Rufus Wainwright and the Ruby Slippers – The Irish Times


“It’s beautiful here; early spring.” Rufus Wainwright is on the road, traveling by car from Toronto, on his way to play a show in Ottawa. Then he will continue to Montreal to visit the Canadian side of his family. Son of folk icons Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III, and brother of fellow songwriter and actress Martha, Wainwright has had the kind of career musicians dream of. With enough early success under his belt – his self-titled debut album knocked him out of the Montreal club circuit and into every “best new artist” list imaginable – he was only given the freedom to pursue side projects. relatively niche.

One was a studio album adaptation of Shakespeare’s nine sonnets; 2016’s Take All My Loves featured guests like Florence Welch, Carrie Fisher, Helena Bonham Carter and her sister Martha. He also composed the music for a few operas; 2009’s Prima Donna was a French-language production, while 2018’s Hadrian was based on the life of a Roman emperor. He also spent the lockdown working on a musical (which he can’t talk about, but keep an eye out for an announcement). Then there’s his longtime obsession with movie icon Judy Garland. “I’m part of the last generation that really grew up around television as a monumental machine for occasions,” he says, with the same talent for finding the right word in conversation as he does in songwriting. “Whenever The Wizard of Oz was on TV, it was a big deal. It was an annual event, around Easter, and the whole family would get together to watch. Later, when I started to going out, being naughty, staying up late… the more “fucked up” Judy Garland philosophy kicked in. And then when I had to survive some of those darker times, “warrior Judy” came along It has many facets, and that’s why we love it.

In 2007 Wainwright performed Rufus Does Judy, a tribute to the star’s songs, life and work, at Carnegie Hall. This week, he is releasing a work recorded at Capitol Studios to celebrate his 100th anniversary: ​​”I recorded [the album] in the studio she worked in – and I used her microphone. It was a spiritual tribute to Judy, and I really felt her presence in the room as I immersed myself in the music. So she’s back!

“inauthentic” people

A few years ago, Wainwright’s husband, Jörn, became obsessed with the music of Joni Mitchell. The song Damsel in Distress, on Wainwright’s 2020 album Unfollow the Rules, is in part a tribute to Joni’s style. “Joni was banned in our house growing up,” he says, referring to his mother’s ban on “inauthentic” folk music at home. “I think there were two reasons; one was understandable and the other was irrational. The most understandable was that my mother was a folk music purist. She was part of this group of traditional musicians – there are a lot of them in Ireland! — who are just really hardcore at what they consider folk songwriting. Joni Mitchell was not part of this philosophy, for her.

“Coming to Joni’s songs many years later – I couldn’t have done that until after Kate died. It’s the truth. If my mother had been alive, I wouldn’t have been able to dive in Joni-land. It wouldn’t have been allowed. »

Perhaps witnessing that kind of jealousy in his mother inspired him to find nothing but good graces with his fellow musicians? No chance, he laughs. In fact, it wasn’t until he had an evening with Jeff Buckley in 1997 that he realized the extent of his own jealousy. “He was getting all the gigs I wanted, all the adulation. I despised him a lot when he sang. Then, of course, I met him and we had a lovely evening together, hanging out, and I was like, ‘oh wow, he’s a lovely guy. Why am I so stupid and jealous?’. Then, sadly, he passed away a month later. It was a moment when I felt that my jealousy wasn’t worth it, that it was quite toxic. I suffered from it from time to time. I think all artists do.

Then there’s what he calls a “funny gay jealousy” toward his friend Jake Shears, singer of the Scissor Sisters. “I was always secretly jealous of his pop success when it happened, especially in the UK. And he’s so cute and all the gay people loved him! So I had a little jealousy thing with him which we joke, because, well, he’s a little jealous of me too. That’s a good thing; when you can recognize him and play with him.

With a catalog like Wainwright’s, some artists might get tired of playing the hits. Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk, a song written about succumbing to the pangs of addiction, might be hard to come back to after a decade of sobriety, but it remains a mainstay of his live shows. “If anything [difficult periods are] when some of the best songs are coming. When, during a painful experience, you come to something really solid and really meaningful because it is so necessary at that moment. I don’t have a problem seeing those periods again because I’m fine now. If I had a lot of regrets or got into trouble in other ways, that would be different, but I’ve done well over the years to pull myself together,” he laughs. “Both of my parents were singer-songwriters, and I’ve witnessed that gratitude from them for having certain songs that stand the test of time. Certain songs they can pull out of a hat for, I guess, placating an audience. Or, how to build an arsenal over the years that you can feel confident about. Writing the “perfect song” is always important to him, way more than adapting to current trends. Unfollow 2020’s The Rules was a collection of songs he had collected while working on other projects, but had to be delayed due to limitations on pressing physical copies.”[The physical format] was particularly important with this album. Unfollow the Rules is something of a bookend for hopefully the first of many parts of my career. It’s a bit like the mirror of my first album, which I made in LA with session musicians. It has a kind of vinyl feel, which connects deeply with a physical copy. I don’t really do Spotify myself, only because I don’t understand how it works. It’s probably a button I don’t push… But, on the resurgence of vinyl, we fell in love with it in our household. We love buying records. I guess we become our parents.

Rufus Wainwright performs at the National Concert Hall on July 6


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