Rufus Wainwright. Photo by David Gehr. Courtesy of Dreamworks Records.
While others of Rufus Wainwright’s generation combine old beats with the help of new technology, this 23-year-old singer/songwriter does the same, only with a grand piano. “My favorite thing to do when I was a little kid was medleys,” says American-born, Canadian-raised Rufus. “I would do a medley of Eine kleine Nachtmusik, turn it into the Chariots of Firetheme, into some Rossini, and then into Elvis. I’d take hours to figure it out.”
Okay, sounds a little nerdy. But the complex, hummable songs Rufus blends out of notes culled from his love of standards (especially Porter and Gershwin), bits of classical compositions, music hall ditties, and opera arias are thoroughly modern—evocative, perhaps, of a young Elton John, except in this case all the love songs are unabashedly to men, and the whole quaint-but-sophisticated shebang is accompanied by a goofy-sweet, searingly honest stage patter. Whether Rufus’s stage-side comfort is nature or nurture is up for debate: the son of two ’70s singing/songwriting icons, Loudon Wainwright III and McGarrigle sister Kate, Rufus grew up guesting at his mother’s shows; at 16, he and his younger sister and their two cousins toured the folk circuit with their mother and aunt as a sort of McGarrigle Family Singers. One thing you won’t hear much of in Rufus’s music, however, is that folk heritage, against which Rufus admits a “kind of rebellion”: “I love folk music. I really do. But it was pounded into me.” The pounding didn’t appear to leave too deep a bruise however. How many young male artists pin their success on a tender paen to their mother (his bittersweet “Beauty Mark”)?