Big Bird, Big Ideas
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
Prior to his upcoming visit to Tulsa, and his appearance in
"Sesame Street Live: Let's Play School,'' America's favorite bird,
Big Bird, stopped to answer a few questions about his life and
times. The Tulsa World spoke with Big Bird on March 20 — his
birthday. Here's a report of the, er, fowl language:
Tulsa World: How old are you today?
Big Bird: 6 years old. I don't think I look a day over 5, do you?
TW: How long have you been 6 years old?
BB: Longer than I have fingers to count.
TW: You have fingers?
BB: I'm luckier than most birds.
TW: What's your secret of staying so young?
BB: Living in my fantasy world. I'm a part of a fictitious
world where nothing changes. Plus, constant maintenance and grooming.
TW: What species of bird are you?
BB: That has never been figured out. Maybe sort of a stretch
canary. I'm synonymous with all birds.
TW: Can you fly?
BB: No. But I have high-flying dreams.
TW: What is your natural habitat?
BB: My nest on Sesame Street! It's at 123 1/2 Sesame St.
TW: Are there other birds like you?
BB: Nope. There's only one Big Bird.
TW: What do you want to be when you grow up?
BB: I'm still thinking about that one. I'm pretty happy where I am.
TW: Will you ever graduate from first grade?
BB: I get a gold star every night for doing my homework. I
get a little help from my friends on Sesame Street, of course.
TW: What do you want to teach other children?
BB: To feel good about school, to be cooperative grown-ups
and to develop their own sense of humor.
TW: What's the most important lesson you've learned?
BB: How important my friends are. And that the world is a
better place with all different kinds of people and animals living
together as friends.
TW: What's your favorite record?
BB: "Mocking a Mockingbird and Other Big Bird Calls.''
TW: If you had one wish, what would it be?
BB: I'd wish for two more wishes so I could give one to you.
This post contains my complete running coverage of this annual conference and festival ...
© Tulsa World
Tulsa Musicians Featured at South by Southwest Festival
By Thomas Conner 03/17/1996
AUSTIN, Texas — Most people spend the first day of the South by
Southwest music festival just getting their bearings. On Thursday,
Tulsa band Epperley was just trying to get its equipment.
The quartet drove to the Austin festival, and the trusty van broke
down more than 20 miles outside of town.
“At least we got that far,'' said guitarist Matt Nader. “We could
be fishing on the Red River, you know.''
Epperley was scheduled to play Friday night at the Driskill Bar in
the Driskill Hotel on Austin's club-lined Sixth Street. The van was
towed to an Austin garage, and the band spent Friday extracting
from it instruments and amplifiers and loading them into a rented
For Tulsa singer-songwriter Bob Collum, Thursday was a day of
rubbing shoulders with heroes. Before his show Thursday night,
Collum was jacked up by several chance meetings with admired musicians.
“I bumped into Robyn Hitchcock right there at the trade show,''
Collum said. “He just turned and looked at me like this,''
whereupon Collum cocked his head and widened his eyes into a very
droll, Hitchcockian expression. He also showed off an autograph
from Mark Eitzel, former lead singer of American Music Club, who
was scheduled to perform Saturday night on Sixth Street.
Collum's name-dropping wasn't all blowing smoke, though. Before he
began playing his set at the Coffee Plantation, Peter Holsapple
came in and shook Collum's hand. Holsapple was in the '80s pop band
the dB's and was in Austin to perform at the State Theater with his
wife, Susan Cowsill of the Cowsills. “I was in the neighborhood
and thought I'd come by,'' Holsapple said.
Collum beamed. “You don't understand,'' he said later. “He's my
That's clear when Collum plays his earnest, clever brand of
acoustic pop. He took to the Coffee Plantation stage Thursday with
his guitar and harmonica rack and proudly announced where he was from.
