In the past 14 years, Rufus Wainwright has released 10 albums, battled addiction, fought against gay marriage, fought for gay marriage, lost his mother to cancer, and welcomed the birth of a daughter. His latest album, Out of the Game, puts him back in it — only this time the game is different, and so is he.
Speaking about Out of the Game, you said that you wanted to make “something to serenade us through these very, very troubling times.” What do you find troubling about these times, and are you going through personal troubles?
I’m not going through troubling times at the moment, but I’ve had a rough couple years dealing with the death of my mother. I have a boyfriend and a healthy, beautiful daughter, so I’m doing okay.
I think it’s more that I live in Canada and the US. In Canada, the Harper government is similar to the Bush administration, which isn’t so good for us gays. And on the American side, dealing with the rightwing, the Tea Party and a lot of these [GOP] candidates, like Romney and Santorum, it’s just gotten so whacked out that it’s comical.
There’s a distinctively ‘70s vibe to the songs, which I think is done well, possibly because you’re a child of the ’70s. I’m wondering if the death of your mother and birth of your daughter is a part of why you decided to throw back to that era? Does it signify a sort of rebirth for you?
It’s very interesting that you mention that; I hadn’t thought of it in those terms. One of the most important things that I’ve learned is that the mother gives birth to you twice — once when you’re born and once when she dies. I think on this album, especially in my voice, there’s a more mature sound. I hate to use the word, but it sounds more “manly” because I’ve had to grow up a little more and get a little tougher. I no longer have the love and attention that my mother gave me, that only a mother can give. So, yeah, it is a rebirth of sorts.
Was writing the album cathartic with helping you get over that loss?
I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it. It was a lot of fun writing the album, and that’s what I needed more than anything. I needed to be silly and crazy and you know, get back to my favourite things, like flirting with straight men, and with Mark I did that. It was great!
You worked with Helena Bonham Carter in the video for “Out in Games.” Why did you cast her? What was it like working with her?
She’s a dear friend of mine, and I feel like she’s one of the great living legends of cinema. One of the parts I most enjoyed was dressing her up somewhat like Bette Davis. There’s a lot of Bette Davis going on with her clothes, and with her hair up, she looked absolutely stunning. The one downside was having her next to me; I looked pretty ravaged, so I’m a brave man to put her in my video!
Mark Ronson also produced for Amy Winehouse. What do you think of all these drug-related celebrity deaths? What is it about fame that makes people self-destruct?
It’s hard to categorize drug addiction. Whether you’re famous or not, addiction is indiscriminate. Some would say that the added attention of all these media outlets escalates the matter, but they could help too. One could argue that if you see yourself on YouTube or TMZ being a complete idiot, and it’s not shoved under the rug, maybe you can learn something. I don’t know. At the end of the day it’s about the individual, and they have to decide whether they want to live or not. And I don’t think Amy wanted to live anymore.
Why do you think there aren’t more mainstream gay pop artists? Does it stem from insecurity? Sometimes it seems like we’d rather live vicariously through a female blonde pop star than believe that we could be that pop star.
Well, there’s Ricky Martin, and there’s Mika, who’s sort of gay, or at least he acts gay. Yeah, it is a bit weird. I’ve never quite understood it. Let’s hope that it’s just because the ice is melting and creating change. I’ve always been pretty much at the forefront of that issue. I wouldn’t say that I’m responsible for the changes, but I’ve been pushing hard for them for a few years, and it seems to be paying off. I still have a lot of interest in my career and people who want to work with me and respect me. You just have to work for it, and it requires a lot of tenacity, which isn’t exactly a pop virtue. Unless you’re Lady Gaga, of course.
For my complete interview with Rufus, pick up the next issue of Xtra, April 18.