Thursday 23 May 2019

everybody loves rufus

Songs about your son can be a tricky affair. John Lennon just about pulled it off about Sean on Beautiful Boy. You can make your mind up for yourself about Loudon Wainwright III's homage to his own son, Rufus, with the ear-catching if direct Rufus Is A Titman. Referring to Rufus during breastfeeding, it went (all together now): "Suckin' on his mamma's gland, Suckin' on the nipple, It's a sweeter than the ripple wine."

Asked in 2010 by American style bible Details what he thought of the song, Rufus Wainwright -- now a singer-songwriter more legendary even than his dad or his late mother Canadian chanteuse Kate McGarrigle -- replied in earnest: "It's great! When I was 5 or 6, I'd be standing on the table at a bar where my dad was playing, screaming, "Play Rufus Is a Tit Man!"

Some critics have theorised that the song is actually about feelings of envy on Loudon Wainwright III's part. "My dad and I have always been somewhat competitive. But we've reached a good place. We've managed to carve out areas of interest that don't intersect. A lot of our reconciliation centred around my mother's death," Rufus told Details, referring to 63-year-old Kate's death from cancer on January 18 2010. "It was like a King Arthur story when I was growing up: My father was off looking for the Grail, and my mother was at home making potions and raising her demonic children."

His demonic majesty Rufus -- born July 22, 1973 in Rhinebeck, New York -- has been variously described as one part Morrissey, one part Mahler, and is, according to Elton John. the greatest living singer-songwriter.

"Rufus is extraordinary, so musically gifted in many diverse fields," Gavin Friday told me -- meaning Wainwright's ability to write classical opera, set Shakespearean sonnets to music, and produce almost other-worldly pieces of piano-tinged high emotion. "He is a prince in shining armour , a true star in these days of dull and boring, pissy little pop stars."

You can say that again. And possibly even again for good measure. The landscape of popular culture would be a lot flatter without Rufus. He says things like: "I've tried to be a vegetarian as well, but I keep falling off the horse and, like, eating it. My boyfriend is a vegetarian and I admire him tremendously so I've tried to find a way to do it. But I have a sort of monster in me."

Rufus, whose parents broke up when he was three, recalls his earliest memory as "seeing the family dinner table being put into a removals truck, and not quite understanding what was going on". Listening to him sing, you get the distinct impression that Rufus has a unique understanding of his own special world, which we, as listeners, are glad to inhabit with him. "My mother's in the hospital, my sister's at the opera, I'm in love but let's not talk about it, there's so much to tell you," he sings on Zebulon from his eighth album, 2010's All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu.

Rufus Wainwright is certainly not a man you'd meet every day. He has sung with Antony Hegarty, Lou Reed and Burt Bacharach. He has appeared on Absolutely Fabulous. He had a problem with crystal meth in 2002 and, it is said, briefly lost his sight because of it. He partied several nights in a row back in the day with George W Bush's daughter, Barbara. (He has also revealed that he was sexually assaulted in Hyde Park in London when he was 14 after meeting a man at a bar. "I said I wanted to go to the park and see where this big concert was going on. I thought it was going to be a romantic walk in the park, but he raped me and robbed me afterwards and tried to strangle me.")

It is almost de rigueur to like Rufus nowadays. Having said that, his music is up there with the best released in recent times -- be it Arcade Fire or Antony Hegarty or The Horrors. His new Mark Ronson-produced album Out Of The Game is a tad more upful than previous releases, which led to the theory that this new mood was in some deep-rooted way a reaction to some of his darker records and the death of his mother.

"Oh definitely," he concurred recently. " Whether it's the concerts about my mom, or All Days Are Nights, or the opera, or even Rufus Does Judy At Carnegie Hall to a certain degree, which was an athletic kind of exercise; it was time to just have fun and relax and, um, have a party. And that for me is the main gist of this record: it's an album you can put on at a party and people will sit around," he said.

"I'm still very much dealing with my mother's death. It's been two years now, and I thought that after one year I'd be past a certain point, but I seem to have reverted back again, a little bit. Which is OK, it's not as bad as it first was, but that for me is still the big issue that I'm coming to terms with.

"Certainly with my beautiful boyfriend and gorgeous daughter, and all that positive energy surrounding me, there's a net there that I can depend on. But still, it's so hard to get used to someone who's not there that you were so close to. But when I made the album, I wasn't thinking so much about my mom's passing. I was just thinking about Mark's hair."

Rufus Wainwright plays The Iveagh Gardens in Dublin on Wednesday

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