My Rufus Wainwright Story

Kurt Wildermuth

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.”

“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.

* * *

Next Page

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.