"In love or in cyberspace, everything's fair / And it's OK to steal, 'cuz it's so nice to share," sings Loudon Wainwright III to Dylan-esque acoustic accompaniment in "Something for Nothing," a mocking commentary on Internet music piracy from his latest CD, So Damn Happy (Sanctuary). It's a classic Wainwright move to simultaneously inhabit and subvert the role of the folkie troubadour: for almost a quarter century he's been firing curare-tipped musical barbs at the sacred cows of the folk subculture and society in general. He'd come across as a misanthrope if he didn't give equal time to his own faults and vulnerabilities: on 2001's Last Man on Earth, for instance, he bravely dissected his complicated feelings for his recently deceased mother. The new disc, recorded live last year, reprises some strong older material: "Tonya's Twirls" skewers both Tonya Harding and the Olympic ideals she violated; "The Home Stretch" voices existential misgivings about a life spent in the performer's role (with a touch of madness contributed by Richard Thompson's jagged guitar discord). Among the new songs are "Something for Nothing" and the mock sing-along "Heaven," which lampoons puritanism in both its traditional and modern guises ("The angels have ashtrays in Heaven...Smoking's allowed, that's what makes all those clouds / And ya don't have to sit at the bar"). Most memorable, though, are Wainwright's acerbic yet tender meditations on the heroism of everyday people trying to make it through life: "4 x 10" exposes "the little boy, the inner man" cowering in terror behind a macho man's facade of cool, and "Primrose Hill" portrays a broken-down street singer making his final stand. Saturday, October 25, 7 and 10 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Deborah Feingold.