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Unlikely though it seems, given how infrequently entertainers make headlines for keeping the Ten Commandments, the former “new Dylans” Loudon Wainwright III and Bruce Springsteen devote much of their latest albums—the eponymous soundtracks to their respective Netflix one-man-shows Loudon Wainwright III: Surviving Twin and Springsteen on Broadway—to honoring their fathers.
Both albums include extended spoken passages interspersed with unplugged renditions of each man’s best-known songs. But while Springsteen’s simply comprises his 2½-hour special minus the visuals, Wainwright’s is a meticulous studio re-creation.
Among the drawbacks of the latter approach are the absence of an audience (Wainwright’s laugh lines often benefit from crowd reaction) and the reduction of Surviving Twin from 91 to 67 minutes, mainly due to the omission of a segment featuring footage shot at the private boys’ school attended by both Wainwright and his father, the late Life magazine correspondent Loudon Wainwright Jr.
Among the advantages: crystalline audio, reduced ad-libbing (hence reduced profanity), and narration so pitch-perfect that one needn’t see Wainwright’s facial expressions or his body language to understand what he’s saying or why.
What Wainwright is saying can be summed up by comments that Springsteen makes midway through his On Broadway performance of “My Father’s House”: “Those whose love we wanted but didn’t get, we emulate them. That’s the only way we have, in our power, to get the closeness and love that we needed and desired.
“So,” Springsteen continues, “when I was a young man looking for a voice to meld with mine, … I chose my father’s voice—because there was something sacred in it to me. And when I went looking for something to wear, I put on a factory worker’s clothes, because they were my dad’s clothes.” It’s an observation echoed in the filmed version of Surviving Twin by Wainwright’s literally donning one of his father’s tailor-made suits.
On the soundtrack, the suit-donning portion is titled “Disguising the Man.” And like most of Wainwright’s Surviving Twin monologues, it’s a verbatim rendering of an essay from his father’s long-running Life column, “The View from Here.” In those essays, the elder Wainwright wrote eloquently in the first person on a variety of topics whose casual surfaces often mask moving insights regarding the intersection of family and identity. The seven that his son includes in Surviving Twin give the show its narrative and emotional arc.
About the profanity: It’s less of an issue for Wainwright, who frequently and wittily couches even his most-likely-to-offend-someone observances in a vocabulary commensurate with his well-heeled upbringing.
Springsteen, on the other hand, swears at a rate more in keeping with the blue-collar Everymen who populate many of his songs yet whose lives he admits he has only known secondhand. (He begins and ends On Broadway by referring to the camouflaging of this discrepancy as his “magic trick.”)
But there’s a bigger difference: Whereas Surviving Twin is really about Wainwright’s father even when it’s about himself (a paradox neatly summed up in the following line from the semi-Oedipal title cut: “I didn’t want to kill him, that would be suicide”), On Broadway—its generous helpings of fatherly content notwithstanding—is mostly about Springsteen.
Admittedly, fans of the Boss who haven’t already invested 18 hours in listening to him narrate the audiobook version of his autobiography Born to Run might enjoy hearing him tell such a relatively condensed version of his life.
Those who have heard the book, however, will likely conclude that Springsteen really likes to hear himself talk.