Rufus Wainwright - Biography
By Marcus Kagler
Whether he’s dolled up as Judy Garland, anointing himself the gay messiah, rocking lederhosen, or crafting illustrious pop-operas Rufus Wainwright is the embodiment of his own peculiar brand of eclecticism. Brimming with literate wit, folk ballads, and pop songs alike the man possesses an uncanny ability to stamp any genre of music with unfettered splendor whether he’s singing about his cell phone or gay rights.
In a world of zealot’s gone crazy, Rufus Wainwright serves as a brave, beautiful voice of reason. He’s adored by millions of fans for speaking candidly about his past drug addictions, coming out of the closet, railing against the war on terror, and defending gay rights throughout the world. But its Wainwright’s dramatic (some say operatic) music that keeps his fans coming back for more time and time again.
Rufus Wainwright was born in Rhinebeck, New York on July 22, 1973 to folk music legends Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle. His parents divorced when he was a young child and Wainwright was raised by his mother in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He began studying piano at the age of six and by the time he was thirteen Wainwright was touring with his mother’s folk group The McGarrigle Sisters and Family featuring his mother, Aunt Anna, and older sister Martha. In 1989 Wainwright performed his original song, “I’m A-Runnin’” for the Canadian children’s film Tommy Tricker and the Stamp Traveller, for which he received Genie and Juno Award nominations for Most Promising Male Vocalist of the Year. While still a teenager, Wainwright came out as gay although he claims his sexuality was never really discussed with his parents. Around this time he also developed an enduring interested in opera and the works of Judy Garland and Edith Piaf.
After high school Wainwright spent a short stint studying classical music and piano at McGill and Concordia Universities but soon dropped out to begin his own musical career. After the success of a popular weekly residency at the Café Sarajevo in Montreal, he cut a few demo tapes under the guidance of producer Pierre Marchand, and was soon signed to the Dreamworks label. In late 1996 Wainwright moved to Los Angeles to record his debut full length, Rufus Wainwright (1998-Dreamworks). Filled with baroque pop songs and languid operatic ballads the album garnered rave reviews from critics and the pop single, “April Fool” received steady buzz video rotation on MTV. Wainwright increased his visibility later that year when he was seen singing the standard, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” in a holiday season Gap commercial. After a national headlining tour throughout the spring of 1999, Wainwright retired to the infamous Chelsea hotel and wrote the majority of his follow up full length, Poses (2001-Dreamworks). Stylistically, the album was a significant departure from his melancholic operatic works into more mainstream pop lead by the single, “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk”. Although the album failed to make significant waves in the charts, Wainwright’s fan base had grown remarkably and he embarked on a successful world tour.
By 2003 life on the road and the increasing temptations of fame took their toll on Wainwright’s health when he quickly fell into the trappings of drug addiction. After a debauched week long party where he continually saw haunting hallucinations of his father, Wainwright checked into a rehabilitation clinic at the behest of his friend Elton John. Despite his drug addiction Wainwright had spent the better part of two years recording his double disc opus Want. However his label elected to release the album as two separate records. Want One (2003-Dreamworks) was critically lauded as a return to his operatic roots. Want Two (2004-Dreamworks) was released almost a year later also to rave reviews and included a bonus DVD live performance at the famous Fillmore in San Francisco. By this time Wainwright had acquired a legion of devout fans in and out of the gay community, and began to perform at gay rights concerts and functions. On his world tour for Want Two, Wainwright sold his infamous “Gay Messiah” concert T-Shirts named after a popular song on the album.
Wainwright’s next move came out of left field but not for those who knew of his obsession with Judy Garland. In June of 2006, he performed Judy Garland’s classic 1961 live album, Judy at Carnegie Hall (Capitol) for two sold performances in the same venue. The experience was so overwhelming Wainwright vowed to take the show on the road once he completed his next studio album. He retreated to Berlin, Germany to self produce his fifth full length, Release the Stars (2007-Geffen). Using Europe’s rich artistic history for a muse, the album combined Wainwright’s tastes for classical and pop music in equal measure. First single, “Going to Town” was a scathing protest song against the anti-gay hysteria and war mongering of conservative America.
In the summer of 2007, Wainwright took his Rufus! Rufus! Rufus! Does Judy! Judy! Judy! show on a world wide tour. A CD and DVD of the Judy Garland covers are due for release in December of 2007. Wainwright has also announced plans to write his first opera titled Prima Dona. Commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, Wainwright has stated the opera is about a day in the life on an opera singer and he is currently writing the libretto in French.