Rufus Wainwright sings as the spirit moves him

by Len Righi

The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) (MCT)

7 January 2008


Last fall, Rufus Wainwright had the good fortune to indulge in what he calls a 2 ½-month European “spree” to promote his latest projects - a well-received studio album, “Release the Stars,” and the two-CD set, “Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall,” an ambitious live re-creation of the classic 1961 Judy Garland recording.

Now, however, the time has come for the pop singer-songwriter-pianist to pay the piper.

Just hours before ending the European tour he characterizes as “really exciting, really grandiose and really expensive,” Wainwright acknowledges as much during a brief interview. “After some time off, I’m going to play a series of solo gigs to make up the difference.”

Hours before his final European show in Lille, France, Wainwright is upbeat when he says, “I’m feeling very patriotic right now. I can’t wait until I get home to New York City.”

As for the difference in performing with a backing group and by himself, Wainwright says, “The band is very set in terms of what we play. Every night, we usually do the same songs, same dance numbers, same costume changes, same lighting. It’s the same traveling road show.

“But when I’m solo, I play what I’m feeling that very day, even brand-new songs.”

Given his hectic recording and performing schedule, does Wainwright ever think about kicking back?

“I strongly believe there will be plenty of time for that when I’m a little more wrinkled,” he replies. “I’m 34 now, and this is the time to really make your mark and get down to business with what you want to accomplish. At 34, I’m at the apex of everything. I still look young and yet have a certain amount of experience.”

Wainwright calls his fifth and latest studio CD, “Release the Stars,” “a mature album, accessible but sophisticated.

“Every song is fully realized in what I’m trying to say,” he says of the disc, which came out in May and is dedicated to his mother, Canadian folk singer Kate McGarrigle. “A lot of the tracks have the right ingredients to please the arts crowd and the foot-stompin’ people. It’s sold more than any of my other albums have. It’s gone gold all over Europe and did very well in the U.S.”

The album’s first single, “Going to a Town,” created a stir and was even branded anti-American in some quarters. In the song, which he reportedly wrote in less than an hour while sitting at the piano awaiting a dinner engagement, Wainwright sings that he is “so tired of America” for taking “advantage of a world that loved you well.”

Wainwright, who is both a U.S and Canadian citizen (his father is American folk singer Loudon Wainwright III), says the song is not political, but a “statement of exhaustion. It’s about the general fatigue (brought on by the Iraq war), not against America or trying to rouse people to action.”

Wainwright’s song-for-song re-creation on “Rufus Does Judy,” complete with nearly identical orchestration under the direction of “Wicked’s” Stephen Oremus, “happened of its own volition.

“Long ago, at the beginning of the Iraq war, I got the idea while I was sitting in the car of a friend to do a song cycle at Carnegie Hall. That spark ignited a forest fire. I punctured some kind of bubble, so it could rain Judy.”

Wainwright, who is openly gay, calls Garland “the gay patron saint in terms of what she meant to the gay world historically, and what she experienced - show-biz martyrdom, death by glamor.”

Just before the conversation ends, Wainwright says that while he performs a couple of “Rufus Does Judy” songs with his band, he won’t be playing any at his solo concerts. “I’ll be more in my own Rufus territory,” he says. “A lot of it depends on how I feel that night, whether I’m in a happy mood, or a dark romantic mood - whatever the stars demand.

“Right now, I’ve got to get ready to conquer France.”

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