Don't know about you, but I don't buy all that Oedipal/ Freudian stuff. Maybe times have changed beyond all recognition since Soph and Sig's days, but all the young metrosexuals I know are starving for a hug and a pat on the back from pa, while mum can be fobbed off with the dirty laundry that she had nothing (banish the thought!) to do with soiling. The point was driven home last week when, in a unique and bizarre display of father and son unbonding, two Wainwrights came to town. As Loudon is the senior member of the musical clan we'll kick off with his show at the Shepherds Bush Empire.
Loudon Wainwright III is a founder member of the late-1960s/ early 1970s rush to form the "New Bob Dylan" club - a Carolina-born but California-based folky singer-songwriter who is, in reality, more leftfield Tom Lehrer or new Randy Newman than Zimmer[frame]man. He is witty, funny and wise in that way that only North Americans can be and his only British equivalent would be, say, a cool and louche Richard Stilgoe. Hell, LWIII might even have lived up to that early hype had he not been so unenigmatic as to lead you to believe he has probably already written a song about this show and what a great request-shouting audience we were.
And, as a potent observer of the here and now, Loudon has written extensively, humorously and memorably about his family. Effectively, we knew his offspring a long time before they were ready for us to meet them. In 1975, for example, on Unrequited, we were introduced to Loudon's then-baby son in the so-funny-it's-sad-but-it's-so-sad-that-it's-funny "Rufus Is a Tit-Man" - a tale of Loudon's jealousy at having to watch Rufus feeding off his mummy's mammaries ("So put Rufus on the left one/ And put me on the right/ And like Romulus and Remus/ We'll suck all night").
Just a short time after writing that song, Loudon walked out on Rufus. Tonight, he acknowledges his offspring's existence with the briefest of my-son-was-in-town-yesterday introductions to "A Father and a Son" ("Maybe it's power and push and shove/ Maybe it's hate but it's probably love"). Anyhow, Loudon left, and while his fiercely loyal audience will forgive him all his confident (smug?), wordy, worldly ways, Rufus appears not to have.
The previous night, Rufus Wainwright - no longer a tit man at all, but more on that later - was quite prepared to, er, make a clean breast of his own feelings, both in song and in banter. He has inherited much from his long absent old man. His left leg does a little dance of its own while he strums his guitar in exactly the same way as Loudon's; he too has a tendency to try to squeeze too many words into his songs, as if he's too clever for his own good; and he too can captivate and spellbind an audience with his part pantomime, part vaudeville, part circus ringmaster shtick.
But there are crucial differences. The first is that Loudon's dad stuck around. And the second is that Rufus is gay. Deliciously gay. Tim Curry/ Joel Gray gay. A heartthrob to boys, girls and everyone in between, he is the pin-up his dad never was. But he has acquired Loudon's way with turning life into art. His unreleased song "Gay Messiah" contains the unforgettable line "I want to be baptised in come". And, as his record company is currently the Spielberg-owned DreamWorks, unreleased is probably exactly how "Gay Messiah" will stay.
Another song, "Dinner at Eight", is about the last time he fell out with his father after a photoshoot they did together for Rolling Stone magazine around the time of Rufus's debut in 1998. The row started when Rufus intimated that it was he who had got Loudon onto the magazine's pages for the first time in years. Introducing it, Rufus tells us: "This song's about my dad. He has a new album out too." And then he burps. Loudly. "Don't read anything into that," he says, looking as mischievous as Mozart.
"During my drug phase and subsequent breakdown," Rufus told The New York Times recently, "it all came back to my father. For every man in group therapy, the minute they would get to their dads, the tears came." Being a pair of troubadours with a love of powerful, poetic language, perhaps they should both seek solace in this line from Alexander Pope: "We think our fathers fools, so wise we grow. Our wiser sons, no doubt will think us so."
And then they need to give each other a hug before stepping out on tour together. But who would support who? To answer that, they will need the best therapist known to man.Reuse content