Thursday, January 22, 2009

Elvis Does Rufus on "Spectacle"

I really want to love Rufus Wainwright. I mean, many years ago I celebrated his arrival in this world by singing along to compositions that his father Loudon had written marking the event: "Rufus Is a ##**!!# Man" and "Dilated to Meet You."

After watching Rufus's interview with Elvis Costello on the Sundance Channel, I am fairly certainly that, as a middle-schooler might say, I am stuck in "like" and will never get to "love."

My main reservation about Rufus is his voice. To my ears, it's just an outright whine. Oh, it's a highly individualized cry because he certainly can sustain it--a trait that I suspect causes many people to say, "Wow, what a VOICE!" When Rufus launches into his pain-stricken wail, I completely lose the lyric that I've been tracking.

Which is too bad, because I like what I manage to take in lyrically quite a bit. The melodies that he writes are appealing too. Perhaps Rufus is a songwriter who will only flourish when others cover his songs. Please make way for him in line Jimmy Webb!

In the interview, Rufus and Costello joke about the allure of the demimonde--our subject admits that he has delved whole-heartedly in drugs and alcohol and, because of his willingness to take risks that we common people are unwilling to do, has emerged with "art" that sheds light on an inner darkness that we have been unable to articulate. (Yes, I was probably rolling my eyes at this juncture!)

Rufus was smarter when he spoke of the arc of his career, and in particular, the sophmore jinx that curses so many musicians. He said that second album has to be strong, and stand as its own statement.

I couldn't help but think of his father at this point. Costello, being a contemporary of Loudon's and a fan, had presented a shot of the cover of Loudon Wainwright's maiden effort and had, in fact, opened the show with a LOUDON song from his sophomore effort called "New Paint."

Yikes! Just like Loudon had Daddy issues with his father, an well-regarded editor at Life Magazine, so Rufus is reminded of his father's notoriety and feels its weight. More famous Rufus might be at this moment, but as highly regarded as Dad? He handled discussion of his father gracefully, though, acknowledging his unique talent and the personal sacrifice that had to be made to realize it.

I wonder if Loudon could speak as generously about his son. Dad didn't appear on the show, but later in the hour mother Kate McGarrigle appeared. At first, Kate appeared to be the living embodiment of what had been said earlier of folk music--that it was dour and terribly serious. I mean, Kate looked haggard as she trudged on stage with her banjo and joined Rufus and Elvis for the traditional song "Willie Moore."

I objected to this characterization of folk music, and can only think that it was done to set up this song. My goodness, folk has many sweet, joyous songs in addition to these numbers in which a young maiden is done wrong by her fella and gets offed! After watching the show, I slid open the doors leading to our backyard, and in the morning stillness I heard a bird calling and thought, "Yeah, haven't they heard of a song like 'The Cuckoo': Oh the cuckoo/she's a pretty bird/she sings as she flies..." Now that's a downright pretty song—sweetly sad, I grant you, but no one drowns in a river!"

Anyway, after "Willie Moore" concluded, Kate lit up with a full smile and the hour concluded. I found myself thinking that perhaps I'd give Rufus another try. Many of the artists that I love best were the most difficult to love initially. I mean, I'm sure this is the way many people dealt with Loudon—his first albums were sung in a shrilly high voice too, but eventually his vocal register dropped and listening to his recorded work became more palatable.

If you haven't tuned into "Spectacle" yet, I highly recommend it. The show airs initially on Wednesday on the Sundance Channel.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, Jeff,
Enjoyed reading this, and even tho' you say you like Rufus, it sounds like a lukewarm like. i bet you are giving him the ol' 'if he's Loudon' son he can't be all bad.' But I contend that he is, and perhaps that's why his dad is absent at his performances. of course, some of it might be the shame of the homosexual son. Who knows?
i do love Spectacle, especially the James Taylor session.
Keep writin' and readin' and watchin'