As her brother’s fame grew, she struggled with her status as the least famous member of her nuclear family. And while her parents provided inspiration, she says in the book that they could have been more helpful. “I don’t know if you’re wondering where my dad was during those New York years,” she writes, “but at the time, I was wondering, too.”
For a while Rufus was running around as part of a “sons of” club, a group that included Sean Lennon, Chris Stills and Harper Simon. “They were all getting signed and written about and had publicists and photo shoots and beautiful girlfriends,” Ms. Wainwright says in the memoir. “Were their songs better than mine?” The chip on her shoulder led her to write a grand statement song, its title a vulgar epithet. Contrary to what she has told journalists in the past, the song isn’t about her father — or, rather, it isn’t exclusively about him.
In addition to the attention-grabbing title, the song had perhaps the closest thing to a pop hook to be found in her oeuvre up till then. Whereas the typical Martha Wainwright melody meanders as it showcases her acrobatic whisper-to-scream vocal range, this one was different: a folky strum-and-shout with straightforward lines like “Oh, I wish, I wish, I wish I was born a man.”
The Guardian called the song a “masterpiece” when it appeared in 2005 as the centerpiece of “Martha Wainwright,” her first album. Critics admired her debut but couldn’t resist comparing her with the rest of her family. A Pitchfork reviewer praised her voice and her songs, only to add the caveat that her ability to write about personal matters with such candor “would be more remarkable if it weren’t a genetic trait.”
Her next album, “I Know You’re Married but I’ve Got Feelings Too,” was partly produced by Brad Albetta, a bass player who, by the time of its 2008 release, was also her husband. Their relationship had always been tumultuous, but she had pushed for marriage anyway, partly because she wanted to “grow up” before losing her mother, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.