“I'm here to report to you that the corn is still as high as an
elephant's eye,'' he said and immediately launched into “Little
Johnny Shotgun.'' He played eight songs in his allotted 30 minutes,
including the four songs from his latest EP: “The Long Way Out,''
“Theoretical Girlfriend,'' “Prozac Yodel No. 9'' and “Writing on
He's a fierce performer. Other acts that followed him Thursday
night were a couple of timid souls who looked a bit vulnerable on
the stage with just an acoustic guitar between them and the
audience. Collum, however, holds the stage with a startling
confidence — one you don't expect after talking to the sheepish,
caffienated hero-worshipper offstage. He stands at the microphone
like Green Day's Billie Joe, a little too far back so that he leans
into it with a pigeon-toed stance and neck muscles straining --
along with his conviction.
The coffee house audience included about 20 folks seated when
Collum began, and maybe 30 when his set wrapped up. The members of
Epperley came to support him. Holsapple left early to get to his
own gig, but tipped an imaginary hat to Collum as he left.
Collum wasn't thrilled with his performance, but you get the
impression that he never is. It's not a false modesty, just a
charming insecurity. The set was brief, sure, but Collum said he
was glad he made the trip.
“Sure, it's worth it to come down here, whether you get to play or
not,'' he said. “I've gotten to talk to a guy with a New York
label, plus I've handed out a bunch of tapes.''
It's all about exposure here. Every little bit counts.
Collum, like everyone, had a lengthy list of performers he wanted
to see that night, but he said he'd eventually wind up in a bowling alley.
“There's this bowling alley next to my hotel,'' he said. “They
serve breakfast anytime for, like, $2. That's where I'll be all the
time, probably. Just watching old people bowl.''
Another band with a Tulsa connection also landed a gig at the
festival. Acoustic Junction played Thursday night at the White
Rabbit on Sixth Street. The band is based out of Boulder, Colo.,
and bassist Curtis Thompson is from Tulsa.
The band came together two years ago when Thompson moved to
Boulder. They have two independent releases, which together have
sold about 40,000 copies. However, the band has yet to play in Tulsa.
20/20, a revived new wave band made up of Tulsa natives, spent
Thursday warming up for their Friday night show. 20/20 was a fairly
influential band in Los Angeles during the early 1980s, and two
original members started writing and recording again last year with
Bill Belknap, owner of Tulsa's Longbranch Studios.
Friday's show would be the new 20/20's second gig since releasing
its fourth record last year, “Four Day Tornado.'' They played at
the Poptopia festival in Los Angeles last fall.
“We've all got careers and families now, so it's not real feasible
for us to get out and tour now,'' Belknap said, though the band may
try some traveling this summer.
Thursday, they were set up in member Ron Flynt's garage.
“It's just like we're in high school again or something,'' said
member Steve Allen, with a little excitement and a little amazement.
20/20 was on an attractive bill with the Posies and fellow early
'80s new wavers the Plimsouls at Austin's Waterloo Brewing Co.
Tulsa-Based Groups Wow Austin Crowds
By Thomas Conner 03/19/1996
AUSTIN, Texas — Joan Osborne just wouldn't shut up. The
Grammy-snubbed singer was featured at the South by Southwest music
festival Friday night on the Outdoor Stage, which was poorly placed
in the middle of the intersection at Sixth and Brazos streets in
downtown Austin. She held her ground up there about half an hour
longer than she was supposed to.
Her laziness paid off for one Tulsa band, though. Epperley
was scheduled to play at 9 p.m. in the Driskill Bar in the Driskill
Hotel, which is right on that corner. Thousands choked the streets
to see Osborne play her astonishingly boring set. As 9 p.m.
approached, and Osborne was still going, Epperley went ahead and
started their show despite a meager crowd of their parents, a
couple of execs from their record label and a few bar flies.
As they churned out songs, their driving rock attracted quite a
crowd — people from the streets who found Epperley's hooks much
more interesting than Osborne's aural barbiturates. The Driskill is
not a huge place and is not arranged to be conducive to gathering
around the makeshift stage, but about 60 people tried during the
band's hour-long set.
