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Clip: Martha Wainwright Finds Her Voice

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  • Carl Zimring
    Martha Wainwright Finds Her Voice As far as audacious debuts go, calling your first single Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole is
    Message 1 of 2 , May 5 5:24 AM
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      Martha Wainwright Finds Her Voice

      As far as audacious debuts go, calling your first single "Bloody Mother
      Fucking Asshole" is right up there. And authoring such a song about your
      father, no less, only adds to the audaciousness. Especially when your
      father is Loudon Wainwright III, the famous folkie last seen on the
      television playing the dorky dad on Judd Apatow's "Freaks & Geeks"
      follow-up, "Undeclared." But everywhere she turns, Martha Wainwright - the
      Canadian songstress behind such a song ? is confronted by a family renowned
      for their frank candor as much as their astonishing musical talent, from
      Loudon to her brother, Rufus, to her mother and aunt, Kate and Anna

      "There's a closeness amongst us that people have envied, because it's a
      closeness defined by a lot of honesty, and a lot of 'expression,' let's
      just say, in the relationships between us," offers Martha, the 29-year-old
      songwriter who's the younger of Loudon and Kate's two musical children.
      "Family are the most important thing to me, and so, singing about them, and
      being sung about by them, in the end that can't be that bad."

      This "expression" comes in the form of songs. Rufus recently wrote an ode
      to her called "Little Sis," but Martha's life has long been charted by
      words and chords: Loudon rendering her as infant, with "Pretty Little
      Martha," then at "Five Years Old," then as a misbehaving child in "Hitting
      You," and, finally singing with the 19-year-old Martha, newly adult, on
      "Father/Daughter Dialogue." That song came from Loudon's album Grown Man,
      which was largely about, of course, the emotional troubles of the
      dysfunctional Wainwright clan. So "Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole" is merely
      Martha's riposte, her chapter in a family drama writ large in popular song,
      its final offering of "I will not pretend/ I will not put on a smile/ I
      will not say I'm all right for you/ For you, whoever you are" showing
      particularly touching personal qualities to go with its unrestrained rage.

      On "Factory," the other standout song on her self-titled debut disc, she
      shows more signs of the sailor's mouth shown on that single, beginning by
      singing the self-effacing lines "These are not my people, I should never
      have come here/ Chick with a dick and the gift for the gab" in recollection
      of going to a hipster New Yorker party with Rufus. The song, like "Bloody
      Mother Fucking Asshole," is another number that eschews verse/chorus to
      tumble over with escalating measures, both being marked by a remarkable
      vocal performances from Martha. The voice is an expressive instrument unto
      itself, and one that's found all sorts of misguided comparatives in the
      press, with predictable humans like PJ Harvey, Kate Bush, and Tori Amos
      used as off-the-mark measuring sticks. The obvious and perhaps only
      comparison, really, should be to Martha's fellow Canadian, Mary Margaret
      O'Hara, in terms of vocal approach and of music. The late-'80s songwriter
      championed as a lost treasure by humans like Patti Smith and Michael Stipe,
      O'Hara shows a rambling songwriterism of the same ilk as Martha's, with
      songs like "Factory" and "This Life" recalling the quietly intense passions
      of O'Hara songs like the truly great "Body's in Trouble."

      Ask about her musical influences, though, and Martha Wainwright keeps
      things close to home, being honest enough to admit that the honest
      closeness of her family defines who she is, as artist and human being.
      "Without a doubt, the McGarrigles and Loudon Wainwright III are my greatest
      influences, even to today, both in wanting to be inspired by my parents,
      but also in not even being able to help it," she says. "Everyone is
      influenced by the people who their parents are, and my parents happen to be
      very wonderfully strange, and interesting, and complex, and then, also, on
      top of that, very talented artists and musicians. So, it was a big legacy
      to have to watch over the years, and to work out where my place in it was.
      To figure out what this legacy was to me, and what parts of me are from
      them, and what parts of me are truly myself."

      In saying such, she isn't searching for pity ? saying that the "burden" of
      living up to their family's fame is "so much better than hating your
      parents, and wanting to distance yourself from them" ? but she does hope
      that, with her debut disc being delivered, this can be the time where the
      Wainwright/McGarrigle family focus is on her. Having started writing songs
      at 17 out of a "sense of competitiveness" with her brother (Rufus inspiring
      this by inviting her to sing backup vocals at his weekly shows in
      Montréal), even at that age Martha was coming late to the game; she
      believes that she "pushed singing away for far longer than any other young
      kids who like to sing would have" out of a desire to be different from the
      rest of her family. Even after starting to write her songs, on a guitar
      that Loudon had bought her when she was 12, Martha pursued studies in art
      history and acting before finally coming to the conclusion that that it
      would be best to embrace what she liked best and was, obviously, best at.
      Still, even that decision came over eight years ago; and, at 29, Martha is
      at an age by which most aspiring songwriters would've long ago made their

      "It seems like everyone thinks I've taken forever to make a record, but I
      don't know what the big deal is," says Wainwright, with the fieriness that
      comes across in her music. "I think, for the longest time, I really felt
      like the last thing the world needed was another CD in a jewel case. I was
      quite happy to live vicariously through those around me, watching them do
      all the work when promoting albums, and just enjoying myself performing
      with them. I didn't want to rush into making a record, because, when your
      family is as good at what they do as mine is, the bar is set quite high.

      "And I was really quite caustic when it came to dealing with people in
      regards to my own music. I often wasn't interested at all in the people who
      came to me about putting out an album of mine, and I think I ended up
      burning a lot of bridges with people who wanted to work with me. Because I
      wasn't 21 when I started making this, I was 26, and I sure as hell wasn't
      going to release a record that wasn't the exact record that I wanted to
      make, and that didn't say the exact things that I wanted to say." ? Anthony
      Carew [Wednesday, May 4, 2005]
    • Jacquilynne Schlesier
      ... I had tickets to see Martha here a couple of weeks ago, but missed it because I was too tired to move, never mind drive into the city and find parking.
      Message 2 of 2 , May 5 9:02 AM
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        On 5/5/05, Carl Zimring <cz28@...> wrote:
        > <http://neumu.net/datastream/>
        > Martha Wainwright Finds Her Voice

        I had tickets to see Martha here a couple of weeks ago, but missed it
        because I was too tired to move, never mind drive into the city and
        find parking. She's opening for Loretta in Toronto in June, though, so
        I shall see her then.

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