Rufus Wainwright | Under the Radar - Music Magazine

Rufus Wainwright

Stars, Stripes, and Gripes

Jul 02, 2007 Web Exclusive Photography by Ellis Parrinder Bookmark and Share


 

“If you think the world of pop is difficult in terms of finding your voice, well, in opera it’s practically impossible!” So says Rufus Wainwright about his recently penned opera, Prima Donna. The singer/songwriter, known for his often bombastic orchestral pop, will unleash his excessive tendencies on the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in 2008. Although he intends to devote all of his time to the show, still to be cast and paired with a conductor, he’s convinced that he’ll fail miserably, as is usually the case with operatic debuts.

Regardless, Wainwright is ready for his departure from pop, a realm he’s occupied over five albums, the latest being Release the Stars. The record still bulges with stirring, soaring, cacophonous sound, as on the opening track, “Do I Disappoint You,” yet it’s something of a step back from his grandiose Want albums.

“I consider Want One and Want Two to be my personal coming out to myself, like rearranging my shelf in terms of how I want my apartment to look for the next 30 years,” says Wainwright. “It’s kind of my becoming-a-man album, those albums. But three’s a crowd, as they say.” The “less is more” approach served Wainwright well with Release the Stars, as did relocating from New York City, where he still lives, to Berlin, where Release was recorded.

“I still love New York, but you need to get away every once in a while,” he says. Wainwright has raised ire among some critics for the song “Going to a Town” and its refrain, “I’m so tired of America,” inspired, he says, by the post-9/11 victim culture embraced by some New Yorkers.

“There’s this pervasive attitude of, ‘We are so damaged and destroyed after 9/11, it’s the end of the world,’” he explains, comparing this mentality with Berliners’ relatively rapid recovery from the “true horror” of the World Wars. “But it’s not so much the New Yorkers’ fault, it’s really the Bush government, who are, even to this day, constantly using 9/11 as a touchstone. It’s a great tragedy, and a great crime that they’re doing this.” Wainwright shares the not unpopular opinion that the last American presidential election was lost due to Republican fear-mongering about homosexuality, among other things. Although he hasn’t faced significant homophobic hostility over the years, having lived between two liberal oases, his hometown of Montréal and New York, Wainwright recognizes the issues that American gays still struggle with.

“There just hasn’t been any movement whatsoever in terms of the logistics of being gay in the United States. I mean, they’re just not gonna budge [on gay marriage]. That being said, I don’t personally feel that homophobia in the U.S. is the main issue; I think it’s more homophobia in the world, the fact that people are killed in other countries, or their lives are ruined. That’s the pressing issue.”

Typically, Wainwright isn’t one to address political or social issues in his lyrics, preferring the smell of his own dirty laundry. Every member of his immediate family is a singer/songwriter—his father is Loudon Wainwright III, his mother and aunt, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and his sister, Martha Wainwright—and they’ve all written songs about each other, some of them playful, like Loudon’s “Rufus Is a Tit Man,” others devastatingly personal, like Martha’s “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole,” a song for dad. Rufus also prefers to address issues with his father in song.

“I mean, I get along really well with him right now, butwe never have been able to, and I don’t think we ever will be able to, really open up to each other emotionally. He’s a real WASP, my dad, it’s just the way he is,” reveals Wainwright.

By contrast, as Norman Bates put it, a boy’s best friend is his mother. “My relationship with my mother is extremely deep and could never really even be categorized in music. We sing together, we write together, sometimes we really need each other. Me and my mom will definitely, hopefully, go down in history as one of the great mother-son duos of the performing arts.”

www.rufuswainwright.com

 



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