When the band finished “Nice Guy Eddie,'' two guys with justified
beer guts whooped, “Now that's good stuff right there!'' They
continued dancing throughout the show, to the added amusement of
the rest of the crowd and to guitarist Matt Nader.
Nader had been discussing the band's music the night before after
watching another Tulsan, Bob Collum, perform at a Sixth Street
coffee house. The festival was choked with a lot of bands that had
listened to too much Nirvana, Nader had said, and he once worried
that his band's original album, a self-titled release when the
band's name was Bug, suffered from that same ugly comparison. He
had made it a point, he said, to try and lighten things up a bit.
That's obvious in the new songs written for Epperley's first album
on Triple X Records — which is finally released this week after
some delays — and is especially obvious when the band plays live.
The music sometimes may grind a bit harshly and lead singer David
Terry sometimes may whine a bit too piercingly, but the overall
vibe is fairly light and someday may even be fun. Terry sings
nonsense just as often as he tells an ex how low she is.
Osborne finally sang “One of Us,'' left the stage and was escorted
through the bar and into the hotel, whereupon Nader said, “Hi
Joan!'' in the middle of a song. Then the bar really filled up, and
from what I could gather, most were attracted by the music and not
waiting for the next band, the Dragmules.
Rumor had it that Tommy Stinson, bassist for the defunct
Replacements, was there, but I've no idea what he looks like.
Terry's mom, Linda, was there, sporting an Epperley T-shirt and
beaming with pride. “It's so much bigger than a piano recital when
he's 6-years-old, you know,'' she said.
Dean Naleway, a representative from Triple X Records, was there. He
talked afterwards about the label's plans for Epperley.
“These are memorable times, and this is step one,'' he said.
“We've got 'em out here and people are listening to them. Now
we've got to get the record in the stores and the Best Buys and the
listening booths so people can start figuring it out. Pretty soon a
lot more people will have heard of these guys.''
Naleway said a thorough tour is not very feasible at this point,
but Nader said the band is itching to get on the road.
“The only thing we were really looking for (in Austin) was maybe a
booking agent, someone who could get us a lot of shows and get us a
tour,'' Nader said. “We want to get out and start playing.''
As Epperley played, a true Tulsa mainstay, N.O.T.A., impressed a
crowd of maybe 600 at the Back Room, a club a safe distance from
the downtown mob. N.O.T.A. has been playing punk off and on in
Tulsa since punk was an actual phenomenon at the turn of the '80s.
N.O.T.A. member Jeff Klein said the show went as well as they
expected. The crowd that showed up at least included some die-hard
“People were shouting out song titles from 10 and 12 years ago,''
Klein said, “so I guess we weren't completely forgotten.''
In all the years, N.O.T.A. had never played during South by
Southwest, but the band is no stranger to Austin. They played there
several times and were on an Austin label in the mid-'80s. While
not label-shopping now, Klein said the show was really just to
spread the word again that the band was around and to have a little
N.O.T.A. opened a bill that included Stiffs Inc. (another punk
legend that Klein said “were pathetic'' and “dressed up like Gary
Numan''), the Hickoids and the notorious Meatmen.
Later that night, a band of erstwhile Tulsans resurrected
themselves for a showcase at the Waterloo Brewing Co. in Austin's
warehouse district. 20/20 was formed in 1979 when Tulsans Ron Flynt
and Steve Allen moved to Los Angeles. The band had moderate success
there and a lasting enough effect to pack the outdoor venue Friday
night with fans eager to see the revived 20/20 — Flynt, Allen and
Bill Belknap, owner of Tulsa's Longbranch Studios.
The stage at Waterloo was outside the restaurant under a huge tent.
L.A.'s the Delphines played before 20/20, and the huge crowd stuck
around. The guys started with a song from their new album, “Four
Day Tornado,'' then launched into oldies like “Remember the
Lightning.'' Guitarist Allen sang lead on the first, and bassist
Flynt sang lead on the second. Flynt's stage voice takes you by
surprise — a fairly high and effected rock star vocal coming from
such a subdued guy with a low, booming offstage voice.
