Saturday, May 28, 2016

Forget Neil's Ambivalence To Trump Using "Rockin' In The Free World;" Loudon Wainwright's "I Had A Dream" Is A Potential Nightmare


-by Denise Sullivan

Shaking my head as usual at the headlines and poor excuses for news, Wednesday's trumped-up report that Bernie Sanders booster Neil Young "excused" Donald Trump for using "Rockin' In The Free World" turned out to be a non-starter and almost as out of context as the right appropriating rock 'n' roll for their own diabolical purposes. If you remember last year around this time, non-voting Canadian but Californian Young asked that Trump not use the song during his campaign, and that was the end of that. Young, to his credit, joined the long line of rock 'n' roll heroes from Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, and John Mellencamp who just said no to their music being misappropriated by the real forces of evil. We have indeed been over this territory a few times before and there was no news here.

By Thursday however, there was music to our ears in the form of a new single by advanced topical songwriter Loudon Wainwright III. Same generation as the aforementioned musicians raised on rock 'n' roll, though instead of spending time and resources fending off the advances of the GOP, Wainwright's stayed busy amassing a whole catalog of work that at times has specialized in sticking it to both sides of the two-party circus and how. Skewering the likes of Jesse Helms, Newt, the Clintons and more, this week Wainwright sings, "I Had A Dream," which happens to be about the ultimate nightmare. You can hear it here and download it on iTunes. Here's a live version he did at Portland's Alberta Rose Theater on March 30:

A righteous pundit, Wainwright has been pursuing music since the late sixties, debuting with a self-titled album in 1970. Aside from his honest and deeply felt songs on relationships and life circumstances, he's long written satirical work, a style he calls "musical journalism" and is best demonstrated at album length on 1999's Social Studies (he gives it to O.J. Simpson, Tonya Harding, and Helms). For awhile he was the in-house songsmith for Nightline and is occasionally commissioned songs for NPR. Ol' Loudo, as he sometimes calls himself, originally hails from Helms territory; dad Loudon Wainwright Jr., was a columnist for Life magazine, while the name Loudon comes from A. Loudon Snowdon, a 19th Century politico who was Loudon III's great-grandfather. Wainwright is also father to musical children Rufus and Martha Wainwright (their mother was folksinger Kate McGarrigle), and Lucy Wainwright Roche, whose mother is Suzzy Roche of the Roches. Wainwright's also pursued acting through the decades and his film and television credits, often comedic, are mighty, from M.A.S.H to Judd Apatow's Knocked Up.

Wainwright's 23rd studio album, Haven't Got The Blues Yet, was produced by longtime collaborator David Mansfield, and released in 2014, though some still remember him best from the novelty, "Dead Skunk (In The Middle of the Road)," a Top 40 hit in 1972. Interestingly, that was the same year rock 'n' roll legend Chuck Berry had a number one record with "My Ding-A-Ling." And it was of course the year of Richard Nixon began his ill-fated second term. You might say it's a coincidence that Wainwright nailed the exact moment in time where the listening public lost all discernment, the world went to hell in a hand basket, and the door was opened for us to march toward the time when a buffoon might win the presidency. But I'm not foolish enough to make that claim. I'm simply suggesting it.

Denise Sullivan writes about music and gentrification issues from San Francisco for DWT. Her most recent book is Keep on Pushing: Black Power Music From Blues to Hip Hop.

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