Sunday, August 24, 2008

School Days: School Days

Loudon Wainwright III: School Days (live, 1978)


Loudon Wainwright III: School Days (2008)


I would say all these great things about School Days, a poignant song of the crisp passions and purpose of youth which originally appeared as the very first track of Loudon Wainright III's self-titled 1970 debut. But Loudon -- who, as father of Rufus and Martha, ex-husband of folksinger Kate McGarriggle, and father of new folkblood Lucy with eerie harmony-singer Suzzy Roche, has been a unifying element (and, given the family tendency to mine their own family relations for lyrics, the subject) of a veritable dynasty of folk and fringemusic for over 35 years -- said it all himself, with the help of his agency, just a few months ago in the promotional material for Recovery, a sweet, brand-new release which features powerful new takes on some of his classic material.

Here's the money quote, on this year's most recent incarnation of School Days:

"School Days" [is] a wry slice of collegiate bravado that imbues Recovery with musings about scenarios that played out “in Delaware when I was younger” -- a notion that’s all the more intriguing when one realizes the words were written by a 23-year-old whippersnapper.

“Like most overly dramatic twentysomethings, I thought I’d burn out quickly,” [Wainwright] says of the tone expressed on that song, and several of Recovery’s other offerings. “I certainly didn’t think I’d be around any longer than Jim Morrison. But somewhere along the way, I changed my mind. I got interested in being old when I was fairly young, and wrote from that perspective. So songs about getting old had one kind of resonance for me then, and another kind now.”

It has been my experience that such a change in resonance flavors performance; I had hoped to be able to share the original, sparse album version of the song today, as well as the two versions featured above. Sadly, however, though Loudon Wainwright III the original album has recently been rereleased after years out of print, I couldn't find a pre-digitized copy anywhere. Still, the theory plays out, at least in part: though the differences between his 1978 official live recording and the 2008 version off of Recovery are primarily a matter of production choices, those willing to listen carefully will indeed find 30 years worth of wisdom flavoring the second, all remnants of earlier versions' overearnest concert braggadocio gone, the memories made more bittersweet and mellowed with age and studio setting.

Bonus: here's a look at the Wainwright dynasty through cover songs which includes another, totally different version of School Days recorded by Loudon's ex-wife, their son, and her sister a few years back. Pretty sure that's Loudon himself on background vocals, too. How odd it must have been, there in the studio, listening in the background while his exes and kids sang out his memories.

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