You’ve already seen it in the title of this post, but if you wanted just one word to describe Loudon Wainwright III’s new album, it would be this: irreverent. Let me add a second word, and it would be this: realistic. And allow me a third? Brilliant.
I love finding music and other artistic works that address aging, caregiving, and end-of-life issues. (Click the “review” tag for all of my posts on this subject.) I think no matter their medium of expression, artists offer a different perspective than those offered by journalists or academics. I especially love works created by aging artists themselves, like Glen Campbell’s most recent album “Ghost on the Canvas.”
Where Campbell’s album comes across as a poignant and somewhat sentimental goodbye to a good lifetime, spiced up with a just a bit of defiance, Wainwright spits in the face of old age from the very first track of his newest album, “Older Than My Old Man Now.” Two of my favorite songs are also two of the funniest. In “My Meds,” Wainwright relates the woes of taking all kinds of medications just to function, and in “I Remember Sex,” a duet with Dame Edna Everage, he recalls the mechanics of his love life in the way one might recall a dinner party.
You can’t help but laugh with these songs (and feel slightly uncomfortable, depending on who you’re listening with!) Wainwright’s style is humor, so I would hope that the music-listening public would expect nothing less from him now. This defies some persistent stereotypes of aging, though – the assumptions that old people inevitably become crotchety and mean, or that people over 65 are all sweet grandmas who work on their knitting in the rocking chair and bake cookies for the grandkids. It turns out that funny, sarcastic people stay funny and sarcastic as they age, too.
Although Wainwright’s irreverent tone continues throughout the album, there are also s0ngs that take a more realistic tone, broaching the subjects of regret about the past and ambivalence about aging. In the title track, Wainwright sings about the strangeness of being older than his father was when he died, and in “Somebody Else,” Wainwright sings about the experience of hearing over and over again that someone you knew has died. Even “Over The Hill” turns a phrase that is usually a joke at birthday parties into a more melancholy song about aging.
I think this ambivalence – the mixture of emotions in each song – is what makes this album feel so real and honest. Another great example is in the song “Double Lifetime.” Wainwright sings that he wants a double lifetime, a chance to make up for past mistakes. Still, when Wainwright sings, “feels like finally got it all figure out/almost free from the shame and the doubt/I want a double lifetime,” he follows it with a laugh: “if I eat enough yogurt maybe I might.” Finding one more joke amidst the difficulties of regret, grief, and sadness that come with aging – that’s a great way to cope.
I love every track on this album, and I love how they come together as a whole. This album is both entertaining and moving – a brilliant exploration of life in one’s later years. I highly recommend taking a listen, both for people who work with seniors and for those who’ve reached their senior years themselves.
Have you heard this album? What did you think? What other portrayals of old age in music have you enjoyed? Please leave your comments below!