Allen's lead guitar was sharp and the solos peeled straight
out of the '80s. “Stone Cold Message of Love'' from the new record
was a delicious throwback to the days when arena rock and new wave
were clashing — the backbeats pounded through the last chorus and
a big, sustained finish with rolling drums and the whole
sling-the-guitar-down crash at the end. The crowd bounced up and
down and ate it up.
SXSW Panel Beats Boredom by Exploring Dead Topic
By Thomas Conner 03/21/1996
AUSTIN, Texas — In order to call itself a music “conference,''
South by Southwest organizes several panel sessions and workshops
for musicians, press and the like. It adds an air of legitimacy to
the three days of listening to rock 'n' roll in bars.
Most of the panels sessions could sedate an elephant. “Covering
Your Local Scene'' was a pointless exchange of egos between snotty
reporters from Los Angeles and frustrated reporters from Texas
towns of 6,000 people. “Why You Should Sign a Publishing Deal''
was a cavern of audible Valium — agents and publishing
representatives droning on about the virtues of publishing your
songs and the legal benefits therein. Zzzzzzzz.
The only truly entertaining session came Friday afternoon. It was
called “Were the Grateful Dead Really Any Good?'' The goal of the
discussion was to determine whether the music of the Grateful Dead
was really much beyond the average hippie garage groove or whether
it was the sheer genius its fanatical followers claim it to be. As
expected, it was a lively debate and reached about as many
conclusions as your average episode of “The Jerry Springer Show.''
The panelists were these: Bill Wyman, rock critic of the Chicago
Reader; Jim DeRogatis, senior editor at Rolling Stone; Ben Hunter,
music editor at Swing Magazine; Michael Krugman, a freelance writer
from Brooklyn; John Morthland, a freelance writer from Austin; and
Paul Williams with Crawdaddy in Encinitas, Calif.
When I entered the room, Williams was discussing his rediscovery of
the band in 1978. He said that the Dead, because they toured and
played so often, were not always great, but that one out of three
shows was guaranteed to “blow your mind.''
“That's not good consumer value,'' DeRogatis quipped. “They've
always been a (bad) rock 'n' roll band. They might be a good jug
“But one of those nights will blow your mind,'' Krugman said.
“And if they are a jug band, that's cool because you don't get to
see jug bands in an arena.''
The fact that the Dead did not always have great shows was a
continual hot spot. One man in the audience said he finally went to
see the Dead at the urging of many friends, and he thought they
“Then (my friends) said, 'Well, you have to be in the right frame
of mind,' and they said I had to take drugs to really get it, and
that got really irritating.''
Another audience member addressed the same issue. “The first 17
times I saw them, I was on acid, and it was fun. The 18th time I
was not an acid, and it was a great show. They rocked out a little
more, and I enjoyed it more because I wasn't so spaced out that I
couldn't enjoy the show, or even pay attention to what was really
This led to the issue that never seemed to be resolved: Were the
Grateful Dead more important for their cultural experience than
their music? The drug factor came up repeatedly — people
discussing how integral LSD and various drugs were to the enjoyment
and understanding of the Dead's music. But that begged this
question: How good is music if you have to alter your consciousness
to find it interesting?
“When you stop taking acid, you realize how boring they are,'' one
woman in the audience said.
Few denied the unique community that the band inspired among its
“The Dead were able to engender a great feeling among a lot of
different people,'' Hunter said. “Some magical experiences came
out of seeing the Dead, for whatever reasons. You can make fun of
the scene all you want, but there is definitely something there
that's not at your basic Better Than Ezra or Rancid show, and
likely never will be.''
But there might have been other sides to that huge and infectious
community, some said. One woman in the audience didn't think the
mere fact that the band was so hugely popular was necessarily a
plus. “America's Funniest Home Videos'' is also hugely popular,
and that hopefully doesn't constitute artistic merit, she said.
