Loudon Wainwright III grew up with a famous father and when he became a dad himself, watched his own children achieve great success. As it turns out, getting caught in the middle generation has made for some great material. “CBS This Morning” co-host John Dickerson caught up with the man, once pegged as the next Bob Dylan, to look back on a career that has not always played out as predicted.
First appearing on “M*A*S*H” in the 1970s, Wainwright has turned up in character roles on TV and film in every decade since. But music has long been the biggest source of his success. One of the new Bob Dylans in the 1970s, he first hit the charts with a novelty song. Fame, however, remained on the margins. At least compared to his father, Loudon Wainwright Jr.
“It was kind of annoying to have a famous father. Particularly one who had the same name,” Wainwright said. “He had a column in Life Magazine called ‘A View From Here,’ and in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s … Everybody was reading his work ’cause Life was ubiquitous on every coffee table in America.”
After his father died, he read all of those columns – more than 200 of them.
“He wrote about the Vietnam War and the Project Mercury astronauts but the personal stuff was the stuff that grabbed me,” he said.
That personal stuff, along with a bespoke suit his father purchased and wrote about in 1965, are now the focus of his one-man show, “Surviving Twin.”
“You know, I have the same name as my father. We went to the same boarding school that we were both miserable at so there’s a twin-ness about us, I think,” he said, explaining how he named his one-man show. “You’re supposed to be like your dad but you don’t want to be like your dad, and then you wind up being your dad.”
Wainwright fan and film producer Judd Apatow collaborated with Christopher Guest to bring “Surviving Twin” to Netflix.
“I think Loudon was one of the first people where I made the connection that you could do drama and comedy at the same time,” Apatow said. “I was home one summer doing nothing. Like I would always do as a kid and David Letterman had a morning show, before everything … and Loudon was the recurring musical guest and I had this weird deep connection to his music and how funny it was.”
After striving to eclipse his famous father, Wainwright watched as his children found success. His son, Rufus, was named Rolling Stone’s best new artist in 1998. Then there are the Wainwright sisters, his daughters, Martha and Lucy.
“I go and see their shows, and I’m proud and then, you know, i think ‘Gee, why aren’t people paying more attention to me? They’re not so great.’ You know, it’s that human foible? Is that a word? Anyway, but yeah. They are amazing and they’re very talented. And occasionally, they take me out to dinner,” he said.
“Is this a love letter? Is it a discovery process? What genre would you put this project in?” Dickerson asked.
“Well, you know, my dad and I weren’t buddies. We weren’t even close actually,” he said. “I also was a father, was a distracted father … So, you know, I know how hard it is being a dad. And so I don’t know if it’s a love letter, but it feels good to do the show … It’s been the most interesting thing I’ve done in certainly the last couple of years.”
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