FANS of the Canadian-American musician Rufus Wainwright have gotten to know him over the past two decades for his virtuosity as both a popular singer and a classical composer. By now, he has written hundreds of songs, from “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” (2001), which playfully catalogued his vices as a young man, to “Montauk” (2012), a love letter to husband Jörn Weisbrodt and their daughter Viva Katherine Wainwright Cohen (the granddaughter of Leonard Cohen).
In 1998, Rolling Stone crowned him “Best New Artist,” and eight years later he earned a Grammy nomination for the sold-out re-creation of Judy at Carnegie Hall, which Judy Garland had performed in that same space 45 years earlier. Even if you haven’t followed his career, you probably know his signature sound from the movies. His cover of Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (used in 2001’s Shrek) reignited the song’s popularity, and the equally plaintive “The Maker’s Make” made its way onto the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack in 2006.
After his mother’s death in 2010, he helped to create the Kate McGarrigle Foundation, a public charity dedicated to combatting sarcoma (a rare cancer that took the folksinger’s life), and he is reportedly working on another studio album and a return to pop music. On the heels of his first opera, 2015’s Prima Donna, his second opera, Hadrian, will make its debut this fall at the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto.
This interview was conducted by email exchange in early July.
Colin Carman: In an email announcement that you were touring and revisiting “Poses” (released in 2001), you wrote: “A lot of the questions I was asking twenty years ago still haunt me today, though I may seem much more confident.” What are those questions?
Rufus Wainwright: What genre of music do I sing? Do I want to be famous? Do I want to be rich? Do I want to find true love? Do I want to just be, you know, a Peter Pan character? All things that human beings ponder all the time.
Colin Carman, PhD, is the author of the forthcoming bookThe Radical Ecology of the Shelleys (Routledge).