Rufus Wainwright will always hold a very special place in my heart. Melody introduced me to him right after we met in 1999. I am used to being the one with the hot album in my pocket so I was pleasantly shocked to hear undeniable genius issue forth. In her Ford Taurus on the way to the Raleigh/Durham International airport, we listened to impossibly romantic and simultaneously vastly sad song after song after song.
In another post I'll articulate why this perfectly matched what was going on between Melody and I, but suffice it to say Rufus became the soundtrack to my life. He influenced my songs, the way I sang, the way I wrote lyrics, the way I listened.
I've been lucky enough to see him perform three times in wildly different settings.
Rufus # 1: CBGB's
Which is now closed. I don't remember how I heard about it but an AIDS benefit was happening at CBGB's. All sorts of queer bands were going to try to put up with the filth that was CBGB's. I know everyone is all nostalgic about CBGB's but to my mind it had long outlived its storied past. Clean the fucking bathroom already. David Byrne is not coming back to pick up his shit.
A boatload of horrible music happens and then a grand piano is wheeled out onto the stage. It looks like a tophat on a hobo.
Rufus shrugs his way onto the stage wearing what looks like a chain mail shirt and girl jeans. He sits at the piano and is visibly aghast. This piano pains him, like fringe on a suit jacket. But it is for a good cause so he summons his will and begins to play.
No frills, no accompaniment. He is staggering. He plays a new song 'Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk' which I take as some kind of omen because I'd very recently had a meltdown after spilling some while smoking the other. He does a few of the songs from his first album, which is by now a classic in my mind, as familiar as anything in my collection.
He grimaces at the noises the piano makes while he plays, small irregularities of sound that we can't hear but are unbearable to him. He is clearly thrown by the force of adulation rushing at him from the crowd. He seems to almost resent their love, like the aging high school jock who blows up at his friends when they start reliving the big play.
Overall it is a night of contrasts; the cesspool of CBGB's put against the refinement of Rufus' music; the pull of the masses vs. the lone singular voice of their hero.
Rufus # 2: With Tori
By now Melody has moved to NYC and we can finally openly enjoy Rufus, not weep in private to him separately.
He is opening for Tori Amos at The Beacon Theater. For Melody, seeing Tori Amos for the first time is akin to me seeing The Replacements for the first time. Add Rufus and 9/11 to the mix and it became a Holy Grail kind of deal.
Rufus seems to have relaxed into the spotlight a bit. He is much more at ease which could also have something to do with the gorgeous piano he gets to play. He also has a guitar on stage. At one point in his set he is wearing a Future Farmers of America hat and joking about how odd that is. The whole show has an intense feel because it is October 2001 and every event in NYC has an extra edge.
Maybe the size of the room relaxes him, makes him feel less under a microscope. Maybe he hated the dirt at CBGB's. Maybe he just got happier. Maybe 9/11 had opened him up in a new way. He later wrote about it in an amazing song called 11:11 where he notes that 'everything really does happen in Manhattan.'
I don't know what had changed, but the chip on Rufus' shoulder was gone. Let's just say that Tori had a tough act to follow.
Rufus # 3: Gayboys at the Hollywood Bowl
When I heard that Rufus was bringing his Judy Garland Carnegie Hall Tribute show to the Hollywood Bowl, I knew I had to take Melody. Her love of Tori and Rufus pales in comparison to her Wizard of Oz fascination. I know, I know, all girls love the Wizard of Oz, but Melody in her usual fashion always took it a step further.
She insisted on dressing up as Dorothy to go to the supermarket as a child. She actually has red slippers. Now I don't want to paint her as one of those annoying kooks who latch onto something and use it to define themselves. The very fact that she introduced me to Rufus Wainwright should be a testament to her taste and wisdom.
But this is a girl who didn't dream of being a princess, she dreamt of being Dorothy. So there was no way we were going to miss Rufus singing Judy Garland at The Hollywood Bowl. In addition, Melody was still relatively new to LA and hadn't been to the Bowl yet. I love killing many birds with one stone so I snapped up tickets.
Let me set the scene for you. A gorgeous Los Angeles night. An outdoor arena. A modern gay icon recreating THE performance of THE gay icon of all time.
There were picnic baskets, monogrammed. Watercress and cucumber sandwiches. Chardonnay. Bowties. Cologne. Not a single unironed shirt. Silk socks. Lisps. Purely cosmetic eyeglasses. Cufflinks. Tasteful pleats. Decorative sliced fruit laid out on checkered tablecloths. Squeal after squeal in response to Melody's ruby red slippers.
I was an interloper. An outsider. Oh, the looks I got! If it hadn't been for Melody's shoes I would have been ostracized completely. As it was my presence was merely puzzling, as if I were a machine shop gearhead at a Latin club meeting.
Rufus didn't disappoint them. The tribute element of the show allowed them to fantasize right along with him. They were Judy. They were playing The Hollywood Bowl. They were the apex of culture and refinement.
I fought the urge to smell my armpit and grunt.
Instead I sang along to 'Chatanooga Choo Choo' and took a picture on my cell phone of The Bowl lit up like a rainbow. I was the luckiest one of all. I got to take Dorothy no place like home.