In ‘Liner Notes,’ Loudon Wainwright Looks Squarely at His Flaws and His Musical Family Tree

Instead of inventing a mythos, Wainwright simply wrote some excellent songs — rich, complicated, sometimes dorky (one of his biggest hits is the 1972 novelty tune “Dead Skunk”), marked by unexpected wordplay and often surprisingly dark.

His new memoir is all of these things, too. It’s a funny, rueful thing to consume. Wainwright has hurt most of the people he’s loved, and he’s loved some remarkable people. He’s written fond and sometimes acid songs about them; they’ve returned serve.

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In a family photo, clockwise from top: Rufus Wainwright, Alexandra Kelly, Martha Wainwright, Loudon Wainwright III, Lucy Wainwright Roche and Ritamarie Kelly.

Credit
via Penguin Random House

His marriage to Kate McGarrigle, one half of Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and his long relationship with Suzzy Roche, of the Roches, ended because of his philandering. He’s been a sometimes remote father to his children, who include Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche, who have gone on to have major musical careers of their own.

You could put the best songs these people have composed about each other on a triple album, and it would be among the great, troubled documents of our time — the back catalog of their own happiness and heartbreak.

Among the first songs on it might be “Dilated to Meet You,” Loudon’s duet with McGarrigle about the birth of Rufus. The last might be one written by their daughter, Martha, about her father, one that isn’t mentioned in “Liner Notes.” Its title is “Stinking, Traitorous Cretin.” (That’s not its real title, though, because its real title is replete with unprintable language.)

Wainwright and his children sometimes perform together, but the barometric pressure between them can still be low. The author is 71, and in “Liner Notes,” while discussing his memorial service, he writes, his tongue only slightly in cheek, lines that will make any father wince:

“It’s one thing to constantly forget my birthday or disregard umpteen text messages, but it would be a bit weird, kind of ridiculously passive-aggressive, for them to just opt out of my memorial service. Yes, I know it’s all about remembering, but can’t there also be a little forgive and forget at this point?”

The author gave Rufus Wainwright a gift by not naming him Loudon Wainwright IV. He…

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