SOUNDTRACK: LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III-Career Moves (1993).
I first discovered Loudon Wainwright III through the great short-lived TV series Undeclared. Wainwright was the main character’s dad, an unlikable lout who, over the course of the show, became a really funny, interesting character.
Wainwright has become something of a staple in the Judd Apatow world, and he did the soundtrack for Apatow and Seth Rogen’s film, Knocked Up. And, as synchronicty happens, I thought I’d check out his music as well. I’ve gotten some records from various points in his career. This live collection, Career Moves, is a definite highlight. Wainwright writes poignant songs that are often, inexplicably, funny. He’s not a “funny” songwriter or a “novelty” singer (although his first big hit “Dead Skunk” is pretty close) but he writes in a wry tone that often brings a really funny couplet into a moving song.
This collection is from a show at the Bottom Line in New York, and it is an excellent snapshot of his career. It wouldn’t work as a greatest hits, per se, because there are a number of new and silly songs, like “Suddenly It’s Christmas” and “Thanksgiving,” as well as the very funny “T.S.M.N.W.A” which stands for They Spelled My Name Wrong Again. But there are some classics as well. “Westchester County” is a funny song about growing up in, well, Westchester County. And “I’d Rather be Lonely” is a funny(?) song about preferring solitude to relationships.
Wainwright also seems to have more touching, intensely personal songs than any other songwriter I can think of. He has some real beauties about being a terrible father. Included on this collection is “Five Years Old,” a song in which he expresses his regret to his daughter for missing her fifth birthday. On some other collections, you can hear him apologize to his other kids for other bad things he’s done. It makes him seem sensitive and decent until you realize that he actually did do the things he’s apologizing for. One of his kids has also said that rather than doing anything about it, he just wrote songs about the incidents. Not so good for the family but good for us.
I don’t know a lot about Wainwright’s output, although it seems that any live album is a good one to check out. I also have So Damn Happy, which is a fantastic collection of live songs. So, if you’re interested, check out any of his live discs.
[READ: March 31, 2008] Born to Rock
It’s not too often that I read two books in a row by the same author, but I had checked out Born to Rock before Son of the Mob, and since the YA books were such quick reads, I thought I’d give this one a shot right away.
As with Son of the Mob, Korman has a quick, fun style with this book. You can see some of the same stylistic choices and basic character elements in this one that surfaced in Vince from Son of the Mob. But this story goes in another direction altogether.
Leo is a Young Republican. He attends high school with his oldest friend, Melinda. Melinda is a goth/punk who constantly rides Leo for being a Young Republican. Although they are still friends, and have known each other forever, their clashing viewpoints seem to override their friendship from time to time. However, because of an incident that happened between Leo and Melinda’s dads when they were young, Leo feels somewhat protective of Melinda’s feelings, no matter how rude she is to him.
This back story sets up the bulk of the novel, which is about Leo’s past, or actually, his mother’s past. Leo had discovered that his dad is not his real dad. He’d seen the birth certificate and everything. His real father was named McMurphy, and he imagines that he has to keep the “McMurphy” in check, whenever his temper starts to rise.
I have a minor spoiler here, which is only minor in that it comes about 50 pages into the book, but it turns out that McMurphy is actually King Maggot, the lead singer from the seminal punk band Purge. Purge is Melinda’s favorite band, and they are reuniting for a festival tour. The story centers on Leo’s attempts to meet his father, and his struggles with accepting the nature of his father and his father’s lifestyle.
There are several twists and turns in the story, and it had a good, fast moving pace. The exploits of the punk rockers were fun to read, and the behaviors of his parents was really fun.
I had a few gripes about the book, which I feel come down to Korman’s style. The first (and this was minor, but I found it really jarring) was having young Leo reference 1313 Mockingbird Lane and the Munsters. I’d be very surprised if any teens reading the book even know what the show was. And would a teen in 2006 really refer to that pop culture reference? But as I say, that was minor.
The real gripe was what seemed to make this book considerably longer than some of the other YA books I’ve seen: he really seemed to repeat Leo’s feelings over and over again. It seemed like every time Leo had an encounter with King Maggot, he felt the need to say something like, “I’m no punk, I still can’t stand the music, and I’m still a Young Republican, but I really started to admire….” It grew a little tedious, but possible only because I was reading it quickly so these sections kept cropping up. I’m also not entirely convinced that Leo was a real Young Republican, but then I knew college Republicans, so maybe the high schoolers are more mellow. So there was just something slightly false about Leo. I could see him being a shy, introverted kid, and even a scholarship winner (which he is), but I felt that the Young Republican/Punk dichotomy was too convenient.
Despite that, the secondary characters were well developed. Owen, Melinda’s friend is a good example: he’s a child prodigy who is now basically coasting on his notoriety. Some of the roadies that Leo meets are also more than just extras. And, the oversized personalities of the band members are fun and colorful, but also amusingly full of “old man” aches and pains.
However, the follow up with Melinda is very strange. And it feels somewhat unresolved. I don’t really expect books to wrap up neatly, however, as I mentioned with the YA books, long term results are not necessarily part of the conclusion. Yet with this book, even the ending relationships seemed somewhat up in the air. For instance, Melinda is mad at Leo for most of the book, and yet we don’t really get to see why. There seems to be a lot of unresolved issues going on with the characters. And while I realize that the pivotal scene between Leo and Melinda that “resolves” their fight does sort of explain what the problem was, it’s not given very much detail.
I did enjoy the book quite a bit, especially the twists at the end, but I feel like it wasn’t as well constructed as I wanted it to be.
[DIGRESSION]: In this book, I found about twenty Post It notes. The previous reader had been making notes as she was reading it (I assume it was a she, just based on some of the notes, but I could be wrong). There were some really funny things like “King Maggot is a really gross name” and “Leo isn’t being very nice” I was a little disappointed when they stopped, in mid sentence about 50 pages in. I guess she gave up on the book. I t was interesting to wonder whether this was for an assignment or if the writer was too polite to actually desecrate a book, so she used Post Its instead.