Mom died a few days later, and I made my Rufus Wainwright story the focal point of her eulogy.
“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.”
“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.
* * *
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.
* * *