DeRogatis saw the huge community more as a marketing target for the
band, a captive audience and insurance policy that the members
didn't set out to create but didn't shun, either.
“They were marketing community as commodity,'' he said. “It was
just like Camelot. Camelot never really existed. It was like the
Disneyland notion of '60s-Land.''
Here he began reading from a catalog selling Grateful Dead licensed
clothing. “A great new line of Steal Your Face active wear,'' he
read. “They just wanted to sell more ties!'' he cried.
Krugman defended the merchandising. “Everyone sells T-shirts,'' he
said. “Some of 'em even like to wear them.''
Another virtue was raised by an audience member: the Dead were not
pawns of the record industry. In the last two decades, they made
very few records and subsisted almost chiefly on touring --
consistently running the highest-grossing tours each year.
“The great thing about the Dead was that they managed to piss off
the record industry,'' one audience member said. “Their touring
dwarfed their record sales, and the record companies couldn't get a
hold on that. They weren't getting any money from it.''
Williams agreed. “No one in the whole indie movement did more to
say you can screw the record business than the Grateful Dead. They
showed us there is such a thing as going out and making a living
playing music, no matter where you are on the Billboard chart.''
A music teacher in the audience found the only real, tangible
advantage of the Grateful Dead's music. “The kids that I've taken
to Dead shows learned more about world music than they would have
otherwise. They were the first experimental music with mass appeal,
and they turned a lot of people onto different styles of
Wouldn't you love to sign up for her class?
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
Arlo Guthrie had some hits back in the '60s, but a lot has happened
since then. A lot of new fans have been born, and a lot of them
have never even heard of “Alice's Restaurant.''
“Two years ago I had a part in an ABC show called ‘Birds of
Paradise,''' Guthrie said last week from a tour stop in Port
Angeles, Wash. (“the very north and westest-most tip of this country.'')
“It lasted a full season but it wasn't renewed. So I was
bumming around Honolulu one day — that's where we shot it — and I
was standing on a corner, and a local guy came up to me, a Hawaiian
guy, and he said, ‘Mr. Guthrie, we're so sorry they didn't pick up
your series again. We loved it here.' I said, ‘Well, I'll just go
back to singing,' and he said, ‘Oh, you sing, too?'''
Another blow hit him when he stopped to play a show at a
university in California. He was talking to the college student who
was organizing the event, and she said, “I'm not that familiar
with your old stuff. I saw you in (the 1992 film) ‘Roadside
Prophets,' so that's where it begins with me.''
“I realized that this gal was not aware of the 15 albums I'd
made for Warner (Bros.),'' Guthrie guffawed. “She'd maybe never
heard a record of mine at all. I suddenly realized there was a
world of people out there with no relation to Woodstock or ‘Alice's
Restaurant' or ‘City of New Orleans' or any of it. It's like having
a fresh slate.''
Yessir, that hair is white and it is long. Ol' Arlo's been
around the block a time or two or 10, and he couldn't be happier
about it. Actually, he said, having a portion of the audience find
“Alice's Restaurant'' fresh makes playing the 1967 hit a bit
easier 29 years later.
But Guthrie's show is no nostalgia trip. He's currently
supporting a new album with 10 new songs, “Mystic Journey,'' and
he's on the road with his son Abe — and that, he said, makes the
generation gap all the more easy to take.
“It's great having Abe out with me,'' Guthrie said. “We
offer each other unique but linked perspectives. He likes being on
the road like I do. I've always been a road warrior. Just give me a
bus and show me where to go. I've done that successfully for 30
years now, and I'm still married to the same girl.''
Guthrie's success has come on his own merits, too. He calmly
dodged the expectations that couldn't help but follow the son of
Woody Guthrie — the face of American folk music. He had his own
talents and he found his own style, scoring hits in the late '60s
with “Alice's Restaurant,'' which became an anthem of the anti-war
movement, and a cover of Steve Goodman's “City of New Orleans.''
He continued cranking out albums throughout the '70s, exploring
American musical traditions.
