There comes a time in every meaningful, intense, physiologically shattering romantic entanglement that a fella must step up to the front door, hands behind his back, feet together, then just the heels, then tip-toes, and prepare for to shake the hand of his lover’s father.
Sometimes this can go extraordinarily well, no matter what that Stiller fucker might suggest. Sometimes it goes so well, in fact, that a fella sees the error of his ways, ditches the lady-friend and heads off on a voyage of filth-drenched discovery with the merchant seaman who raised her.
Sometimes, alas, it goes the opposite way, like when I bought a reproduction of Piss Christ for the minister whose daughter I used to see.
But whether good, bad or indifferent, this meeting must occur. A fella must, at some point, stand in the hallway and prepare for to be faced with the parents or guardians of his love, and must announce something along the lines of “This is me, is what. Interrogate as thou see fit.”
What this all relates to is something along the lines of the following;
It recently came to my attention that Martha Wainwright and I are to be wed, and, indeed, the date is to be set any day now, soon as a serendipitous Google-search leads her to this review. In the meantime, I felt I should make some sort of effort for to acquaint myself with her family.
To this end, I got hold of that documentary about brother Rufus, which I intend to view sometime or other, and also set myself down for an evening in the company of her Papa, Loudon Wainwright III, by way of his latest record, Here Come The Choppers.
Now, I feel it only fair to alert you, and, indeed, Martha, to this information right here;
Prior to pressing play on Here Come The Choppers, I don’t believe I ever once in my life heard the music of Loudon Wainwright III, unless maybe on some soundtrack or something, and even then I probably assumed it to be Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. I heard plenty talk about him, read plenty reviews and articles and such over the years, but for whatever reason, our paths never crossed in such a manner that might permit me to listen to a song or two he maybe scribbled one time.
Anyway, what occurred the evening I sat down with Here Come The Choppers was that I realized something incredibly significant.
An evening just wasn’t gonna be enough. A couple spins weren’t gonna amount to a thought worth a shit, half-a-dozen airings of this record and I was still gonna be clutching for an opinion. That initial evening was gonna have to bleed into the morning, and then a weekend, and then a couple weeks spent at some retreat of some kind. Me and my father-in-law were gonna have to have a lotta time for to understand each other.
I’m not quite sure what I expected back in the day, back when I’d yet to press CLOSE on the CD drawer thingy, back before I took out the inlay and started leafing through it in anticipation of this record about Invasion Of The Helicopters or whatever. I’m not sure that I had any particular preconception about what Loudon Wainwright III might sound like. What started rising from the speakers though, I’m pretty sure, was something other than what I wanted to hear.
What I heard was safe, middle of the road, sorta folky AOR. A couple predictable blues flourishes here and there, production you could eat your dinner off, the kinda thing that folks assume VH-1 plays all day. I got visions of folks at middle-class cheese-tasting parties sitting round tasting cheese and maybe lifting the odd glass of wine with their little finger pointing out, doing lots of sniffing, and in the background there’s, wait, what is that?
“Oh, it’s the new record by Loudon Wainwright III. We saw him in the Festival Hall in the eighties. Tremendous.”
It sounded sanitized and weak and a bit embarrassing. I was thinking about calling up Martha and saying something along the lines of “I’m sorry, Martha, but I don’t know that I like your dad’s new record, and I think, possibly, this may have some sort of negative effect on our relationship.”
But then, an epiphany.
Every disappointment in my life, I came to realize, has been the fault of one person; The Duke. How could Loudon Wainwright III possibly hope to meet my expectations when nobody, least of all me, knew what the hell these expectations even were? How can a man be faulted for sounding different to what I assumed he might have sounded like, had I given it a lot of thought, which I hadn’t?
But more compelling than this, even, was the niggling thought that somewhere, underneath this horrible diet cola production, there are wonderful, humane songs and stories that I just need to find a way of reaching.
