Meet Rufus Wainwright,
Canadian, son of Loudon
QSo, you’re coming to Yale [Wainwright performed Thursday night], the “Gay Ivy.” By the way, did you know that we have that nickname? The maxim is, “One in four, maybe more.” Anyway, you’re here to perform a benefit concert as part of the first Yale LGBT alumni reunion. All in all, that’s pretty gay. How do you feel about being labeled a “gay artist”? Do you find it to be reductionist, empowering, constricting or simply matter-of-fact?
AI would say the greatest gay artist of all time went to Yale, and that would be Mr. Cole Porter. I definitely feel as though I’m continuing a great homosexual tradition that has been around since ancient times that he was such a strong element of. To be a gay artist is a great privilege and doesn’t pigeon hole me in any way. It hooks into centuries of magnificence.
QYour first album was one of the first albums I listened to, and Poses — my favorite album of yours — was, for me, extremely validating as a teenager coming to terms with my sexual identity. The combination of love songs containing same-sex-gendered pronouns, and your critical and popular success made me feel, in a way, more human. How does this make you feel, to know that you are, in many ways, a gay role model, a big step towards visibility?
AExtremely proud and also useful to society. My main thing with gay rights is that although in America it can be difficult to be gay, and there is much to be improved upon in the developing world, it’s really a human rights issue. In some places, being gay equals death, so I feel strongly that my honesty and openness can help save lives. We’re not only talking suicide here; we’re also talking murder.
QOne more gay question: You reenacted, song by song, the 1961 retrospective concert by Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall; you are currently working on an opera named Prima Donna about the comeback of a washed up soprano and, based on your song “Grey Gardens,” I assume you’re a fan of Grey Gardens. The aging diva has emerged as one of the gay community’s most beloved tropes, and I wonder why this is. Camp? Similarity in demeanor? The kinship of two groups marginalized due to their lack of reproductive ability? What do you think?
AWell, all that is probably true, but I think as well it looks better on stage. Better makeup than some fresh young face. It’s more dramatic.
QYou have gotten to work with some really remarkable artists: Antony Hegarty, Burt Bacharach, your family. How does your role as a collaborator relate to the more “one man show” singer-songwriter aspect of your work?
AI consider my career three-pronged: one being that of the songwriter, one being that of a writer for the theater and the third that of a singer. In terms of the singer, I think it is very important for me to sing other people’s material in order to expand my intimate knowledge of music, and it rubs off on all the other elements as well.
QYou reached a lot of new listeners by covering “Hallelujah” for one of the Shrek movies. Although it was first done by Leonard Cohen, your song sounds more like a cover of the late Jeff Buckley’s version. I was wondering how you see yourself in terms of the long, dynamic life this song has had.
ALook: A hit is a hit, and luckily, I had one, and in these tough times, you can never underestimate what the public wants.
QIf you didn’t have your voice, what do you think you’d be doing with your life?
AI’d love to be a painter because it’s quiet. … And I don’t have to listen to my voice.