Rufus Wainwright

By Walters, Barry | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), May 12, 1998 | Go to article overview

Rufus Wainwright


Walters, Barry, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


With a stunning debut CD, Rufus Wainwright follows in his famous father's footsteps

You'd have to go back nearly 30 years for a precedent, and you certainly wouldn't find it from another openly gay singer-songwriter in his early 20s signed to a major label. The son of Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, two of the most respected 1970s folkies, Rufus Wainwright evokes the sounds of Tin Pan Alley, Gilbert and Sullivan, post-breakdown Brian Wilson, and Harry Nilsson--but from an utterly contemporary perspective, one that's strikingly world-weary coming from such a young man, even if he has an old voice.

Like Noel Coward or Cole Porter, Wainwright writes about the straight world but with an unmistakably gay slant. His is a sensibility that longs to escape into an illusory past of dreams and artifice, where the vulgarity and savagery of contemporary life won't intrude. The young artist began performing with his mother, aunt (Anna McGarrigle), and sister at an early age. In fact, he was nominated for the Canadian equivalents of the Grammy and the Oscar for a song he wrote and sang when he was 14. These experiences have given him that odd removal from normality typical of the prodigy: He can take you to another place because he is--emotionally, spiritually--from someplace else.

He does this with piano arrangements that ignore several decades of pop and a style of singing that has little to do with rock, alternative or otherwise. While the string arrangements of Van Dyke Parks, Brian Wilson's longtime associate, festoon the tunes with symphonic grandeur, Wainwright swoops between notes like some bygone celluloid crooner with heart in hammy hand. It's an affectation that takes some getting used to, particularly when he swings right below the notes and brays through the ballads. …

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