Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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For close to a quarter of a century, Loudon Wainwright III has been one of folkiedom's baddest boys. After surfacing as the New Dylan of 1970, he scored a 1973 novelty hit with the typically snotty Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road and wrote the infamous Rufus Is a Tit Man for his son by famous folkie Kate McGarrigle. But stardom proved elusive, and although Wainwright was funny and fecund enough to get by and then some on tour, he aged no better than most likable bad boys. How many rueful immaturity jokes can one over-30 sing?

Although some claim he grew up with 1992's History, its sensitivity smelled of Iron John-style posturing--a secret cover for the same old self-involvement, But the live cAREER mOVES (Virgin), which samples the highs of his over-30 output while eliding its numerous flubs, is a kind of summing up. It's amazingly consistent, probably his best album ever. Dotted with surefire stage patter and framed by two drolly unembittered accounts of how he makes his living, it has its heart-tugging moments--notably Your Mother and I, written to explain the inevitable breakup to his daughter by famous folkie Suzzy Roche. Mostly, though, it presents him as what he is--a very talented upper-middle class wag who never became a star. It should cheer any over-30 bad boy who can forget for the moment that his spotty sex life and adventures in substance abuse will never be as entertaining as this born entertainer's.


Fast Cuts: Nothing if not embittered, Van Morrison's Too Long in Exile (Polydor) somehow makes beautiful music out of the claim that the artiste's mistreatment at the hands of Bigtime Operators gives him the right to sing the blues. At peace with his small measure of success, The John Prine Anthology: Great Days (Rhino) is a two-CD overview of the New Dylan of 1971's career moves, more goofy than witty and longer on empathy than self-involvement.

Playboy, Aug. 1993


July 1993 Sept. 1993