This has been a rather humbling few days, although in sort of a good way. One of the benefits of making a fan page like my Unofficial: Loudon Wainwright III on Facebook is that you find out stuff you would not have otherwise known about through people’s comments. Thus, about three days ago I discovered Loudon had a book out (Liner Notes: On Parents & Children, Exes & Excess, Death & Decay, & a Few of My Other Favorite Things). I bought it and downloaded it on my Kindle app. The first chapter (all I have read) is very engaging, almost brutally honest, and rather funny (that’s kind of how Loudon works). Then event sounds like a conversation/book signing with maybe a couple of songs (I hope) at the Largo on Cahuenga. The admission comes with a copy of the book, so it looks like I’ll have a hard copy too, which presumably I can get signed. If I’m really lucky (I’m planning to bring a camera), I can get my photograph taken with Loudon, which will promptly replace the one I currently have with Rufus on my Unofficial Loudon Wainwright III facebook page (it will stay up, of course, on my Rufus page). While I’m not totally sure I’ll be able to go, he is also performing what I assume will be a largely musical set at McCabe’s guitar shop in Santa Monica on Saturday night (it’s sold out, so if anyone has a ticket they are willing to sell, message me). Sheesh, talk about an embarrassment of riches.
All of that has nothing really to do with the following slideshow, although if I stretch I suppose I could say it is another live version of one of Loudon’s songs, and I’ll be seeing him live so that’s a connection, I guess. I must admit, I’m rather partial to his live albums, partly because he is such an engaging performer, and I think partly because the “So Damn Happy” live album is when I got back into Loudon’s music after not really having listened to him for about two decades. Well, this is another song from “So Damn Happy” (so were “Much Better Bets” and “Men”), with the slightly off-putting title, “The S*** Song.” The whole song is really just a metaphor, of course, and I hope that the slideshow succeeds in highlighting those metaphoric implications without being too disgusting. Despite the title, it’s a very wise song and–while there is one moment he might seem to be mocking the disabled (and yes, I laugh every time I hear it), as with so many of Loudon’s songs, I think there is something much more subtle and even profound going on. WARNING: Includes profanity (if you haven’t figured that out).
I had really thought the next Rufus Wainwright song I would be trying to turn into a slideshow would be “What a World,” although I had also been toying with the idea of doing something with his version of “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” More or less by accident, I ran into this version of “Zebulon” that includes a rather moving introduction about how he came to write the song after visiting his mother, noted folksinger Kate McGarrigle, in the hospital in Montreal and then walking back up over a hill overlooking the city to his home, reminiscing about earlier, happier times when the tune more or less blossomed before him in a sudden quickening of inspiration. I pretty much immediately realized I could use this to introduce his version of “Who Knows,” and–after a little more poking around–I stumbled upon this lovely version of Harold Arlen‘s “Over the Rainbow,” recorded at a 2009 Manchester concert, accompanied by his Mom on piano (she passed away from cancer in 2010). As my Mom is 94, pretty much wheelchair bound, and currently on hospice care, mortality has been on my mind a good deal of late, so this project became a means of working through and articulating some of my own feelings, although the photographs are largely of the Wainwrights or McGarrigles, Montreal, or nature scenes of one sort or another (the bridal shower invitation is actually for my Mom–I have been working on a slideshow for her and going through and scanning lots of old photographs from family albums, but that is the only photo directly associalted with me or my family). As a result, this slideshow, much more than most, feels strangely personal, and I feel strangely moved by it, in a way I can only describe as exqusite–an oddly aesthetic word with which to describe an emotional experience.
The slideshow (and the songs that accompany it) attempts to express loss, grief, transcience, and a kind of emotional acceptance, and ultimately it works–if it works at all–more through feeling than any kind of intellectual argument. I am a little worried that Rufus (who I will actually be seeing in concert soon) may feel that I am intruding on an intensely private and personal matter that he would rather not have other people explore, however sympathetically. If so (assuming he becomes aware of it all), I will take it down as soon as possible. The audio of the introduction to “Zebulon” is from a 2010 performance sponsored by The Guardian newspaper in England, while the audio of the song itself is apparently its first public performance, in 2007 on FIP radio from Paris, France. “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” (by Sandy Denny, who I include with one photo of from her Fairport Convention days) is from Rufus’ performance at the 2015 Folk Awards. There are other versions on YouTube, but I thought this one had the best audio quality, and a beautifully shaded vocal rendering from Rufus. As I mention above, Harold Arlen‘s “Over the Rainbow” is from a 2009 performance, accompanied by his mother Kate on piano, from Manchester England, and again Rufus seems to get to the emotional heart of a great song. I hope you like the slideshow, despite its somber subject (I tried to include a couple of gentle laughs), and at any rate you can always just close your eyes and enjoy the music, which borders on sublime throughout, and even occasionally hovers just above where bluebirds fly.
This is actually a slideshow I made in response to a comment I got on my “Unofficial:Loudon Wainwright III” Facebook page. John Burns mentioned that he had just been talking about “Dead Skunk” a couple of days before. I responded that people really seemed to like the slideshows I’ve done that feature animals prominently (“Me and My Friend the Cat” has gotten almost twice as many views as my second most popular slideshow), and that I thought he had just given me an idea for my next one. This is the result. It features lots of animals–mostly dead ones (it’s basically a funny, peppy song about roadkill). The audio by the way, is from a YouTube video of Loudon performing on Rockpalast, a German TV show (I think this is from 1984). This is why the end is so abrupt (the clip just ends there), and I tried to fill it out a bit with a couple of appropriate sound effects from iMovie. I also included some of Loudon’s introduction, partly for historical interest, and partly because it allowed me to insert a little bit of political satire. I apologize if you are offended by it, although I suspect that there is not all that much overlap between passionate Loudon Wainwright III fans and passionate fans of the current administration, so I don’t expect it to be a huge problem.
After having done three rather dark slideshows inspired by Loudon Wainwright III songs, “Dead Man,” “Men,” and “Unhappy Anniversary,” this celebration of human-feline relationships is a nice change of pace. The song, “Me and My Friend the Cat,” is from “Album II,” when Loudon was recording for Atlantic Records. I am not going for any deep meanings or political points, beyond the obvious “be nice to cats and they’ll be nice to you, and “don’t I have pretty cats?” (the blue Persian is my beloved Mitzy; the tabby with the striking green eyes is Melissa, and the one that looks like a Russian Blue is Moakey) While one could extend this message to human relationships to other species (or even other humans), the slideshow really makes no attempt to do so and I’d be surprised if anybody drew such a message from it. Anyway, I hope you like it, and find it fun.
I really had planned on posting a nice, uplifting Donovan slideshow after last week’s horrific “War on Drugs,” but recent events kind of forced my hand. Some people will find much of the first (and some of the second humorous), although in a rather rueful, pained way (some people will be offended by both, but they probably aren’t likely to see them in the first place). The resignation of Scott Spicer as White House Press Secretary last week and the firing of Reince Priebus as White Chief of Staff yesterday for having displeased Hair Furor, just made both of these terribly timely (The Pride Parade and Unhappy Anniversary have been previously published on The Daily Kos). Despite the introductory quote from Phil Ochs, there is nothing particularly prophetic about predicting their downfall. This is simply what happens who choose to associate themselves with Trump. The title is partly a misnomer, because only the second slideshow is really about Trump; the first focuses on people in his orbit and explores his effect on them which–despite all the notoriety, temporary power, and occasional wealth their relationship with our fearless leader brings them–seems to be more traumatic than anything else.
As I suggest above, this slideshow focuses on those who hitch themselves to Donald’s star rather than Hair Furor himself. I consciously crafted it to generally fit the narrative of one of Loudon Wainwright III’s older songs, “Unhappy Anniversary.” It basically is a love story told in reverse (sort of like Harold Pinter’s Betrayal), which I always assumed was a semi-autobiographical take on Loudon’s marriage to Kate Mcgarrigle (this was just an assumption on my part, I have no inside information). I had been playing with the idea of using it as a way of illustrating some parts of America falling out of and then in love with Trump (remember, we are going backwards in time). Anyway, this is the result (I think from late last May), and I am reasonably happy with how it turned out.
I realize that I am employing some awfully broad stereotypes here, particularly when I look at the “Trump voter” in general rather than at specific individuals, and for that I apologize if anyone is offended. For all I know, the poor whites in those photographs didn’t vote for Trump (and much of his support came from people–usually white people–who were not impoverished at all); it is at least as likely that the poor people didn’t vote at all, and I suppose it is at least conceivable that one or more of them voted for Hillary. In a similar vein, I suspect that the woman in the photograph at the top of this diary is in fact expressing ecstasy rather than horror at suddenly being within touching distance of her American idol; it’s probably an accident of timing that it comes across as horror in the photograph. Still, it was too good not to use.
As the Firesign Theater said, “Forward, into the Past!” This slideshow I made over a year ago (actually the first one I did, I think with iDVD rather than iMovie, which is why it tends to use different kinds of technical effects), at the beginning of April 2016, when it was only starting to become apparent how popular Hair Furor really was. Its obvious intent was to persuade people not to vote for Trump, and its lack of success is probably a pretty good measure of my power and influence. Looking at it now, though, I am struck by how sympathetic it was to our current president, who–through circumsances, his own choices, as well as their consequences–became the person he is. The sympathy is mostly the result of Don Mclean‘s brilliant, scathing, and little heard song, although I do seem to have chosen a number of photos in which the then-presidential candidate looks distinctly depressed and–therefore–a possible object of empathy.