In the '80s, Guthrie decided to take control of his own
affairs. By 1983, he had parted ways with Warner Bros. and formed
his own record company, Rising Son Records. For three years,
Guthrie and his family dropped out of sight, hunkered down and
learned the intricacies of the record business.
“It really took us 10 years to figure out what we were
doing,'' he said. “I was just the guitar-playing,
singer-songwriter type. I didn't know anything about the business.''
First, Rising Son began acquiring and rereleasing Guthrie's
old albums, including 1986's “Someday,'' which Guthrie had
recorded three years earlier with Warner Bros. before the
separation. Then, with a little business savvy under his belt,
Guthrie began releasing some ambitious compilations. There was
“Woody's 20 Grow Big Songs,'' an elaborately packaged collection
of his father's children's music recorded by Guthrie and his
extended clan. There was also “Son of the Wind,'' a bunch of old cowboy
“I knew that one wasn't commercial. It was just a labor of
love,'' Guthrie said. “I could finally afford to do it because I
had my own record company.''
So he hasn't exactly been sitting around twiddling his thumbs
in the 10 years since “Someday,'' the last full-length record of
new, original Arlo songs.
“Mystic Journey'' is worth the wait. The 10 new songs, and a
cover of Charlie Chaplin's “You Are the Song,'' were penned within
the last three or four years and focus on love and spiritual
quests. “My songs are sung to those I've come to love,'' he sings
in the first track, “Moon Song.''
Spiritual quests are something Guthrie knows a bit about. His
1979 album “Outlasting the Blues'' first really showcased his
rigorous self-examination — a process spurred on by his conversion
to Catholicism. When he's not making music, he's continuing his own
“My parents were both people who believed in serving
humanity,'' he said. “You've got to do something — my dad did, my
mom did. We just grew up that way. My kids are being brought up
that way. You have to give back, especially when so many wonderful
things happen to you.''
Guthrie's main energies now are funneled into The Guthrie
Center, an interfaith church foundation providing for children
recovering from abuse and garnering support for HIV/AIDS and
community services of all kinds. Guthrie has been helping out with
AIDS patients a lot lately.
“Like anybody, I find myself living in a world where there's
an awful lot of sadness, sorrow and devastation,'' he said. “Most
of it has to do with AIDS. There are 40 million people around the
world infected with HIV, and when you consider the friends and
relatives and caretakers and lovers, you're talking about an awful
lot of people in hard times.
“So I've tried to do what I could to alleviate some of that
suffering by singing and raising money and playing benefits,
showing up at people's gatherings. It's not that showing up will
change someone's life, but it let's people know they're not alone.
“The lesson of this century that has to be learned before we
move onto the next one is that we never should have to let anyone
stand alone. We should support anyone who's suffering. I don't care
if it's war, pestilence, famines or AIDS — whatever, we can't let
anyone stand alone.''
“Mystic Journey'' is dedicated to Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, a
woman Guthrie calls his spiritual leader. With her, he visits AIDS
hospices around the country. Recently, they were in Lazarus House,
a hospice in New Orleans. Guthrie was in the lobby talking with
someone, and Ma was at the bedside of a dying man. The man didn't
know Guthrie was in the building.
When Ma asked the man what she could do before he died,
Guthrie said he answered, “You know, it's kind of silly, but I've
always wanted to meet this singer named Arlo Guthrie. His music has
meant a lot to me. Have you heard of him?''
Ma's face didn't crack. She told the man to close his eyes,
and she went out to get Guthrie. When Guthrie entered the room, she
told the man to open his eyes.
“He just about died right then and there,'' Guthrie said.
“Just to see the expression on his face was incredible. He said,
‘Lady, I don't know who you are but you've got some powers like no
one I've ever met.'
“That was one of those brilliant moments when God was watching
over and taking care of the situation. This can happen to anybody.
You don't have to be a celebrity or have a social services degree
to make a difference in someone's life. You've just gotta be there.''
Arlo and Abe Guthrie
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Cain's Ballroom, 423 N. Main St.
