If you haven’t heard of Rufus Wainwright yet, it’s only a matter of time. He’s steadily seeping into the hearts of mainstream music lovers the world over. His renditions of show tunes and original compositions are leaving audiences clamoring for more – and he’s obliging. This Canadian born singer-songwriter couldn’t help but go into the family business, with varying degrees of success having been achieved by both immediate and extended family members.
His sister Martha often sings back-up and is a rising star in her own right. Rufus credits his parents, Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, folk singers with 35 years of acclaim between them with giving him his “MGM Hollywood starlet voice”. Rufus first started writing songs around the age of 14 under the merciless critique of his strong-willed, but adoring mother.
When asked to pick just ten of their favorite songs, die hard fans have a hard time knowing they’ll have to leave so many out, where their affection is at least equal. But here’s a collection many of them agreed upon.
Among the unanimous choices was, “Dinner at 8”, the inevitable result of Rufus’ bitter feelings turning into song when his parents split when he was just three. He even asked his father for permission to release the song; and according to Rufus, his mother still cries every time she hears it.
Rufus is openly gay , having proclaimed so at age 14, along with the acknowledgement that he was also an opera buff. He wrote “The One You Love” about “coming to terms with your own sexual escapades. He says he felt unattractive and not virile, but knowingly also wrote that self-deprecation is attractive to many, and says “you can suck them with your insecurity.”
“This Love Affair” according to critics, is the perfect example of a Rufus Wainwright song – personal and universal with a melancholic range of emotions.
No topic is taboo and it’s proven with “Gay Messiah”. Rufus says the song is to the gay world what “Passion of the Christ Is” to Christians. “It’s definitely a protest song, and I want people to hear it so I wrote it so that musically, it would be rather simple and accessible.”
“Crumb By Crumb” was written about a stranger who was dating a friend of Rufus’. “I decided he was going to be Mr. Wainwright. The song is a good example of writing a song about a stranger and attaching certain qualities to them. At one point I sang it to him, and had forgotten it was about him until midway through the song. I don’t think he ever knew.”
A Valentine’s Day party inspired “April Fools”. At the party was a kissing booth with a “cute guy” in the booth. Rufus was set to take his turn in the booth and when he did, he says no one came to kiss him! So, as if on cue, he belted out a line he’d come up with earlier that evening in the bathtub, “You will believe in love” in an over the top performance of an unrequited lover.
“Beautiful Child” is a poignant song inspired by the events of September 11. “I’d made it out of the city. As I was singing, this voice came to me and said, God isn’t coming now, but he’s pretty close. I don’t really mean this in a religious sense, but there was something in me writing that song that had a connection to the universe. And I realized there was going to be a lot of darkness before there was light, but that it’s going to be okay. Then I went to record Beautiful Child, I wanted it to be uplifting. It’s a happy apocalypse. It’s about redemption.”
“Beauty Mark” is about Rufus’ mom. The two have a lovingly tempestuous relationship based on mutual respect for each other’s talents. “We spar a lot. She’ll write a song, I’ll write a song; she’ll put me down, I’ll put her down. I’d written a bunch of stuff she thought was terrible (and she was right). But “Beauty Mark” won her over – it was my comeback”.
“Matinee Idol” was written about River Phoenix, the young Hollywood actor who died from drug-induced heart failure.
Rufus often writes about people he meets in the everyday world. “The Art Teacher” is a song he wrote about a guy he’d met at his gym. The guy was telling him stories about his female students who were “ravenous for him”. “So I put myself in their shoes to write the song. I played it for him and it went totally over his head!”
No matter whether he’s singing of foolish love – real and imaginary, or of longing for his absent father and the premature death of movie stars, Rufus’ operatic, richly soulful pipes will guide you to a place you’ll want to return to again and again.