Chuck Prophet (Green on Red) Talks Loudon Wainwright III’s Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet)

No need for a memoir; Loudon Wainwright III's covers everything from depression to proper canine care on his 27th album.

Lately, there’s been a tsunami of memoirs from aging musicians who, I guess, can’t resist throwing a book out there while people are still buying books, or maybe they just want a chance to grab the mike and settle some scores. Thankfully, we have yet to receive one from Mr. Wainwright, who has been writing and singing his memoirs since the ’70s. Loudon remains content to bleed all over the tape or hard drive, as the case may be. For him, the LP is still alive and well and this one is full of the details of daily life that nobody else mines quite like him. OK, Jonathan Richman, Randy Newman and John Darnielle get close at times, but none of them has Loudon’s jacket: refugee from the Northern Seaboard drinking class, where not knowing the proper fork to stab somebody with at the holiday dinner table is considered jejune. (I didn’t even know I knew that word, and hope I used it correctly.)

Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet) is Loudon’s 27th record. (I looked it up!) The first time I saw him perform was at the Cactus Club in Austin, where my old bandmate Dan Stuart was living at the time. Late ’80s? Early ’90s? A great night. I remember the songs well enough, but what sticks is the feeling that I was witnessing a folksinger’s master class. He was doing more than showing off his Lightnin’ Hopkins finger-stylings or Bert Jansch tunings. Loudon was baring his soul, with songs, humor and pathos — that trademark narcissistic, self-lacerating wit. The asides and between-song banter stayed with me as much as the music. Brought me into his world. I don’t remember now who my heroes were at that moment, but seeing this guy fill up the stage, a one-man guy with a guitar overflowing with stories and songs, made me forget every last one of them. OK, he did have a vast array of facial expressions too, but not even a Meg White or Tommy Larkin to lean on. No rest for the wicked.

The new disc opens with an uptempo shuffle, “Brand New Dance,” kind of a frantic feel, fittingly backwards since the song is about being old and slowing down, getting senior discounts, how bending over to tie your shoes is no mean feat. As for politics: “One of them fools is bound to win.” Killer slide solo, but by whom?

On the standout track “Spaced,” he runs down the ins and outs of parking woes, presumably in New York City, a Calvin Trillin novel in less than four minutes. The Driving Man’s Burden never seemed so hard to bear. In a sly nod to his younger days, he even crows about “squeezing into a tight spot.” Why a song like “Spaced” should have a klezmer-meets-vaudeville arrangement, I can’t unpack, but it works. One complaint here, if I’m allowed that many: The record was sent to me digitally, and I missed having a booklet to leaf through. Listening to the accordion and clarinet, I found myself thinking how cool it would be if Loudon had roped Woody Allen into playing on this one. Like the dumbass California kid I am, I just assume all those guys know each other. Since I didn’t have a booklet, I guess it’s still possible (I also found myself wondering if the lyric sheet includes: “We-ah We-ah! whope whop whope…”). I did write down this verse:

A car in the city
Is a pain in the ass
It’s an albatross
Made out of chrome, steel and glass

“Depression” is a minor key folk-blues, familiar Loudon territory. Second-person. He’s talking to himself about his mental state, maybe trying to relate to the audience, maybe even trying to get them on his side. Of course, how many of his listeners, when they’re feeling blue, can “reread some old fan letters”? Anyone, though, can “stay drunk till it gets better.” Brushes, upright bass. He mentions going to a shrink at $180 an hour. I haven’t heard of those kinds of prices since the ’90s. David Mansfield produces, so that must be him on mandolin.

“The Morgue” is a playful, kazoo-infused number about seeing an old lover’s corpse on a slab, and having to identify the body. Loudon takes the opportunity to get in some last licks. He mentions a marriage in the song, which inevitably brings to mind his ex-wife Kate McGarrigle, who died in 2010. No chorus here. Loudon’s got the concentrated juice. Just add water. Who needs a chorus? Come to think of it, he’s not big on intros either. We do get more clarinets, and the percussion of the slapped bass to drive it along to the morgue. Oops, now you’re dead. Too late. Not very smart. You dumped me, you died of a guilty conscience and a guilty heart.

“Man and Dog” — more mandolin! Urban living…. A man has to have a dog and work like a dog (which is paradoxical, because dogs mostly just lie around). Walking a dog is a good way to meet a woman. Or get away from one:

When a man has a fight with a woman
A man has to go for a walk
Walking with a dog is easy
He listens but he don’t talk

Maybe I’ll get a dog. My apartment’s too small, and I love my wife and I have allergies, but after listening to this song I’m definitely tempted.

The title track has stripper horns. He’s eyeing the cleaning lady in the first verse. A trip to the doctor, never a happy occasion when you’re north of 50. A blues about feeling the blues sneaking up on you. “Feeling sorry for myself/If I don’t, who will?” Good point.

I’m finding out I like to write a lot about each song, so I’m running out of room. Look, there’s 14 songs on the album, and I hope you buy it and listen to them all. Sure, I have my favorites, but my mood changes daily, even hourly, and these days people are more and more inclined to only buy a couple tracks, or just listen to them once on YouTube. Take a chance, people. There’s something for everybody here.


That time in Austin, Dan and I chatted up Loudon after the gig about a song he’d played that night but hadn’t recorded. Oddly enough it was a song his father had written. And we said, “Hey, let’s go to the studio and record it now. Let’s write one!” And we did. The song we wrote was called “Suzy’s Records.” Dedicated to Dan’s ex, who’d hauled her records from Tucson to L.A. to Austin and back, trying to keep up with him. I don’t know what became of those tapes. Loudon did call me once to make sure we weren’t going to release them. I said, “Nah.” And he said, “Oh good, I was getting paranoid….”

I don’t think I’ve run into him since. But I feel like we’ve kept up, and a record like this one every couple years sure beats the hell out of any Christmas card.

Since he emerged on the music scene at the age of 18 as a member of Green on Red, Chuck Prophet has collaborated with everyone from Warren Zevon and Kelly Willis to Jim Dickinson and Lucinda Williams, among many others. Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins is out February of 2017. You can follow him on Twitter here.
(Photo credit: Karen Doolittle)