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Wainwright's New Album: Death, Depression And Parking Spaces


With songs that have titles like "The Morgue," "Depression Blues," and "I'll Be Killing You This Christmas," you might be inclined to approach Loudon Wainwright III's latest CD with just a bit of trepidation. But don't worry. This record has lots of fun.


LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III: (Singing) When a man has a dog in the city, a man needs to walk in the park. Take a little stroll by the riverside, smoke a cigarette there in the dark. Living in the city. Man living with a dog. And a man has to carry him a plastic bag on his person at all times.

NEARY: Really, when's the last time you heard a song that features a dog poop bag? Loudon Wainwright III's new CD is called "Haven't Got the Blues Yet," and the Grammy Award-winning musician joins us now from our New York bureau to talk about the collection. Welcome to the program.

WAINWRIGHT: Nice to be here.

NEARY: I have to start by asking you about the art for this album - very interesting artwork. A photo of a tagged foot in a morgue, a drawing of Santa Claus shooting a gun, and a reworking of the classic old blind lemon Jefferson portrait but instead of blind lemon, it's Sigmund Freud posing with his guitar. Tell us more about this artwork. What's it all about?

WAINWRIGHT: My last album, a lot of the emphasis was on death and decay. And this new one's - depression, I think, is probably the operative word.


WAINWRIGHT: This is smattering of death and decay, too. It's kind of a 3D thing.

NEARY: Well, let's talk about "Depression Blues," where Freud makes an appearance. And let's hear a cut of that.


WAINWRIGHT: (Singing) Lightning sings the blues. The Catholic goes to his confession. Now tell me what you plan to do about all of your depression. Oh, you tried old Sigmund's talking cure, you experienced its power. But that kind of talk ain't cheap, you know, at $180 an hour.

NEARY: You know, the album also features a photo of what I gather is a therapist couch. And on the wall behind it hang the photos of blind lemon Jefferson, your album collaborators, and also yourself. So is everyone in therapy?

WAINWRIGHT: Yeah. I see - I talk to somebody every week or every week that I can. And it seems to help...

NEARY: Yeah.

WAINWRIGHT: ...Sometimes.

NEARY: Well, yeah. I know you've dealt with depression. I mean, this is - we're talking lately about it - but this is something you've experienced.

WAINWRIGHT: Yeah. It's been an ongoing thing. But I'm feeling OK today. And as the title of the album goes, "I haven't got the blues," and then in parentheses "yet."

NEARY: One more picture that it wanted to mention on the CD cover - and that's that old, sad sack clown Emmett Kelly that some people remember. The great face, one of the greatest clown faces of all. And he's kind of lounging sadly in a bubble bath.


WAINWRIGHT: (Singing) I haven't got the blues yet but I am somewhat depressed. I own several pairs of shoes should I choose to get dressed.

When I wake up in the morning, life can seem so unfair. Although my woman hasn't left me yet and there's a cleaning lady there.

I'm knocking back the Chardonnay, popping Zoloft, too. Got a lot of free time. I don't know what to do.

I haven't got the blues yet. Oh, but I'm just a little down. I feel like Emmett Kelly, that mopey circus clown.

When I saw the picture of him in the bathtub, I just knew that it had to be the cover shot. And I suppose I identify with Emmett Kelly.

NEARY: That sort of cross between depression and humor?

WAINWRIGHT: Yeah. Yeah. That would be me, too, I guess.

NEARY: (Laughter).


WAINWRIGHT: (Singing) I got some of that oh-wee going on.

NEARY: I've been told that you were David Letterman's first sidekick. Is that true?

WAINWRIGHT: Yes. Yes. When the show first started, it wasn't late night. It was in the afternoon, I think in the early afternoon. And the first week, I was on every show for the first week. And then they changed the format and got Paul Schaefer and I was out of there.

NEARY: You know, I missed that part of your career. I have to admit I didn't know that.

You know what I like about this CD? You know, you've picked up these little everyday annoyances that are - one would not think of as being inspirations for a song. We already mentioned dog poop bags. But there's another song on here called "Space," inspired by the search, that never ending search for a parking space. Let's hear some of that.


WAINWRIGHT: (Singing) A space is a place. It's a beautiful thing. When I see one that's free, I want to sing.

Squeezing into a tight one such pleasure could bring. A space is a place. It's a beautiful thing.

Sometimes you find a space and for it you must fight. Sometimes to find the space, you drive around half the night.

NEARY: So you also have, along with the humor, you've got the death and depression, heartbreak, murder at Christmas time, which you know, I think is going to go on to become a Christmas classic. What were you hoping listeners would feel after listening to this?

WAINWRIGHT: Well, I just - I'm hoping people are going to be exhausted when they finish with this record. It takes about 50 minute to get through it. You know, I'm old-fashioned enough to think that people would actually listen to it from beginning to end.

But yeah, I tried to cover a number of bases, including the outfield.

NEARY: So you are part of a family of musicians. Your ex-wife was the late singer-songwriter Kate McGarrigle. You are, of course, the father of Rufus Wainwright and singers Lucy Wainwright Roche and Martha Wainwright. And she backs you up on one song on this CD. So I'm wondering, do you ever have a day when you're not surrounded by music?

WAINWRIGHT: Well, you know, three out of my four kids, as you say, are musicians, and they're running around a lot. And we don't - we kind of bump into each other, it seems, at airports mostly. But you know, we sing together and do shows together on occasion. And it's a great context to hang out in, you know Thanksgiving dinner is much trickier.

NEARY: (Laughter) So I'm trying to imagine the whole family sitting around now. I don't know, in a little snow-covered cabin in the woods at Christmas time, gathering around the piano and guitars singing "I'll Be Killing You This Christmas." Is that going to be happening?

WAINWRIGHT: Yeah, I hope so. What a lovely idea.


WAINWRIGHT: (Singing) I'll be killing you this Christmas. 'Tis the season you must die.

NEARY: Loudon Wainwright III's new CD is called "Haven't Got the Blues Yet." Thanks so much for speaking with us.

WAINWRIGHT: Great talking to you.


WAINWRIGHT: (Singing) A Bush Master's on my wish list. My right to bear arms you cannot deny. I'll be shooting folks this Christmas.

NEARY: NPR's corrections are posted at This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.