Jan 15

Loudon Wainwright III

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It was 1973 when Loudon Wainwright made it big with the hit single, Dead Skunk (in the middle of the road). A fun little ditty that became a popular sing-along among people young and old. This and The Swimming Song are remembered by many a summer camper.

The Swimming Song

This summer I went swimming
This summer I might have drowned
But I held my breath and I kicked my feet
And I moved my arms around
Moved my arms around

This summer I swam in the ocean
And I swam in a swimming pool
Salt my wounds, chlorined my eyes
I’m a self-destructive fool
I’m a self-destructive fool

This summer I did the back stroke
And you know that that’s not all
I did the breast stroke and the butterfly
And the old Australian crawl
The old Australian crawl

This summer I swam in a public place
And a reservoir to boot
At the latter I was informal
At the former I wore my suit
I wore my swimming suit, yeah

This summer I did swan dives
And jack-knives for you all
And once when you weren’t looking
I did a cannon-ball
Did a cannon-ball

This summer I went swimming
This summer I might have drowned
But I held my breath and I kicked my feet
And moved my arms around
Moved my arms around


Loudon turned 70 in 2016 and he’s still creating new music and performance gigs. Last night I had a chance to see him in a small, local venue – The Mauch Chunk Opera House in historic Jim Thorpe, PA – the city was originally named Mauch Chunk and renamed Jim Thorpe as a way to promote tourism.

Loudon is a folk singer-songwriter and a consummate story-teller. His latest creative musings include spoken word in which he shares segments of columns written by his father, for LIFE MAGAZINE, way back in the day. Intertwined with these recitations he blends some of his own music and lyrics. His confessional style digs deep and pokes fun at familial dysfunction and parental misgivings along with the myriad of neuroses that the human race incurs. Shared reflections of his own childhood, his own parental failings and the demons that haunt him can cast the listener into that spell of our own set of reflections and the demons they may conjure.

A quick cell phone image of Loudon plugging in.

Wainwright is creative, funny, eloquent, irreverent, a troubadour with a bit of court jester in his heart and from good Celtic stock.


His politics, like so many of the performing arts set, lean left. One new song evidencing that leftist bent is his, I had a Dream, in which he cites a number of silly leftism. Though, last night’s performance did not include his musical rant about “the Donald” as president. I’ve read the lyrics and they are lame, but mild in comparison to some of the other hysteria circulating in current conversation.


I’ve seen Loudon perform a few times in the past, but I have never seen him play piano. His solo act is usually guitar and maybe banjo and sometimes he tours with a small group that may include, piano, saxophone, and another stringed instrument, like violin or mandolin.

I have always been curious about the name Loudon and during last night’s performance, he shed light on some of the epistemology of his name. His father, Loudon Wainwright Jr. was a writer for LIFE MAGAZINE and he maintained a column called, “The View From Here”, from 1964 – 1972.

Going back in his family tree, I looked online to find that Loudon Wainwright Junior’s great grandfather, A. Loudon Snowden, was a 19th Century politician and diplomat, served for a time as register of the United States Mint in Philadelphia as well as serving as the Postmaster for a period. Going back a little farther, I discover that the name Loudon is actually a Sir name of Scottish origin, from Perthshire.


“The Picture”
by Loudon Wainwright III
There are pictures on the piano,

Pictures of the family,
Mostly my kids but there’s an old
Picture of you and me.
You were five and I was six
In 1952
That was forty years ago
How could it be true?

We were sitting outside drawing
At a table meant for cards,
And it must have been in autumn,
Falling leaves in the front yard,
With a shoe box full of crayons,
Full of colors oh so bright,
In a picture in a plastic frame,
A snapshot black and white.

You were looking at my paper,
Watching what I drew
It was natural: I was older,
Thirteen months more than you.
A brother and a sister,
A little boy and girl,
And whoever took that picture
Captured our own world.

A brother needs a sister
To watch what he can do,
To protect and to torture,
To boss around—it’s true
But a brother will defend her
For a sister’s love is pure,
Because she thinks he’s wonderful
When he is not so sure.

In the picture there’s a fender
Of our old Chevrolet
Or Pontiac—our dad would know,
Surely he could say
But dad is dead and we grow old
It’s true that time flies by
And in forty years**

the world has changed
As well as you and I.


** Note – forty years was changed to 60 years in last night’s performance…..”the world has changed as well as you and I.”

The Picture is a lovely melody with lyrics that reflect back on a time that is no more. As we grow older we see images of those times and remember with fondness, the moment and those we shared it with.

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