Liking Rufus Wainwright backwards

I was first aware of Rufus Wainwright in a group photo that ran in Rolling Stone in a gallery of spawn from music stars. Saw his debut album for sale and went "Okay, whatever." Passed it by. Then in late 1998 this ad came out for the Gap in which Rufus sings "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve":

My reaction? What is up with that minor chord mopey caterwauling? Bleh! Not my thing. Pass!

In 2001 was aware his album Poses got some acclaim. Not tempted to buy it. Minor-key caterwauling. Not my thing. Pass!

Jump to 2007. Heard his song "Going to a Town", about losing faith in the U.S. as it denies rights for gays saying they are unworthy of love or respect, is lost in superstition to a pretend god, rejects world compassion, awash in arrogance. He resolves to head to a place that has already fallen and taking his inspiration there. Bush politics and the trouncing of the forces of reason made this resonant. I bought the song, and then the album: Release the Stars.

Got engrossed by the creativity, breadth of sounds, daring, cheek, and feeling. I'd also matured to the point where life itself was more minor key, yearning, and ambiguous. I started buying and listening to his albums in reverse order. And getting into his biography. Especially the album Poses with its salutation to a life of indulgence, compulsion, debauchery, staying up too late, adolescence. Rufus was saying goodbye in 2001 to this phase of his life, or wondering if he ever would. After the album he had to deal with a severe meth addiction. A great anthem for those who seek to get lost in destructive habits and find wisdom there and hope to get out, or stay lost: "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk"

Cigarettes and chocolate milk
These are just a couple of my cravings
Everything it seems I like's a little bit stronger
A little bit thicker, a little bit harmful for me

If i should buy jellybeans
Have to eat them all in just one sitting
Everything it seems I like's a little bit sweeter
A little bit fatter, a little bit harmful for me

And then there's those other things
Which for several reasons we won't mention
Everything about them is a little bit stranger
A little bit harder, a little bit deadly

It isn't very smart
Tends to make one part so broken-hearted

Sitting here remembering me
Always been a shoe made for the city
Go ahead, accuse me of just singing about places
Where scrappy boys faces
Have general run of the town
Playing with prodigal sons
Takes a lot of sentimental valiums
Can't expect the world to be a Raggedy Andy
While running on empty
You little old doll with a frown

You got to keep in the game
Maintaining mystique while facing forward

I suggest a reading of 'A Lesson in Tightropes'
or 'Surfing Your High Hopes' or 'Adios Kansas'

It isn't very smart
Tends to make one part so broken-hearted

Still there's not a show on my back
Holes or a friendly intervention
I'm just a little bit heiress, a little bit Irish
A little bit Tower of Pisa whenever I see you
So please be kind if i'm a mess

Cigarettes and chocolate milk

Onward listening to his music swirled, and in August 2009 I went with a longtime friend to see Rufus play a concert in Seattle. Great show. Great company. Spent several hours with my friend catching up on a decade of history and shifting from deep to frivolous then back again through the afternoon/evening. Had fun at the show enduring a dreary, precious opening act. Rufus was very engaging, gave the audience the songs and the banter they wanted. He included songs from upcoming projects including his opera Prima Donna.

November 2009 Rufus announced a new album: All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu. "Lulu" is the name of a dark side diva personna. Many of the songs dealt with his mother's long battle with cancer, and facing her probable death. Rufus' mother is Canadian folk singer Kate McGarrigle. His sister is Martha Wainwright, another singer and recording artist.

In January 2010, Rufus' mother died. In February 2010 the album was released. In August 2010 I went to see Rufus in concert, again in Seattle, again with the longtime friend. I arrived scatter-brained and distracted. My friend was very patient. Martha Wainwright opened. I had her solo album I Know You're Married, But I Have Feelings Too. The writing was clever, but her voice reedy and tough for me to listen to for more than 1-2 songs at a time. As the opening act? Martha was feral and worked the crowd and the microphone stand and seemed ready to break and to pounce in turns. Very moving presence, and her voice was in great form. Her prowling had me shifting in the seat. I was bowled over. It was fun to discover that next to my friend and gave a sense of now I was lacking earlier. We were buzzing and inspired during the intermission.

When it was time for Rufus to take the stage, there were explicit directions given to the crowd: no applause for the first section of the show. Why? We would soon discover.

Rufus performed the entirety of his album as Lulu, in a long blue dress, tall plumage, and heavily marked up face. He deliberately booked six months of solid concerts after his mother's death in an effort to get lost in music, delay the grieving. This was his last show of the tour with his sister. Below are the opening two numbers: "Where are You New York?" and "Sad With What I Have":

The next song is "Martha" about trying to reach his sister with their mother near death and an estranged father. After the series of songs were over, he got up from the piano, exited the stage as the crowd stayed silent until the long blue train of his dress almost slipped out of sight. After a few minutes Rufus entered the stage as himself and gave a performance on piano and guitar, and sang several of his solo songs with his sister along with some favorite songs of their mother. Very affectionate, very engrossing. All throughout I was delighted by the music, taken to deep places and memories and glad to have an attuned friend who was also having an enjoyable time. "Martha" below, to close the loop:

Rufus is now a father with his longtime boyfriend, a ferociously handsome and funny German dude. Rufus plays off the contrast in their dispositions in "Sad With What I Have". The mother is the daughter of Leonard Cohen. Looking forward to what he does next.