Tickets: $19.50 in advance from The Ticket Office at Expo Square,
Mohawk Records and Starship Records and Tapes
The Strife & Times of Loudon Wainwright
© Tulsa World
Page H1 of ENTERTAINMENT
The last time Loudon Wainwright III was in Oklahoma, he had a little trouble with the law.
"I may still be on probation there,'' he said. "Could you get a message to my parole officer?''
Somewhere around 1968, Wainwright and a friend were on their way to New York City from San Francisco. They ran out of money in Oklahoma City and had to spend an afternoon kicking around town, waiting for more dough to be wired from rich, grumbling fathers. The details are sketchy, but the two were arrested for possession of marijuana and promptly jailed in one of our state's finest accommodations for
the criminally inclined.
"I suppose we were rather suspicious looking,'' Wainwright said. "We had the whole deal — the hair and the beads. During my unfortunate incarceration, it was suggested that I get a haircut — forcefully.''
Wainwright's dad — Loudon Jr., then a prominent editor and columnist for Life magazine — flew in from London and bailed out his boy, even hiring a fancy lawyer to get him off the hook. Loudon III, of course, wrote a song about the whole experience. In "Samson and the Warden,'' on 1971's "Album II,'' he sings,
"Don't shave off my beard, don't cut off my hair / It took me two years to grow, and it just isn't fair.''
There are few significant stories from Wainwright's life that have not been immortalized (well, that remains to be seen) in one of his wry, poignant folk songs. In "Harry's Wall'' from 1988's "Therapy'' album, he admits, "Almost all the songs I write somehow pertain to me.'' This year he released his 16th album,
"Grown Man,'' and the songs remain the same — sometimes touching, sometimes hysterical, always from within and always on target. Of all the "new Bob Dylans'' who emerged around 1970, Wainwright and
John Prine are the ones who kept their sense of humor.
"I have a propensity toward exposing or exhibiting my life and thoughts and putting them into songs, dragging family members in to boot,'' Wainwright said from a tour stop in the Pacific Northwest.
"I suppose I get off on that on some level. There's got to be a reason for all this.''
On "Grown Man,'' he drags his daughter, Martha, into the act. The result is "Father-Daughter Dialogue,'' a family member's reaction to dad's public, albeit musical, airing of family issues. It's a brief song showing that even though you get the last word, you don't always win.
"The song is based on that real issue, a real argument we had,'' Wainwright said. "She was happy to do it — she's a bit of a performer herself. She agreed I had more or less captured the two sides of the argument. Her side is stronger than mine.''
His son, too, is quite the singer-songwriter. Rufus Wainwright, at 22, is the first new artist to be signed to the DreamWorks label. His first album is due later this year.
It's a slightly better start than Wainwright had when he was that age. To pay back his dad for the bail money, Wainwright was working all kinds of truly odd jobs — movie theater janitor, boatyard barnacle scraper and cashier-cook-dishwasher at New York City's first macrobiotic restaurant. Male singer-songwriters were a hot commodity back then. The record companies were looking for "the new Dylan,'' and aspiring singers were trying to be just that, Wainwright included.
"When you're young and bursting with energy, you think you're going to be king of the heap. I wanted to knock Dylan out of the box,'' Wainwright said. "He was the man to beat — and still is, I suppose. The old Dylan was holed up in Woodstock; they were looking for the new one.
"The comparisons are a testament to who he is and what he is, and it's not just Dylan. These new bands from England, Oasis and Blur — everyone's calling them the new Beatles. It's the same deal. If you're cute and have a guitar, they'll refer you back to the last cute hitmakers with guitars.''
Wainwright's kitsch caught on just enough to win a cultish following and keep him on the road. He's best known for his 1972 hit, "Dead Skunk,'' now a perennial favorite of Dr. Demento. He's dabbled in other pursuits, such as acting — three episodes of "M*A*S*H'' as Capt. Calvin Spaulding, two films (Neil Simon's
"The Slugger's Wife'' and David Jones' "Jackknife''), a few plays and a stint on a London television sitcom as — surprise! — the resident wise-guy American songwriter.
