Loudon Wainwright III’s appearance in the upcoming Sandra Bullock film, “28 Days,” is hardly a stretch.
The veteran troubadour plays a character similar to Capt. Calvin Spaulding, the singing surgeon he portrayed briefly on the “M*A*S*H” TV series in 1975.
“I play a character called the ‘Guitar Guy,’ ” Wainwright said recently. “I actually have no lines, but I sing a lot. Kinda like ‘M*A*S*H,’ with some musical commentary. I wrote a song which hopefully they will use, and they recorded me doing a bunch of my other stuff.
“Sandra Bullock’s character has a bit of a drug and alcohol problem and wrecks a wedding with a car and is offered an option of going to jail or going to rehab for 28 days. She opts for the latter, and most of the movie takes place in this place called Serenity Glen. It’s a comedy, but it has some dark edges to it. Betty Thomas directed it. The vibe on the set was really good. People were really excited about it. You never know until you see it, of course.”
All this begs the question: Would Wainwright have opted for jail or 28 days of rehab, if given the choice, after he was busted for marijuana possession in Oklahoma City in the late 1960s?
The answer is obvious.
“Hmmm, rehab for 28 or jail for five?” he said. “In 1967, I was a rather handsome young buck and they threw me in this jail, basically a tank, with 30 other spooky guys from Oklahoma City. I figure I was lucky to get out of there in one piece, because I was afraid I was going to get jumped.”
Authorities notified the draft board of his indiscretion, Wainwright said, but he already had his back covered.
“I had already slithered out of the Army before that happened,” he said. “I’m a socio-psychopath, I’ve got a letter from a psychiatrist to prove it. I’ve spent the last 30 years trying to prove it in my songs. I was deemed unfit for military service before I was busted. Presumably, I can’t run for president now. Darn!”
Wainwright easily could be elected one of pop music’s funniest, most endearing performers. The man who concocted the 1973 Top 20 road-kill ode, “Dead Skunk,” is a master of self-mockery and comic introspection. However, for his Hannibal/Rykodisc debut album, “Social Studies” (released July 13), he traded in private confessions for a biting tribute to the 1990s, the decade of Jesse Helms, Tonya Harding, O.J. Simpson and Y2K paranoia.
“I really enjoyed that aspect of it, not writing about myself,” Wainwright said. “I have a bit of a reputation, and a well-earned reputation I’ll say, for writing about my life very specifically and the people in my life, my family members, my ex-wives and kids. I’m sure they were all relieved that I was singing about Jesse Helms (‘Jesse Don’t Like It’) instead of them for a change, but I’ll get back to them on the next album.
“I am aware, as we all are, that things are coming to a close in terms of the decade and the century, that we’re headed for some major closure. I had been writing these songs over the last 10 years, I like these songs. Some obviously will date sooner than others, but I like them, so I wanted to gather them together and record them and create this little sonic look back. That was the plan, at any rate, and darn if we didn’t do it.
“On (the first single) ‘Y2K,’ I thought I would tap into the paranoia that’s flying around and cash in on it. I think the paranoia itself will create a trickle-down effect. Whether or not anything doesn’t actually work that day or night, who knows?”
Musically, Wainwright admits he won’t remember much about the ’90s. He has a spartan outlook, preferring to listen to old Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell records. His school-age children spare him of the boy-band movement and Britney Spears. They go for Monk and Powell, because that’s what’s playing in his house.
“I wouldn’t hesitate to say ‘Take that Robbie Williams CD off that stereo,’ ” he said.
Ah, so he knows who Robbie Williams is?
“Not only do I know who he is,” Wainwright said, “but there’s a lawsuit going on that has to do with me. You don’t know about that? I’ll quickly tell you this: There’s a song on the Robbie Williams album called ‘Jesus In a Camper Van,’ which I have a writing credit on. Basically, in 1974, I put out an album called ‘Attempted Mustache’ and wrote a song called ‘I Am the Way.’ He used some of my words for it. My song itself was kind of parody of a Woody Guthrie song called ‘New York Town,’ and Woody Guthrie’s stuff is published by Ludlow Music.
“They notified us, us being my manager, that they were going to use this and I got a writing credit. When Ludlow Music found out, they said, ‘Hey, where’s the money?’ As of now, I think there’s a 2 million-pound lawsuit going on in the U.K., a lawsuit against Robbie Williams’ people to get royalties for this song. It’s pretty darn exciting. I saw a headline in an English tabloid that said ‘Robbie sued by old U.S. folkie’ or something.
“So between the movie, the album and the lawsuit, I’m just going to be settling back and watching the money trickle in.”
BWF (before we forget): Study “Social Studies” on the Web with Loudon Wainwright III @ www.rosebudus.com.
More updates: Joe Henry, Marcus King, Lily Kershaw, Poliça, Sarah Brightman, Jerry Leger, Simple Minds, Grateful Dead, etc