I became a fan of Rufus Wainwright the moment my (then) 15-year-old self heard that rich, haunting warble of “my phone’s on vibrate for you” during an episode of Nip/Tuck. Since then I’ve heard his music pop up all over the place in film and TV, from Brokeback Mountain to The OC. I’d say that he’s the first artist I discovered through a TV show that I’ve really come to love, so who better to dedicate my first artist-based blog post to.
Now I’m not exactly alone in my admiration for Rufus. Elton John has hailed him the “greatest living songwriter”, Michael Stipe claims he “stands next to Nina Simone”, and Martin Scorsese has dubbed him a “one-man Greek chorus.” But the strange thing is that, despite these accolades, he’s never quite achieved the huge commercial success that he deserves.
Born into his profession (his parents are folk singers Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III), he started touring with his family at the tender age of 13. And as you might imagine, the 40 years he’s lived so far have been anything but ordinary. He’s survived family conflict, being raped aged 14, and an addiction to crystal meth that left him temporary blind to become an unbelievably prolific artist.
So far Wainwright has released 7 studio albums, 2 live albums, a best of, written music to accompany Shakespeare’s sonnets, composed music for multiple films, toured extensively, performed Judy Garland’s famous Carnegie Hall concert several times, AND is in the process of writing his second opera. Yes, opera. I’m exhausted just writing about it.
But how to describe his music? Well that’s a tricky one, as he acknowledges in a recent interview with The Independent:
“I’ve always been a very peculiar artist; nobody can quite figure out where to put me.”
His music is more likely to make you cry than jump for joy, his deeply confessional lyrics lamenting over lost or unrequited love. But he’s also articulate and witty (a self-described “tragi-comedian”), and has been blessed with a voice that sounds like melted chocolate.
The song he composed for Brokeback Mountain, titled The Maker Makes, is not only my favourite Wainwright song, but also one of the most achingly beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard (just read the lyrics). Other highlights of his compositions featured in film/TV include Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk, Vibrate, and a stunning cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.
Speaking of Cohen, Wainwright recently fathered a baby with his daughter Lorca Cohen. Viva, now 3, is raised by Wainwright, his husband (the German art curator Jörn Weisbrodt), and her mother. With this upbringing I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we see her name on an album cover twenty years down the line..
Not one to shy away from the crowd, Wainwright describes his recent 40th birthday celebration as a “Rufus-avaganza”. Stupidly talented, unashamedly outspoken, and definitely a little bit bonkers, there probably isn’t a better word to describe his life.
Emma’s Rufus Wainwright Sync-tastic Playlist
1) Vibrate (Nip/Tuck)
2) The Maker Makes (Brokeback Mountain)
3) Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk (Last Kiss)
4) Hallelujah (Shrek)
5) Chelsea Hotel No. 2 (Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man)
6) Leaving for Paris (The OC)
7) He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (Zoolander)
8) This Love Affair (Elle s’en va)
9) Complainte De La Butte (Moulin Rouge!)
10) Across The Universe (I Am Sam)