This is the week that keeps on giving. It’s best explained by writing about some of the songs on this album. Every Loudon Wainwright album has some unforgettable songs and some forgettable ones. The ratio of one to the other determines how highly I rate it. There’s hardly any forgettable songs on “Album II” or “History” but most have one or two clunkers. I’m going to go through the fourteen songs on this album and tell you how they relate to the terrible week I’m having.
Getting out of bed in the morning is becoming increasingly difficult. My back aches, my hip sometimes hurts and my eyes need a good rinsing before I can focus. Putting on socks is a challenge and I try to emulate Pete by standing on one leg whilst bending the other leg. “Brand New Dance” describes the problems of putting on shoes, snoring, looking old, smelling (“Got a new smell; it’s called The Old Man”) and retirement (“You’d rather be a workin’ stiff than a lazy slob”). Exactly.
“Spaced” is a humourous song – it’s all about the problems of having a car in a city and finding a parking space. “A space is a place that’s a beautiful thing. Backing into a new one such pleasure can bring”. Not relevant really as I only use the car once a week now.
“In A Hurry” is sung by a homeless person who’s lying on the floor by a train station looking at working a commuter rushing to work. He always asks the commuter for money but he is always ignored. It’s clear that the commuter is anxious, always in a hurry and feeling the burden of providing for his family. He suggests that if the guy gave him something, it might make him feel better. “I know the world is you have and I have not” is more or less a direct copy of a line from “Why Do We Build This Wall” by Anais Mitchell. I thank the world every day that I haven’t made that small series of mistakes that could lead to such a desperate situation.
“Depression Blues” is written directly to me and Loudon Wainwright was thinking only of me when he wrote it. He describes how different religions deal with depression (Catholics confess, Jews wail, Muslims bow to Mecca) so he asks me “what do you plan to do about all of that depression?” Am I going to counselling (at $180 an hour)? going to a spa? turn to drink? sell my soul to Satan? There are no answers. “It’s the depression blues, that’s what you got boy and that’s one big badass goblin”. It’s strangely uplifting.
Pete told me that his wife complains to him that he finds everything funny. “Does everything have to be funny?” We agree that the answer is yes and I think Loudon Wainwright would agree. In “The Morgue”, he makes a very funny song out of the fact that an ex-lover has died and he goes to see her body in a morgue. The coroner told Loudon that she has died from “natural causes, a guilty conscience and a broken heart”. So, no forgiveness or sense of responsibility from Loudon here. “They pulled back the sheet and I ID’d you. Seeing you so blue gave me a start. Then they slid your body back into the deep freeze. Now you’ve got a frozen broken heart”. I’ve seen him perform this live a few times and it’s always funny although I understand that many people would find this offensive and/or upsetting.
“Harmless” is the only song on the album not written by Loudon Wainwright; it was written by a Scottish musician called Michael Marra. It’s not too dissimilar to “Hello In There” – the John Prine song that Gillian Welch and David Rawlings cover on their new album. It’s about a harmless old man, living a meek life. “Nobody’d notice that I wasn’t there if I didn’t come home for my tea”. Once again, it’s only a few steps away.
Today, as always, I took Bruno out for a walk. In the past week, he hasn’t jumped up and rushed to the door when I ask him if he’d like to go for a WALK. He’s taken to lying on the sofa, wagging his tail and only coming with me reluctantly. Today was worse than ever but we made it to the fields where he simply sat in the shade and stared at me. I persuaded him to do one lap but after that he went up to the gap in the fence and made it clear he wanted to go home. Next thing I knew he had bolted out of the field and I could see him disappearing down the road. I phoned Roo and warned her to expect Bruno. I passed a postal worker who said he had seen Bruno rushing by. After a few more minutes, I phoned Roo again and she said he had returned but not before rushing out the house again and venturing towards the busy main road that runs past the front door. I searched for advice on the internet and as a result I gently explored if Bruno had any sensitive parts of his body. The paws were okay but when I lightly touched his left side, he snarled at me and bit my hand, drawing blood. Now I need a tetanus jab and Bruno needs to go to the vet. He is eleven years old and I know that when he dies, both Roo and I will be distraught and, obviously, I fear the worst. “Man And Dog” is funny. It describes what it is like for a man to own a dog in a city. Hassocks is not a city but otherwise the song resonates. He sings about working like a dog but also what it is like to walk a dog. “And a man has to carry him a plastic bag/On his person at all times/When a dog dumps on a sidewalk/Walking away is a crime”. He sings about how having a dog is an easy way to meet women and the standard question that a woman asks him is “How old is he?” I don’t need to meet women in the way that Loudon Wainwright is implying but it’s very pleasant to meet female ex colleagues and have a walk round the beautiful countryside, chatting about the bosses that used to make our lives miserable. “Man And Dog”. I hope so.
“Harlan County” describes a place where Loudon can’t get a drink because it’s a dry area and the sale of liquor is prohibited. Hassocks Village is not dry but I’ve stopped drinking for the last four months apart from seven isolated pints and lots of whisky on Monday evening.
The next four songs aren’t particularly relevant to me, thankfully. “I Knew Your Mother” is delightful and is sung to, presumably, Martha and/or Rufus about their mother, Kate McGarrigle, who Loudon divorced when they were small. “Looking At The Calendar” is a song about what time of year is best to separate from his partner/wife. Thanksgiving would be inappropriate because the Thanksgiving dinner would be ruined. Christmas is no good because it’s meant to be a happy time of year. Independence Day is inappropriate what with all the fireworks. Maybe Halloween would be best because they could wear masks but the best day would be April Fool’s Day. “I’ll Be Killing You This Christmas” is full of hilariously black and ironic humour as he sings, “my right to bear arms you cannot deny.” “God And Nature” is full of regret and a wish to confess all his sins. “Your decision how to live your life is the one that matters most. So don’t wait till it’s too late to turn the tide.” Okay.
“Haven’t Got The Blues (Yet)” is also sung directly to me and only me. “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”. Yup, that was this morning before I got bitten by a savage wild dog. It’s a good song and one of my good friends is there to tell him (and me) to get over it. The last line is “I’m feeling sorry for myself but if I don’t, who will?” Get things in perspective.
“Last Day In The Year” is more reflective and positive as he looks forward to making resolutions, stop feeling sorry for himself and to “create new histories”.
Time to listen to something else. “Some things in life are bad, they can really make you mad. Other things just make you swear and curse. When you’re chewing on life’s gristle, don’t grumble, give a whistle and this’ll help things turn out for the best and always look on the bright side of life.”