Land of the rising son

Oct 17, 2001 at 12:00 am

As the prodigal son of famed folk-music heroes Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, Rufus Wainwright might have been expected to wash up on the failure-stained shores like so many other celebrity spawn. Instead, the dramatic pop-rock pinup with the angelic voice has become a musical visionary in his own right, having just released a lauded second DreamWorks album, the crafty Poses. It has won him many a lofty Cole Porter comparison and even secured an opening spot on piano-straddler Tori Amos' current high-profile tour, which touches down Thursday, Oct. 18, at the Fox Theatre.

He's a press darling to boot, rubbing snooty shoulders with the Chloe Sevigny it-kids of the new art-house crusade, all the while posing frequently for fashion spreads in Madison Avenue glossies. How does it feel to be Rufus Wainwright, then? On the phone from upstate New York, he let us know that it feels exactly like we would think.

Poses seems so complete in that your mind and your audience are all right there, like some modern cabaret. As a listener you just feel lucky to be there. What kind of concept did you have going into it?

I think with my first record Rufus Wainwright, I proved I was a good singer and sort of artsy guy with sort of a different slant on things. I adore my first record, but it was kind of overpowering in places, kind of completely showing off all the time. Which I think I had to do. I wanted this one to be more subtle and also relating to life. Something you can listen to really loud or have on in the background. I wanted it to be more produced; I wanted you to be there. I wanted it to be the perfect amount of stuff.

Do you think it's more of a representation of you as an artist and not so much an introduction as the first?

If anything, I'd like to look at my career and album-making as kind of a novel. This is definitely a good chapter two. I'm hoping, if we're allowed to have any more chapters in this book, the third one will be deeper as well.

Have you already started to conceptualize that?

Yeah, I've started. I think that this record has a lot to do with its title. Life in general, seen through the eyes of someone who's there for a good time. I have nothing much to really say to the world on this record, but I think on the next one — over this last period, I've been getting pretty deep ... unfortunately. Whatever.

What do you do after you "pose," anyway? Act?

Pose. Close.

What do you think your relationship with music is, having come from a musical background?

I don't know. In terms of music itself, I'm pretty much a natural conduit. I mean I'm constantly, constantly, constantly fiddling around with melodies. But actually writing songs and words, I really think that it's an art you have to take years and years to perfect. I wanna be both. I wanna be a master.

When you're so quick-witted, would you say that the hardest part for you is crafting subtlety?

You don't want to come off too clever.


Yeah, or too precious. Which is very hard for me, because I'm so ... so ... valuable. [Laughs]

I think with an album like Poses, representing different angles on life, you kind of save yourself there — spread yourself a little thinner — as opposed to always being so first-person.

Well, yeah, I definitely spread myself.

And you are clever, because the term "sentimental valiums" may be my favorite phrase turn ever. What happened with the big gay package tour, Wotapalava?

Well, I think it's unfortunate that it didn't happen, but I think also that maybe America wasn't ready for that concept: queer identity. Also, of course Sinead [O'Connor] pulling out really pulled out the bottom from the whole thing. It took the yin out of the yang.

The gay thing has got to be sort of difficult for you in this industry, but it's got to be somewhat useful, at least as a point to have to get over.

I really think that I come from an amazing tradition of culture. Gay people have always been historically creative, mainly because they had to look under the rocks ... for bugs.

And that's exactly what we find.

I've got an ant farm. Basically, I feel privileged in a lot of ways. Not so much privileged, even, but proud of being gay. I think there's a history that I have a lot to take from. I mean, there were cave-men designer window dressers.

Throughout Poses there's a real self-deprecation angle. How much of what you're writing is you dealing with your own issues growing up creative in a very creative family?

Well, I rely on my songwriting for everything. I mean, I'm never good at relationships or eating properly. In every instance I turn to my songwriting to bail me out of life. As Flaubert said, "Madame Boverie se moi!"

As far as the music industry goes right now, do you have any faith that you'll actually be able to get through to the people who might really appreciate what you're doing?

I think there's a chance. I'm hoping anyway. I think that people are going to start to work a little more, and that time is going to become more precious. And that, hopefully, with my music, I can be a part of that.

Of all of the things that have been said about you — all the lavish praise and overblown contextualization — what stands out as your favorite Rufus commentary.

Um, I think my favorite is that, um ... I look like a model.

That says it all.

Rufus Wainwright performs with Tori Amos Thursday, October 18 at Fox Theatre.

Billy Manes writes for Orlando Weekly, where the full-length version of this feature appears. E-mail comments to [email protected]