And, granted, he has plenty of songs that have virtually nothing to do with his personal life. "1994'' on the new album was composed on a plane after reading an article about the search for the fat gene. Also on the new record, "Human Cannonball'' is about the performer Emanuel Zacchini, a record-setting human cannonball who died in 1993. One of the most touching songs he's penned was "Not John,'' his lament for the loss of John Lennon — "Chapman's in the jail house / What's he doin' there? / He went and he shot John Lennon / All you heroes best beware.''
In recent years, the occasional Wainwright witticism has been heard in the mornings on National Public Radio. He's written and performed several topical songs for the network, songs like "The New Street People'' about all those who puff away outside their smoke-free workplaces. He just wrote a new one about computers that should make your morning soon.
"I can't think of doing anything besides writing songs,'' Wainwright said. "I get the occasional acting job, but music and songwriting is what I — well, uh, that's just it. I mean, I do what I love, and that's my fantasy life. It's called pick your fantasy and do it. Guys who work at banks must have some kind of fantasy about it. If you can get a record deal and some fans, it's great ... until they pull you over and say, 'Let me see
your driver's license.' ''
The closest Wainwright's tour will wind to Tulsa is an April 4 gig at the Grand Emporium in Kansas City. He does have one vague Tulsa connection, he said. In 1970 he played with a band called Flow Train that included Ron Getman, now with Tulsa's famous Tractors.
But will Wainwright ever play in Oklahoma?
"Maybe I'll come back and do a benefit for the county jail where they held me — kind of a Johnny Cash thing. What do you think?''
LOUDON'S MUSICAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY
The life story of Loudon Wainwright III has already been written — in his songs. Here's a look at how the music describes the man:
— After the war (II), his father Loudon (II) came home with his bride Martha (I). "During the war, in the Marine Corps / They met and they married one day,'' "Westchester County,'' 1982.
— Loudon III was born nearly nine months later, almost backwards. "The doctor reached inside of her / He turned me 'round and then pulled me out,'' "April Fool's Day Morn,'' 1982.
— His youth was spent in Westchester County, New York, and Beverly Hills, Calif. "When I was 10 years old, I was alive / In the Benedict Canyon on Hutton Drive,'' "Hollywood Hopeful,'' 1976; "Tennis courts and golf courses galore,'' "Westchester County,'' 1982.
— Life was pretty good for him in Southern California. "Nothing bad has happened yet / Everyone is happy,'' "Thanksgiving,'' 1988.
— He had a crush on Liza Minnelli, who happened to be a classmate of his in the third grade. "In your junior Thunderbird electric kiddie car / I chauffeured you / You lounged in back / Back then you were a star,'' "Liza,'' 1974.
— He went to a boys' boarding school, the same one his father attended, which he says was not a good idea. "My parents should shoulder some blame / For calling their kid a strange name,'' "T.S.M.N.W.A.,'' 1992.
— He purchased his first guitar in 1960 after seeing Bob Dylan play. "I got some boots, a harmonica rack / A D-21 and I was on the right track,'' "Talking New Bob Dylan,'' 1991.
— Before turning to songwriting, he worked in New York City's first macrobiotic restaurant. "Several stars played guitars and were backed with feeling / By a chopstick-wielding rhythm section,'' "Bruno's Place,'' 1970.
— He was married and had children. "You're growing up so quickly, I feel a little sad / That's to be expected, after all I am your dad,'' "Five Years Old,'' 1984.
— He was subsequently divorced. "Your mother an I are living apart / I know that seems stupid, but we weren't very smart,'' "Your Mother and I,'' 1979.
— He moved to London and had a brief stint on television there. "There he goes, there's what's-his-name / We saw him on TV,'' "Harry's Wall,'' 1988.
— He continues to tour. "Running through airports at 43's OK for O.J. but it's not for me,'' "Road Ode,'' 1993.
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.