Many of you are probably unfamiliar with singer Rufus Wainwright, but I’ve been in love with him since his self-titled first album (in 1998). He has a gorgeous voice, and he’s one of the better songwriters working today. After he broke through and got some fame and success, Rufus took a bad turn, becoming a crystal meth addict and party boy. After a few years, he got clean and made a triumphant comeback doing a song-by-song tribute to Judy Garland’s iconic performance at Carnegie Hall. He has a new album coming out, so he sat down with Details Magazine to talk about music and everything else. Things sort of went of the rails during the first question, when Rufus declared his love of 50 Cent, and then proceeds to “out” 50. Yikes! Here’s the complete interview, and here are the highlights:
Q: You’ve sung in Latin, you’ve referenced Thomas Mann, and your new album pays tribute to Shakespeare. What’s your beef with the 21st century?
A: I am a little slower in my percolations. I like examining what’s come before. But that said, I’m addicted to Real Housewives of Orange County and Keeping Up With the Kardashians. I get sideswiped by the boobs, the hair, the butts, the jewels, the cars, the bad boys. And I love, love 50 Cent. I think he’s just the sexiest, and a brilliant writer. And I know he’s gay.
Q: What makes you so sure?
A: That cute little voice of his. It’s okay, 50 Cent. Feel free to call me anytime. My boyfriend and I are experts. You can come over for dinner. And maybe dessert.
Q: You were born in America but raised in Montreal. What’s the most Canadian thing about you?
A: My love of maple syrup. I’ve been known to knock back a can over a couple days: A swig here, a swig there, and next thing you know it’s gone. It’s a habit I have to stave off. I don’t want to lose all my teeth. I stopped doing crystal meth—I don’t want to look like an addict.
Q: What’s the best part of a crystal-meth high?
A: There’s nothing enjoyable about it. It gets its hooks in you. I’ve done every kind of drug, and each one has something laudable about it, except meth.
Q: How did your parents—the folk musicians Loudon Wainwright III and (the late) Kate McGarrigle—react when you came out in your teens?
A: I love my folks, and they’ve done a good job coming full circle, but they were terrible: terrified, ill-equipped, confused. They threatened to kick me out of the house. They didn’t want to talk about it and just weren’t there for me. I mean, it was the mid-eighties and AIDS was pervasive, so I can’t blame them totally for their insanity. And they changed a lot over the years.
Q: Musician Stephin Merritt recently advised gay aspiring musicians not to come out. Do you agree?
A: I find that a bit cynical. I don’t have the energy or the emotional repression to bottle that stuff up. It’s true, it’s tougher careerwise if you come out, but this is a human-rights issue, and it’s important to keep putting dents in it. It’s about two teenagers being beheaded for holding hands in Saudi Arabia. It’s bigger than someone’s music career.
Q: Were you afraid when you began cruising bars in Montreal for sex at 14?
A: That was part of the arousal. I kind of sought fear. I was rebelling against parents who were rebellious themselves, which is tough. One could argue it was a bad thing, but on the other hand it’s such an iconic image. A 14-year-old kid at the bar—it’s pretty wild. Talk about the movie rights!
Q: It’s darker than that, though. You were raped.
A: It’s a terrible thing I had to deal with for a long time. But it sort of saved my life, too. I needed a smack upside the head, and after the assault I didn’t have sex for about 10 years. It really straightened out my loose behavior.
Q: The new album is your sparest, most stripped-down release yet. Are you entering a mellower phase?
A: After writing the opera and doing my Judy Garland–cover concert—after I’d dazzled and wowed for a few years—I wanted to just hit ’em with a bullet. Just me and a piano. And it’s in keeping with the times, too. We’re in a recession. Things everywhere are being stripped down. You have to go with that.
Q: You do have a hard-core fanbase. What’s the craziest thing a fan has ever given you?
A: A few years ago, this woman, God bless her, who must have been experiencing a nervous breakdown, abandoned her children and started following our bus. At one point, in order to get backstage, she made us a crate of pumpkin preserves. We didn’t eat any of it. It was probably laced with roofies and Ecstasy.
Do you think 50 Cent will get the “joke”? Rufus is saying he wishes 50 Cent were gay, or that 50 simply beeps on Rufus’s gaydar, perhaps. Would that make 50 Cent mad? I hope not.
Here’s one of my favorite Rufus songs ever – “In My Arms”: