Published Feb 01, 2000The climate turns topical on Loudon Wainwright III's 17th release, Social Studies (his debut on Hannibal/Rykodisc/Outside). It's a collection of 15 slags and satires he was commissioned to write for American National Public Radio, over the past decade. While it sounds daunting, playing hired gun - and turning songs around in as little as two days - was no big deal for this 53-year-old, Brooklyn-based songwriting machine. If anything it was a nice break from terrorising himself and his loved ones on record.
"I have a way of writing songs that I've developed over the last 30 years, and once I get going, I just write them," says Wainwright. "There was a pressure involved, and I also enjoyed it. Writing to a deadline is enervating, and it's stressful, but it's a way to get the work done. I like having assignments, commissions - homework."
Whether dissecting politics on the ice skating rink ("Tonya's Twirls"), in Washington ("Our Boy Bill"), or in the courts ("O.J.") the legendary Loudo wit is in full whet. He finds mixed degrees of poignancy on serious ballads like "Carmine Street" and "Pretty Good Day." TV trivia nerds can tell you Wainwright III's first experience as hired gun came in 1975, appearing in several episodes of M*A*S*H as Captain Calvin Spalding, the singing surgeon.
Writing to order on his Martin guitar was a natural for Wainwright, whose dad (Loudon II) was a senior editor and columnist forLife . (The bloodlines have been healthily passed on to his red hot son Rufus, and daughter Martha, products of his one-time marriage to Montreal folkie Kate McGarrigle.)
"I think genetically and otherwise I've inherited a lot from my father," he comments. "I use a beginning, a middle and an end - there's a story. I'm into detail, and it has a journalistic kind of quality - particularly these songs, but all the songs. I owe my father, big time."