Ten Minutes with Rufus Wainwright
The Phone Interview from Sunset Boulevard
On Monday night, nobody but Rufus Wainwright will be onstage at Benaroya Hall. With a piano. He’ll fill the space usually occupied by dozens of string players and horns and trumpets and tuxedos. That seems about the size of him. His songs are just unusual and intelligent enough to demand respect, but likable, singable, lovable, even. When he tried his hand at opera a few years ago, the chief criticism of the New York Times classical music writer was that there were too many arias and too few Rufus Wainwright songs. The songs rise to all sorts of levels and make all kinds of connections; the song “Oh What a World” from Wainwright’s 2003 album Want One is based on Ravel’s obsessive 1928 orchestral work Bolero.
Wainwright is the fabulous fully grown son of a marvelous musical family, and his latest album, Out of the Game, arrives just as he’s married his longtime boyfriend, Jorn Weisbrodt. (When asked when he came out of the closet, Wainwright likes to say, “I was born in the living room.”) Together, and with Lorca Cohen (Leonard’s daughter), they co-parent a little girl who’s now a year old. “I’m out of the game,” he sings, like he misses it. “I’ve been out for a long time now.” Helena Bonham Carter stars in the video. She’s a librarian in serious need of sex. He plays three scourge-ous library guests. They all end up in bed. Wainwright turned 39 in July, and his publicist said we had 10 minutes.
Where are you?
I’m in Los Angeles at the moment. At the Chateau Marmont hotel. Which is nice.
Did you have to travel alone?
I’m here with my husband, actually. I have a show at the Henry Miller Library up in Big Sur, so we’re going to go up, spend a week there, and use it as our honeymoon.
[Ed. note: Writer should have followed up by asking what honeymoon fantasies a person fulfills at the Henry Miller Library.]
I read you got married in August. What was your wedding like?
It was all-inclusive, all-inclusive. The rich, the poor, the artistic, the business-minded. I tend to touch all the bases, you know, with what I do, and yeah. I think in one way it was glamorous but it was also very democratic as well.
Someone told me to ask you whether you are a swimmer. There’s some comments you’ve made, and your new song “Montauk”…
I love the ocean. I’m not a fantastic swimmer by any means. In fact, I remember at one point when I was a kid, I was so excited to be part of a swim race at camp that I swam diagonally across the pool and hit my head on the side. So I have passion, just no ability. But I do love the ocean. I’ve found that over the years, I have to return there and get all my power from there, in terms of my home in Montauk. I mean, I sound like such a bourgeois investment banker. “As long as I’ve got my house on the beach…”
How long were you with your husband before you got married, and does married feel different for you?
We were together for seven years. It feels fantastic. You know, you cannot underestimate the sense of looking at someone and saying, “Okay, I can’t just walk out on you.” [Laughs] It requires a legal document, you know, to make this end. And I mean that in the most positive way possible, only because it is—being someone who is from a divorced background, you know, my parents were divorced, and also having had a pretty extensive sexually explorative period up until my 30s, I always felt kind of alone and kind of abandoned, and just that extra little hook is, especially when you’re hitting 40, it’s very comforting. It’s those kind of practical commitments that you just start to appreciate a lot more as you get older. And not to mention that it’s a whole lot of fun, too, because you can be as mean as you want.
They just have to stick the fuck around.
I want to talk about the Helena Bonham Carter video. What do you want from your videos?
What I like about my videos is that they’re still kind of conceptual without being all about the concept. Probably through budgetary constraints, mostly. I don’t have as much to work with, therefore it has to be equally a good performance, a good song, and some creative accounting. So I think it gives it a certain spirit. I mean, I did my little video [with Carter], and not long after, Björk put out a video, and you’re like, “Oh my god, this is basically the obelisk from 2001, and I am staring at this, and I am no longer a monkey now after looking at this video”—and it’s great and it’s complicated, but you kind of forget about the song. You pay more attention to the robots fucking.
Did you write the story for the “Out of the Game” video? Or do you work with people?
I had the initial idea. The initial idea was that I was the librarian and we’d have different characters come in, and one would be Helena Bonham Carter as Gena Rowlands from Opening Night. But then we got the budget, and she became the librarian and I became the three characters who came in. I play Gena, there’s Kurt Cobain, and there’s a character we based on Johnny Depp or Indiana Jones, I don’t know, it’s just some weird guy—we called him Zen Man.
[Disembodied Publicist Voice comes on the line to announce, “Last question.”]
Got anything to say about Seattle? And I work for The Stranger, the gayest newspaper in the land.
Yes! I love Seattle. I’ve played there many times. One of the fun things I’m doing tomorrow in LA is that I’m going to Hollywood Boulevard. They’re unveiling the star for Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, and they invited me to come to that, so I’m going to be hanging out with Seattle folks tomorrow.