Back to Music

Rufus Wainwright is possessed by Judy Garland

The singer-songwriter spent his life onstage and continues to surprise

Rufus Wainwright is on a six-date tour of the Northwest, including Olympia and Tacoma. Photo credit: Barry J. Holmes

Recommend Article
Total Recommendations (0)
Clip Article Email Article Print Article Share Article

It's no surprise that Rufus Wainwright should find himself years later to be a consummate showman. The son of folkies Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, Wainwright grew up in a house of music, joining his mother's band at the age of 13. Even his sister, Martha, has a respectable music career in her own right. Wainwright was destined for the stage, though he veered off early on from the folk music legacy of his family.

"Opera was very influential," says Wainwright, who discovered the genre in his early teens, "mostly because I knew immediately that no other kids my age knew anything about opera. So, I was kind of thrust into this very mysterious world that was mostly inhabited by old queens. I knew instantly that I had found this treasure trove of ideas and sentiments and classical tools that I could use that nobody else in my generation was aware of. I started to implement them immediately into my songwriting. ... I needed my own little golden nugget to go to town on."

Drawing inspiration not only from opera, but from '70s pop/rock, the American songbook, and boisterous showtunes, Wainwright carved out a niche for himself as an unpredictable singer-songwriter whose naturally gorgeous voice guided listeners through albums of affectingly shape-shifting numbers.

"My dad lived in New York City," says Wainwright. "I'd go down and visit him for the holidays, and he'd always bring me to musicals. That was very exciting."

Wainwright's love of musicals and old-school showmanship most strikingly made its presence known when he released his live double album, Rufus Does Judy At Carnegie Hall - a song-for-song re-creation of a Judy Garland's 1961 Carnegie Hall performance.

"That was really more of an exorcism than anything," laughs Wainwright. "I'd been a huge Judy Garland fan for many years - and I still am, in a lot of ways - but there had been this fever that I couldn't shake. I was living in LA at the time, so maybe it was being in her old stomping grounds, but I'd go to a Tower Records, when there was a Tower Records, with the intention of buying a Radiohead album, but I'd leave with four Judy Garland records, after a blackout. I thought this woman would not leave me alone. I really felt possessed by her. So, at a certain point I decided to do the concert, and it was really to get her out of my system. I still adore her and love her, but I'm nowhere near as obsessed as I used to be. Which, I think, is good."

2010's All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu found Wainwright at his most painfully introspective and sorrowful. Made in the wake of his mother's death, the album is an intense listen, to be sure, despite its inherent beauty. Wainwright's follow-up was 2012's Out Of The Game, a welcome return to more pop-oriented music.

"I definitely needed a vacation from the sadness," says Wainwright. "Between doing Songs for Lulu and tribute shows with my sister, I was entrenched in tragedy. By the time (Out Of The Game producer) Mark Ronson came around, I knew exactly what I needed, and it was to lighten up a little bit and to try to enjoy myself, finally."

Even in a breezy pop album like Out Of The Game - packed with dips into doo-wop, '70s AM gold, and funk - there are washes of melancholy, as on "Montauk," which finds Wainwright singing to his daughter (whom he conceived with Leonard Cohen's daughter, oddly enough), and hoping that she'll come to visit her two dads when she's grown.

It's a touching and tentative love letter from an artist who persists, almost three decades into his career, in upending expectations while keeping his heart on his sleeve and his tongue in his cheek. Quite the balancing act, really.

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT, 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 29, Washington Center, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia, $24-$72, 360.753.8586; w/ Lucy Wainwright Roche, 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 30, Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, $66-$86, 253.591.5890

comments powered by Disqus

Site Search