Songs and stories like My Biggest Fan, which I initially disliked, and later found to be witty, self-deprecating, touching, even, like when he’s talking about this list said fan has regarding Best Singer-Songwriter Types;
“Yeah there’s Bob and there’s Neil and there’s me,
Naturally Bob’s number one,
The runner up, that’s Mr. Young,
I’m number three in command…
But he’s still my biggest fan”
I happened to read the waxings of a fella who’s followed Loudon Wainwright III over the years, and what he assumed was that, to hear these songs as they should be heard, you need to hear them live, when it’s just Loudon and his acoustic.
All through Here Come The Choppers, I was thinking something similar; If this were just him, and if the production was as ragged and as penetrating as his songs, I figure this would never be off the turntable, or the digital variant, at least.
But those songs, man. Those are some wonderful songs.
No Sure Way, for example, is a wistful, weary-hearted lament that seems to concern a subway journey either during 9/11 or shortly afterwards. With all the good intentions in the world, such material too often reeks of mawkish, empty sentimentality. No Sure Way is something different, though.
“They say Heaven’s high above us,
Hell’s not far below,
But in that subway tunnel,
There was no sure way to know”
And the voice. The voice was something else I disliked at first, but as time went on, as that first listen turned into the fifth and then fifteenth, I realized that voice was nothing short of stunning. Not as stunning, perhaps, as Martha’s, but certainly captivating, arresting, sometimes soaked in irony, sometimes soaked in pathos, but always nailing the mood spot on.
To be perfectly honest, the record ticks all the boxes a fella like The Duke might want to see ticked, and yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was all so inconsequential. In the end, I knew that it weren’t ever gonna soar like it needs to here in The Duke’s bedroom, I knew that even in the presence of The Kirsten Dunst Tennis Ball this record by the name of Here Come The Choppers was gonna flounder.
I knew that nothing less than hearing this record whilst sat beside a camp-fire in the back garden, with the twilight kissing every blade of grass and every stone in the dirt and every crumpled up page from a wank-mag that some fourteen year old had flung over the fence earlier on, nothing less than this would suffice.
And so there, in the back garden, with neighbors lookin’ out the windows muttering about that fucking demented cretin next door, me and Loudon had another go of it, another heart-to-heart. Just him with his songs and me with the damp on my hole threatening all sortsa horrible hemorrhoidal terrors.
Here Come The Choppers, y’see, is a record that craves a certain kind of intimacy, desires the kinda effort that folks only bother with because they know that somewhere, underneath the pedestrian sound of it all, there’s something special.
Granted this kind of attention, it starts to reveal all sortsa things. It sets about allowing the couple of bluegrass-tinted numbers for to rise out the mire, for example. It starts showing how wonderful a song about a fella talking bout the granddad he never knew can be, when it’s written with a brilliant novelist’s thirst for detail, when it’s alive with compassion and quiet awe.
It starts revealing how it is, in fact, possible for someone to write a song about their children and not make a fella wanna tear his ears off of his head with the hands he tried to hack off first.
It starts hinting that maybe Here Come The Choppers is one of those bizarre albums that aren’t necessarily great, but are, nonetheless, filled with great songs.
You start to realize that there are enough stories in this damn thing for any number of Wes Anderson flicks, cause let’s face it, if anyone was gonna make a film concerning those Wainwrights, it could only be the man responsible for The Royal Tennenbaums.
Actually, as he points out in the liner notes, Loudon ain’t no stranger to a movie set. You can see him soon in Elizabethtown, Cameron Crowe’s latest number starring sweet, perfect Kirsten. Hopefully She’ll talk him into doing the next record on his own.
As the fire was burning itself out, and I noticed I’d run out of cigarettes, I thought about how I might go see Loudon play if ever I get the chance. I mused along the lines of, I believe I’m gonna go get me some of those earlier records, maybe the one where he sings about Rufus Is A Tit Man.
I was thinking how I was glad me and Loudon had this time together, and that, most likely, when me and Martha end up dancing to A Rainy Night In Soho on some hotel balcony someplace, I probably won’t be that annoyed if a track from this record comes on next.
All that’s left for a fella to do is reiterate the point; Given the care and attention it deserves, Here Comes The Choppers becomes a really rather wonderful record, even if the parts are worth a lot more than the sum.
Mathematics, and such.
The Duke resides at Mondo Irlando