Rufus Wainwright is about to marry his gay lover and is courting mainstream sales with new album Out of the Game, says Ed Power
RUFUS Wainwright wants to get ‘back in the closet.’ “I do seem to ping-pong between the theatrical and the populist,” says the cult singer. “I have written an opera and operated in that realm. Right now, it’s the pop thing. If I could really have my wish, I would climb into the cupboard and go back to Narnia — by which I mean my opera career.”
Wainwright’s new album, Out of the Game, is populist. It is produced by Mark Ronson, Amy Winehouse’s long-term creative partner. “Mark, of course, collaborated with Amy Winehouse, who had passed away literally weeks before we started,” says Wainwright. “I went into the studio with… well, I want to say with her blessing, in a way. Who knew what she truly was thinking. It was interesting, that Mark worked with me as he was coming to terms with her death.”
Both were grieving. Eighteen months before, Wainwright’s beloved mother, folk singer Kate McGarrigle, died of cancer. “The album I did before this one was more of a straight-up record about that,” he says. “However, there are cracks of sorrow in Out of The Game as well. The last song, Candles, is specifically about her. Her death … I’m still sifting through it. Things will be that way for a while,” he says.
In a corner of the Morrison Hotel, Wainwright is tired but chatty. He is in Dublin for a show at the Iveagh Gardens. As album sales plummet, he spends more of the year on the road. It’s how he pays the rent. “I’m definitely in the boat of being a well-respected, hard-working musician who has to pretty much rely completely on their chops in terms of making money,” he says. “It’s a bitch to sell records. Nobody knows where to buy them. That aspect of putting out a record and watching it climb the charts … you have to be realistic and recognise it doesn’t happen any more. It’s about your live shows and singing for the masses in real time.”
Even on a random, rainy afternoon, Wainwright seems lit up in high definition. His music is swooning and overwrought; in person, he is extravagant and over-the-top. His lime green pants can probably be seen from Mars; he refers to himself as a “musical genius,” and others agree with him. Elton John was an early cheerleader. Wainwright has shared the stage with Antony Hegarty, of Antony and the Johnsons, and duetted with Burt Bacharach on the songwriter’s most recent album. Enda Walsh, the Irish playwright known for Disco Pigs, is working on a rock biopic loosely based on Wainwright’s life.
Wainwright is gay and he says it has damaged his career, especially in the US. He has always been up-front about his orientation. In America, this meant he did not always receive the record-company support he needed and deserved.
“I definitely was a second-classer. I had to fight and I took a lot of hits. I experienced losses, in terms of how much money they give you, what marketing budgets are put behind your music,” he says.
With actor Zachary Quinto and r’n’b singer Frank Ocean coming out, being gay or bisexual is no longer a kiss of death for mainstream entertainers. As one of the first musicians to be open about their sexuality, Wainwright would like to take a little credit for the change in attitudes.
“None of it was orchestrated, which is why it means something,” he says. “When I started out, I was totally up-front. I didn’t want to get sick and come out in a Rock Hudson-type situation. Remember, I reached puberty in 1987. It was a treacherous time.
“The first thing I said when we sat down to negotiate my record contract is ‘I’m gay — I’m not going to pretend to be anything else’. It turned out to be a good idea. But, along the way, it wasn’t easy.”
Both of Wainwright’s parents are musicians. His mother was a respected folkie, his father, Loudon Wainwright III, a sardonic singer-songwriter. Neither reacted terribly well when he told them he was queer, he says.
“My parents were weird,” Wainwright says. “They were as cool as they could be. I wouldn’t say they were particularly supportive. Really, they weren’t. I own that. Part of me has forgiven them, part of me hasn’t. I adore my parents. But no, they weren’t cool with the gay thing.”
Wainwright was a tearaway in his youth, developing an addiction to the drug crystal meth and undergoing several stints in rehab. Nowadays, he luxuriates in the quiet life. He has a daughter, Viva, by Leonard Cohen’s eldest child, Lorca (via IVF); next month, he will marry long-term boyfriend, Jorn Weisbrodt, a theatre designer.
“Jorn is taking care of it,” he says. “Him and the wedding planner. I’m just going to turn up and say my lines. It’s by the sea and I’m really looking forward to it. Right now, I’m focused on my live shows and promoting my album. That’s where my head is at. Am I a groom-zilla? I’m more a groom-zombie, with all the touring I am doing. A ‘grombie’.”
Behind the laughs is a serious purpose. In the US, gay marriage is more than a lifestyle choice. It is a political statement.
“With Mitt Romney and the Tea Party, it’s important that you get out there and make a statement, support your team. President Obama was, at first, quite tepid in his support of gay marriage. He has come around to back it. We need to get out there and back him and show that he is right,” Wainwright says.
* Out of the Game is out now.
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