UCSB’s Office of Arts & Lectures has reached into its bag of tricks and pulled out a beauty. At 8 p.m. Thursday, it will present together in Campbell Hall the separately legendary singer-songwriters Loudon Wainwright III and Leo Kottke.
As to what you might expect on stage from these two greats, Kottke’s remark that “Over time, the importance of improvisation for me has increased” might provide a clue.
Wainwright secured his place in the saga of American popular music with an early song, Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road. He will never escape it. Nor is that his only foray into musical comedy. Few songwriters possess so rare a gift for setting genuinely funny lyrics to fine, memorable tunes.
Humor is by no means the only arrow in his songwriter’s quiver. His Schooldays is about the most stirring Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man that our popular music has ever produced: “In Delaware when I was younger/ I would live the life obscene/ In the spring I had great hunger/ I was Brando, I was Dean.”
My merely passing interest in Wainwright as the author of Dead Skunk was permanently revived and intensified by the fact that he was, briefly, the husband of the incomparable Kate McGarrigle and the father of her two children, Rufus and Martha Wainwright. He has sired other children since, and they are all notable performers. That doesn’t even touch on Loudon’s other career, as an actor, from a recurring role in television’s M*A*S*H in the 1970s to a supporting part in 2007’s Knocked Up, with many performances in between.
Kottke first came to our attention as a 12-string player, the successor to John Fahey, who, in turn, claimed succession from a (probably) apocryphal blues man with the evocative name of Blind Joe Death.
As the albums came out, however, Kottke revealed many more facets to his musical persona than simply his utter mastery of the 12- and six-string guitars, in any style yet devised, and a gift for short, dazzling compositions for the instruments. He also began to display a good, oddly pleasing baritone voice, and a highly idiosyncratic songwriting talent, which proved also oddly pleasing. His live shows are utterly delightful.
“My music is maybe hard to categorize,” he says. “It doesn’t fit conveniently into the bins at record stores. That works for me, though. I don’t rise and fall with trends. Most listeners seem to have room for this stuff. It’s been great that way.”
Tickets are $40 for the general public and $15 for UCSB students, who must show valid ID at ticket purchase and at the door. For tickets or more information, click here or call UCSB Arts & Lectures at 805.893.3535.
Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.