The following is from my introduction to the video on YouTube: A slideshow on the life of Donald Trump. Set to “The Pride Parade” by Don Mclean. The song is from the album “Don Maclean,” which was the follow up album to his massively successful “American Pie” (still widely available on DVD). I had always assumed the song was an immensely probing, rather cynical self-evaluation following his sudden success. It obviously has a much more universal application than that, as I hope this slideshow shows (frankly, it always seemed to be about me); however, it applies quite well to our own Hair Furor.
By the way, although I obviously made it to convince people not to vote for Trump, I have to admit I now see it as profoundly empathetic to him, not as a presidential candidate, but as a suffering, isolated human being (apparently he does have an almost pathological fear of being alone). By the way, a few footnotes, the guy with the moustache early in the slide show is Trump’s father, Frederick Trump (slumlord and, apparently, KKK member). The really creepy looking guy sitting in the wing chair holding the American flag is Roy Cohn, Trump’s acknowledged mentor in dirty tricks and a self-loathing homosexual (he has a big part in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America), he also appears in a number of pictures with Trump indulging in New York City night life–I know Trump is supposed to be a teetotaler, but he sure looks stoned to me); the guy in the mug shot is Jeffrey Epstein, financier and noted pedophile. Trump has at various times claimed to be one of his best friends, and other times to have never met him. I think he was the man who procured the 13 year old girl that Trump is alleged to have raped back in the nineties (to be fair, apparently he also did some procuring for Bill Clinton too). The guy in the hospital bed that Trump appears to be looking at (they are actually two separate photos) is a very young John McCain (you might remember there was something of a controversy when Trump said McCain was no hero; only losers are POWs, after all). I am assuming you recognize Ronald Reagan, Ben Carson, and Chris Christie (I’m still impressed by that photograph of Christie talking to Trump; I didn’t even think it was possible to get a fake, forced laugh across in a still photo, but it actually does). The guy Trump is shaking hands with in the photograph above the one where he calls Fox News viewers the dumbest voters in America is David Bossie, the head of Citizen’s United (he is basically the one who opened the floodgates to money taking over U.S. politics, which of course it was well on the way to doing anyway). He also apparently helped Trump set up his campaign and hire his first group of campaign staff, as the Donald tried to assuage his wounded ego by running.
Next week, I promise something more upbeat, unless–of course–events intervene.
I’ve always found the song “Men” by Loudon Wainwright III strangely moving, ever since I first heard it on his “So Damn Happy” album. Although the concept of manhood it talks about is somewhat outdated (it was written before women were allowed to serve in combat positions in the the U.S. military), it forces me to ask some profound questions about ultimate value, as well as questions about some of the ways in which masculinity has traditionally been conceived and the conflicts and contradictions that come along with those ways of thinking. I wonder how often “women and children first,” has actually been put into practice?
Sometimes it has been (the Titanic’s 1912 sinking is certainly the most famous example, but I have little doubt there were others, some probably never noted in the historical record), and men have sacrificed their lives for others either because these others were seen as more valuable, or at least having more potential value. The song, however, is hardly a celebration of male heroism, although it acknowledges its possibility; instead, it notes how the world can be a place of horror, and that it men bear a considerable burden of responsibility for it. Man’s ultimate powerlessness in the face of circumstances is merely a subset of powerlessness of all human beings coming to terms with the final truths of existence, because of course everyone—man, woman, child, emperor, and serf—eventually dies.
I was seven when I first became aware of my own mortality. I was looking at my hand, and I suddenly became aware of all the fine lines, virtually webs of wrinkles on my hand. All at once, getting older was not something to look forward too, a future in which I had ever greater control over myself and my environment, but instead one in which my body would deteriorate, wither, and die, and that it was a process that would occur regardless of my desires or best efforts, which might (with some luck) temporarily put off but never avoid my inevitable extinction. It was as if my whole perspective on my existence pivoted around the focal point that was my hand, and nothing would ever be quite the same again.
What I am describing, of course, is the near universal experience (assuming you live long enough) of apprehending my own mortality, essentially my first encounter with existential dread. I was immediately struck by Loudon Wainwright III’s song, “Dead Man,” which I first heard a few days ago, a song that seems to have been inspired by his father’s death and going through his father’s effects at some time after the funeral. As is so often the case with Loudon’s songs, I was immediately struck by a painful honesty, leavened with his characteristic humor, and an absolute willingness to apply his insights to his own life.
The slideshow began as an exploration of universal human experience, but I realized that one could apply it to Hair Furor, and that is what I do in this version (I get a certain schadenfreude from imagining his horror if he ever saw it, which I know perfectly well is extremely unlikely). The images I picked to illustrate the first two verses are intended to illustrate mortality’s universality, while the last verse focuses more on our current leader. However, the insights apply to all human beings, including myself, and I suspect I’ll be doing another version with photographs of myself in the final section. In any case, I hope you appreciate the song (the brilliant lead guitar work is courtesy of Richard Thompson) and aren’t offended by the slide show, which will probably make some people uncomfortable, more because of the issues it explores than any particularly graphic image.