Want One (DreamWorks)
An interview with Rufus Wainwright
by Tim Den
Want One is everything a fan could wish for from Rufus Wainwright: A delicate and delicious feast of morose heartbreak, drunken wisdom, and romantic self-destruction not heard since his debut. Throughout the album, Wainwright’s strength of writing Broadway musicals (“14th Street”) and broken serenades (“Want”) is only amplified by a sense of confidence: Vibes of a young Rimbaud coming to terms with mortality, self-esteem, and debauchery-in-non-lethal-doses (the latter apparently a new idea to the man). All of which, in turn, makes Wainwright sound more masterful than ever at the ripe ol’ age of 29. Incredible, really, that no one else in the music world today has been able to embody equal parts Scott Joplin, Chopin, and Oscar Wilde.
About two years ago, you cancelled the last round of touring for Poses “due to sickness.” Was it really sickness or…
That was last October, when I checked myself into rehab and started writing. There’s a section (of the album) where I’m at the height of my delusion, a section where I realized I had to do something (to get better), the “accident” (a near overdose that the inspired “Go or Go Ahead”), and a section where I triumphantly return (after recovering).
You’ve stated that you were able to overcome your previously overpowering desire to be famous during the writing of the Want albums. That, whereas you used to make it very clear in interviews that you’d much rather be “mainstream” famous than a critics’ darling, you no longer feel as ambitious now. Is that true?
Going through what I did, I realized that my own personal happiness and health has nothing to do with my career. (chuckles) Like any person alive, you have to really work at being a “full” human being. I’m just coming to realize that the level of fame I have – what has been bestowed upon me – and the fact that I didn’t become too famous too fast, has been a real blessing in disguise. It has been a very gradual build up. I’m more the tortoise than the hare. If I was really smart, I wouldn’t want it more than what it is right now. But, of course, the minute I accept that and learn to cherish it, it’s all gonna be pulled out from under me and (deadpans) I’m gonna be a massively famous. The torment never ends! (back to normal) But I’m very very happy that I’m not extremely famous.
And you can always look up to people like Tom Waits, who – although ignored at the beginning of his career – became both famous and critically acclaimed with time.
I’ll settle for “icon” at some point. For the moment, I’ll settle for happiness… or “settle for love.” (laughs)
How far are you from happiness and love?
Uh… I think they’ve either been here all along or are constantly going away… For me, it has to do with “tapping into the NOW.” The more you live in the present, the more you realize everything’s okay, and that you have no control over most things. The more you can’t dictate what’s going on in the world, the better off you are. Of course, for me, that’s like asking Napoleon to not put on his hat.
How are you creatively?
I write all the time. There’s a lot to write about right now. Earlier on, I was mainly concerned with my personal life, which I still feed off of, but whereas before I turned my life into an opera, the world has really become an opera. There is evil around, and there are battles going on in terms of maintaining dignity. I feel my writing is needed right now to give people hope… “in this vicious world.”
That’s one of my favorite songs from the album.
Oh, thank you!
I know you wrote a lot of material during the rehabilitation process, and that you wanted the Want series to have an overall theme. Some wonder if you would’ve ever recorded songs like “London,” “Rainbow Crossing,” “Leaving You”…
Some of that stuff – like “Little Sister” – will be on Want Two. I write constantly and I have a back catalog the size of Central Park. (chuckles) At some point, I’d love to get it all out.
Have you ever considered writing about being an openly-homosexual man in the often homophobic world of rock’n’roll?
Not really, no. But I think homosexuality in rock’n’roll is a very interesting subject. It is very much “utilized” – men as sexual objects/powers that are often androgenous or homosexual looking. People like to dress up and pretend. But when you get down to it, there aren’t that many gay people around (in rock’n’roll).
A lot of musicians and actors are afraid to come out, but I’m very happy that I have, because I found other artists – gay and straight – to be really supportive and protective of me. Of anybody who’s bearing their soul, really. Cuz that’s a similarity between artists, whether you’re talking about your sexuality or your ethnicity or your scars; we all can relate to that kind of honesty.
When were you aware of your sexuality?
I was very young… 14. I knew it, but I didn’t come out to my family until I was 18.
Were they supportive?
No, it was a nightmare. Utter nightmare. But they came around eventually. It’s hard, I think… Even the most liberal parents would have a problem as soon as it’s in their own house.
Let’s talk about Want Two… Progress report, please!
We’re finishing it up in January, so it’ll be released in the Spring. It’s basically finished, we just need to mix it. There’s a couple of other things I might want to add to it…
Is it going to be as lushly orchestrated and dark as Want One? Or more raw? Or more “pop?”
Darker, just as densely orchestrated, definitely more operatic. I’m not toning it down for this one. There’ll be plenty of time for that.
I’m definitely a fan of the more embellished/dramatic approach.
Some people get a little scared by that. I mean, there are moments where I’m great with just solo stuff, but right now, this is the period I’m in. I think it’s also smarter to start big and end small.
Who do you see as your peers? Aesthetically, musically, etc., cuz no one really lines up with you in any of those categories…
I’m a big fan of the English: Radiohead, Blur… The Divine Comedy is great: I can see a similarity there. We’re both sort of dandy-ish. Yeah, more of that than the rehashed rock’n’roll thing.
The press have repeatedly said that there really isn’t anybody doing what you’re doing…
There really isn’t! (laughs) But I probably make it that way myself.