There’s a telling moment on the DVD tucked inside Loudon Wainwright III’s new box set, 40 Odd Years. Wainwright, the acerbic troubadour and patriarch, sits beside his teenage son, Rufus, who’s not yet the flamboyant pop semi-star he would become. An interviewer asks Rufus how he feels about the scabrous songs his father has written about his mother, fellow musician Kate McGarrigle. Rufus squirms and says, “It does cause a little anxiety sometimes.” His father erupts into laughter and adds, “And that’s why I do it, folks punishment!”
It’s hard to conjure how challenging it must be to be a member of the Wainwright-McGarrigle clan, the first family of reality folk-pop. Imagine if every member of your household was a singer, songwriter and musician. Then picture something painful happening say, a divorce and everybody writing songs about its aftermath, then singing those songs for all the world to hear. For the last four decades, the Wainwrights and McGarrigles Loudon, Kate, and their two children, Rufus and Marthahave been doing just that. They’re the modern dysfunctional family setting strife to music, as chronicled on 40 Odd Years andarriving the same dayTell My Sister, a three-disc set that collects the rueful, hearth-warm early work of McGarrigle and her older sister, Anna.