LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III with MAD VIOLET at Hugh's Room (2261 Dundas West), Friday, November 9. $20 advance, $22 door. 416-531-6004.
when he's in emotional distress,Loudon Wainwright III does what any self-respecting songsmith would do -- he writes his way out of it. But when his mother passed away recently, he found that the coping tools that got him through broken relationships and divorce proceedings weren't working. For the first time in his productive 34-year career of snappy musical comebacks to troublesome situations, he felt he had nothing new worth singing about.
"I knew it was going to be a huge thing for me when my mom died," admits Wainwright from LAX waiting to board a plane to Portland. "But it turned out to be a much bigger deal than I ever thought.
"I was depressed, which is a natural reaction when a parent dies, and I didn't feel like doing much of anything -- including writing songs. It was hard just going down to the coffee shop for a bagel each day. I'd come right back home and take a nap.
"As time passed, I slowly started feeling better, and once I started writing I'm Not Going To Cry, I was on my way."
For Wainwright, who has always made a point of writing from his own experience, there was never any question that once the pen was back in hand he'd be confronting his feeling of loss and loneliness head on. The resulting Last Man On Earth (Red House) album finds a sombre Wainwright documenting his search for a way out of the darkness.
As song titles like Graveyard, Homeless and Living Alone suggest, there aren't a lot of laughs here. He's put his novelty impulse on hold, yet even when contemplating his own mortality, as on Donations and the witty title track, Wainwright still has his sense of fun.
"Life is rough on us all, but it can also be hilarious or at least mildly amusing. If you lose your sense of humour, you're in deep shit.
"And, sure, I've written a lot of novelty songs in the past, some really silly things, but I've also done a lot of topical songs. Whatever's going on in my life, you can bet I'll be writing a song about it. That's what I do."
Speaking of topical songs, it seems like Wainwright would be a likely candidate for a song about the September 11 tragedy. Evidently, he's already got it done. So much for writer's block.
"All during my promotional tour for this new album, people have been asking me if I was planning to write something about the World Trade Center disaster. My reply was, "No. It's too big and too soon.'
"But I recently found myself jotting down some ideas on a train from Washington to New York. I thought about what it would be like to take a subway from my home in Brooklyn Heights to the World Trade Center and how it would feel to be underneath all that. It's mostly just a description, but I thought I had something worth a song.
"People always ask if it's hard to write about things like my mother dying or a catastrophe like the events of September 11, and really it isn't. You just fish around for an idea until you get a bite. It takes some skill to hook it and some effort to get it in the boat, but it's very satisfying work."