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Still content at his table for one

As son Rufus and daughter Martha enjoy their musical journey, Loudon Wainwright III keeps up his vivid troubadour tradition.

May 15, 2005|Randy Lewis | Times Staff Writer

A talent scout with even the slightest bit of foresight might well start drawing up a couple of recording contracts now, one for Lucy Roche, another for Alexandra Kelly.

No, neither is generating a big buzz around town. In fact, neither has made a record yet.

But any exec with a knowledge of pop history would sign them anyway given that both have been the focal points of songs by Loudon Wainwright III, who also happens to be their father.

Big deal, you say?

Consider: In 1983, Wainwright recorded "Five Years Old" for his oldest daughter's birthday. Now 30, Martha Wainwright last month released her debut solo album to critical acclaim after wowing audiences for the last half-dozen years with her own shows as well as in performances with her older brother.

That would be Rufus Wainwright, critically lauded singer-songwriter and first-born to Loudon and his first wife, singer-songwriter Kate McGarrigle. Rufus was even younger than Martha when he turned up as the central figure in a 1975 Loudon song humorously grappling with a new dad's jealousy over the bond between mother and son.

"Yes, it's kind of nice to see the kids getting into the family business," Wainwright, 58, said recently with the mock bravado of a financial tycoon, between bites of red beans and rice at a New Orleans food stand at Farmers Market, while discussing his own new album, "Here Come the Choppers." It's the 21st album of his 35-year career, another strong collection of songs -- some humorous, some serious and some blending both.

With Rufus and now Martha generating attention akin to that heaped on their mother and father when they were recording for major labels in the 1970s, the extended Wainwright clan is shaping up as a pop-music dynasty.

Lucy Roche, 23, is Loudon's daughter with Suzzy Roche of the harmonizing Roches, while at 11, Alexandra is the youngest addition to his brood, his daughter with actress Ritamarie Kelly.

Unlike many entertainers who try to warn their offspring away from the hazards of show business, Wainwright has no problems with his kids latching onto the "singer-songwriter" tag.

"This is an honorable profession," he says. It's also, he notes soberly, frequently a solitary profession.

He's not the only one who feels that way. In a separate interview recently, Martha said she's determined to form a band so she doesn't get pigeonholed as a solo acoustic performer. "It's a lonely life," she said. "I've seen my dad do it for 35 years. You're sitting in restaurants by yourself. You're alone a lot on the road."

In any event, Loudon is far from ready to hand off the torch and cruise quietly into the sunset aboard the sailboat that's become one of his passions in recent years.

Acting up

The casual pop fan may still think of Loudon Wainwright as that guy who wrote "Dead Skunk," the 1973 quasi-novelty tune that was his only hit single.

But over his career he's carved out a niche as perhaps pop's greatest authority on the family dynamic, particularly the dysfunctional side of relationships.

He addresses family relations in the new album as he always has, but he also surveys his new surroundings in Los Angeles, where he moved two years ago to pursue acting opportunities.

He became a TV dad four years ago in the Fox network's short-lived series "Undeclared," which is resurfacing shortly on DVD. Loudon, Rufus and Martha had cameo roles as singers in "The Aviator," and he has a part in Cameron Crowe's next film, "Elizabethtown." He plays Orlando Bloom's father in "The 40 Year Old Virgin," a film from "Undeclared" and "Freaks and Geeks" creator Judd Apatow.

Having majored in acting at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University) around the time that Albert Brooks, Steve Bochco, Ted Danson and others were there, Wainwright quips that if acting doesn't pan out, he can always fall back on his career in folk music.

The new album's title song takes a hysterical view of the Los Angeles Police Department's stepped-up airborne nighttime patrols, wittily weaving in geographical reference points to bring home the sense of fear and vulnerability that's mushroomed since 9/11.

So many sorties, look out below

Staples, Blockbuster and Office Depot

Their sights set on Sav-on

Surveying Rite-Aid

At Mo' Better Meatty Meat Burger

Be very afraid

The album also includes his reaction to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, "No Sure Way," looking at the incomprehensible through the prism of a habitual subway ride from Brooklyn Heights into Manhattan shortly after the destruction of the World Trade Center.

Arguably even more poignant is "Hank and Fred," another left-field tune he wrote while in Montgomery, Ala., in 2003 filming a small role in Tim Burton's "Big Fish." The Fred in the title is Fred Rogers of PBS' "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" fame, whom Wainwright unexpectedly links with a legendary musician who was buried in Montgomery half a century earlier, Hank Williams.

Nat King Cole was born here

Rosa Parks stayed sitting down

Black and white, death, booze and music

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