The song, “High, Wide and Handsome,” which nobly celebrates the raw pleasures of life, was written by the guy who played Captain Calvin Spaulding, the singing surgeon on the TV show M.A.S.H. It was also penned by a guy who went to school with Liza Minnelli in the third grade and by a former boatyard barnacle scraper.
The guy is Loudon Wainwright III, a veteran singer/songwriter/actor. For the movie “Knocked Up,” he co-wrote the music and played the role of Dr. Howard. Johnny Cash recorded one of Wainwright’s songs, and he has a couple Grammy nominations. Loudon is a badass.
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L to R: Rufus Wainwright (son) and Loudon Wainwright (father)
In “High, Wide and Handsome,” Wainwright sings about Charlie Poole, a real-life, hard-drinking country artist who was popular in the 1920s and self-destructed young.
National Public Radio interviewed Wainwright on Aug. 19, 2009, and he talked about growing up hearing the old expression, “high, wide and handsome,” which means “prosperous and wealthy and good looking and doing well.”
In the Americana-style song, Wainwright plays banjo and tells how Poole may have related to the colloquialism:
“High, wide and handsome – that’s how I like livin’.
High, wide and handsome – that’s how life should be.
Low, skinny and ugly – that’s for other people.
High, wide and handsome – suits me to a tee.
“Song, wine and women – they’re my three favorites.
Beer, gin and whiskey – that’s five, six and four.
Saturday night, I like eatin’ and dancin’.
And I sleep all day Sunday, so’s I’m ready for more.“
If there’s a better ode to lust, I haven’t heard it, and the conviction in Wainwright’s voice sounds like he’s been down this road a few times himself.
So the next time you feel like bustin’ loose, listen to Wainwright on the song “High, Wide and Handsome” on the album, “High, Wide and Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project,” released Aug. 18, 2009, Second Story Sound Records. His Web sites include www.thecharliepooleproject.com, www.lwiii.com and www.myspace.com/lw3lw3. Wainwright has a fan page on Facebook.
(Author’s note: Wainwright and I both have a Liza Minnelli connection. In the early 90s, I played a wedding reception in Houston, as the drummer for a jazz trio. A lady who looked a lot like Liza asked me if I knew where she could plug in a rechargeable battery for her camera. Turns out the bride and groom were Minnelli’s friends. With the crowd’s urging, Liza sang a song with the band. Yep, me and Loudon – Liza BFFs.)