Letter to Rufus
Mistakes, Debasement, Salvation, Art
Dear Rufus Wainwright,
Let me reintroduce myself. I'm the guy in Seattle you phoned from New York on Friday, Nov 14, 1:00 pm your time, 10:00 am mine, as arranged by your polite and helpful publicist. There's no real reason you'd remember me--since our chat, I've pored through pages of your most recent press, finding that many other writers had mined similar territory: Mistakes, debasement, salvation, art. Still, you'd risen to the occasion of our interview admirably, answering my familiar questions with spontaneity and my few novel questions with candor. (Asked to name your celebrity dream date, you replied, "That guy from Star Wars, who's in that new movie about the journalist.")
But when I went to transcribe the tape of our interview--when I asked my intern Cienna to transcribe the tape of our interview--she reported all she could hear was a low hiss. When I tried the tape myself I found the same thing: Nothing, buried beneath a vague hiss.
Trust me when I say I'm not normally a flake. I may take a long time to return personal phone calls and have a codependent relationship with my bong, but when it comes to work, I'm German to the core: merciless in the pursuit of perfection, with a predisposition toward fascism and excessive sweating. So it was a particular kick in the teeth to fuck up on such an important project, particularly because, after years of admiring your work from afar, I'd finally been drawn in close by the gorgeous, bracingly ornate Want One, which, aside from its ambitious orchestral arrangements, doesn't sound much different from your first two records. But this time the drama of the music--your patentedly idiosyncratic art-pop arias, as much swooned as sung--is inextricable from the drama of the record's backstory, fully elucidated in the attendant press materials.
So, how did you feel about the New York Times' "Gay Hell" story? I'd planned on asking before your press pack provided the answer. There, in its entirety, was Anthony DeCurtis' 2000-word profile, documenting at length your descent into a yearlong meth- fueled bacchanal, your stint in rehab, and the artistic epiphany that occurred after both, culminating in what we now know as Want One. You took some heat for specifying yours as a "gay" hell, but I appreciated your defense: "When I talk about it being a gay hell, every gay man knows exactly what I'm talking about," you told some reporter from the Guardian who was smart enough to successfully record the conversation. "Yes, a lot of it was my own doing, but there is a drug-infested, sexually very promiscuous, very unsafe-sex part of gay life. It just can't be ignored." Word, girl.
As much as I appreciate your coming out as a survivor of methy slutdom, my admiration is secured by your addressing the far more embarrassing matter of your salvation. Countless thrill-seeking artists before you have done the unthinkable-- swallowed a rifle, asphyxiated on vomit--to avoid doing what you did: Figuring out how to be an artist and stay alive. The tastefully reticent descriptions you've given of this obviously profound transformation--"Something was very kind to me," you told the Times--are simply icing on the cake.
But why should I be surprised when a good artist shows good expressive taste? Maybe I'm just glad that, rather than having to scour Rufus Wainwright and Poses for clues about what drove you to your early grave, we have Want One and the forthcoming Want Two to explain exactly how and what you survived, and to remind us why we're glad you did.
Again, sorry about the fuck-up, but I'm sure you'll understand. Congrats on the personal and artistic triumphs, and have a great Seattle show.