs in the Key of Lacerating". Vanity Fair. May 22, 2007. Retrieved May 13, 2022.
  24. ^ a b c "Martha Wainwright". the Guardian. March 18, 2005. Retrieved May 13, 2022.
  25. ^ Jinman, Richard (April 15, 2005). "The Guardian profile: The Wainwrights". The Guardian.
  26. ^ "Loudon Wainwright III". The A.V. Club. January 21, 2010. Retrieved May 17, 2022.
  27. ^ Gould, Emily (May 12, 2022). "Martha Wainwright Tells a Few Stories She Might Regret". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 13, 2022.
  28. ^ DeCurtis, Anthony (August 31, 2003). "Rufus Wainwright Journeys to 'Gay Hell' and Back". The New York Times.

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