My Rufus Wainwright Story

by Kurt Wildermuth

27 Jan 2010


“I want to write him a fan letter,” my mom said. “But I feel silly. I’m not really a fan-letter writing person. And I’m 75 years old.” She was talking about Rufus Wainwright, the openly gay singer/songwriter and man-about-town, 44 years her junior.

It was a Saturday morning in 2004, and Mom and I were on the phone, catching up as we did once or twice each weekend. She was on Long Island, in the ranch house that she, my dad, and I had moved into when I was 2 years old. I’d lived in that house most of my life, but now, at age 39, I was living in Manhattan, 10 blocks from the apartment my parents were renting when my mom became pregnant with me. I was an only child, unmarried but straight, and a Rufus Wainwright fan.

“You know, Mom, he lives near Gramercy Park. I’ll probably run into him sometime.”

“Oh, sure.”

“No, really! I’m always walking in different parts of town. I have the feeling I’ll bump into him. I’ll give him your message. What would you want to say?”

After a long pause, Mom said, in a little voice: “I just want to tell him how talented he is… and that he should always be inspired.”

“Okay. I’ll tell him.”

We both laughed, but I was serious. I really felt it might happen.

* * *

My parents loved music and inspired my love of it. When I was little, Mom played classical music and records she had bought in Spain in the late ‘50s. Dad sang along with his Broadway cast recordings and Judy Garland albums. (He wasn’t gay, as far as I know, just a fan of theatrical music and singers who could deliver it dynamically.)

Starting in my early teens, I played records all the time. That music, mostly pop/rock, became a soundtrack for the years—and our memories of the years—when I spent a lot of time in my room, reading and writing, thinking and dreaming, feeling weird.

Through the years, I introduced my parents to a lot of music. Rufus Wainwright’s eponymous debut CD (1998), with its intricate and stylistically disparate arrangements, reminded me so much of music that Mom had come to love—especially the Beatles and the Beatles’ friend Harry Nilsson—that in 2002, right after I heard it for the first time, I bought her a copy. Rufus initially struck her as “the saddest guy in the world,” but she couldn’t stop listening. Soon after, I bought her a copy of Rufus’s second CD, Poses (2001), which had been rereleased with a bonus track: Rufus’s cover of the Beatles’ “Across the Universe”, one of Mom’s favorite songs. On the day Rufus’s third CD, Want One (2003), was released, I bought a copy for myself and one for Mom.

Want One’s baroque, theatrical, confessional, psychedelic folk/pop/rock became a huge hit with the Wildermuth family. After its release, my parents made one of their infrequent trips into Manhattan, so the three of us and my then-girlfriend could see Rufus perform at Town Hall. He was perfect that night—tender on the quiet songs, tougher than we expected on the rockers—and we all became even bigger fans.

When record-label trouble delayed Want Two, Rufus released a few songs from it on iTunes as Waiting for a Want (2004). A co-worker burned me two copies, and I mailed one to my mom. That Saturday morning, on the phone, Mom and I were agreeing that Rufus had done his best work yet. She wished she could tell him how much his music meant to her.

Two days later, I met Rufus at Bryant Park.

* * *

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