Rufus Wainwright, 10.10.04
The set was dark and understated. The opening band was abysmal, unoriginal, (to quote myself) “weenie whiny white boy rock”. They warranted rolling eyes and inappropriate (occasionally a little too loud) comments and sniggers from myself and my fellow concertgoers. I promptly forgot their name, so I can’t even warn others to avoid them. Needless to say, by the time Rufus appeared on stage, clothed in rainbow striped pants and a sparkly green shirt, I was fully prepared to serve in the chorus of the musical come-to-life that always goes on in my head when I hear his music. I’d imagined a theater full of people on their feet, swaying back and forth and holding hands in brightly colored sweeping lights, singing along loudly to “14th Street” - “Why’d you have to break all my heart/Couldn’t you have saved a little bit of it/Why’d you have to break all my heart/Couldn’t you have saved a minor part of it/I could have clipped and saved and planted it in the garden/Damn you, guess I’ll have to get a new one” - or “Oh What a World” - “Why am I always on a plane or a fast train/Oh what a world my parents gave me/Always travelin’ but not in love/Still I think I’m doin’ fine/Wouldn’t it be a lovely headline?/Life is beautiful on the New York Times” - or “April Fools” - “And you will believe in love and all that it’s supposed to be/But just until the fish starts to smell and you’re struck down by a hammer”. Sadly these songs didn’t make the play list (though they did make the sing list for the walk home). I can’t hide my disappointment at not having heard these favorites. Still, there were moments in which I was absolutely positive that my heart was going to swell to be too big for my body, or overflow with whatever that hormone is that makes you unquestionably aware of the blood flowing through your veins. There are relatively few artists whose music is so amazingly complete lyrically and compositionally that pure emotion is created and transferred through the ears, minus the intimacy of a gaze or touch. Love, loss, disappointment, joy, hope, confusion, resolve, resilience - the kind of exhilaration that’s extraordinary in every day life - the kind of drama you have to create with other people to escape the boredom of a 9 to 5 job and the inanity of it all. Captured, signed, sealed & delivered by Rufus Wainwright, without brightly colored lights or audience participation.
It’s a personal experience, of course. I can remember times in my life when Jordan Knight of New Kids on the Block sang only for me, or when it seemed as though Green Day had somehow infiltrated my 14-year-old life and written it down. How times change. I’ll admit to owning the New Kids’ Greatest Hits album and being unwilling to sacrifice my Green Day collection to the Cheapo visits that occasionally subsidize particularly stubborn bouts of poverty. Music collections are not unlike photo albums to hardcore collectors. As much as I’d love to burn that one family photo of me with scraggly badly-dyed black hair and braces, I can’t help but hang onto it. If there were never any rough spots, there would be no pride in having changed and grown, no matter how slowly and incrementally. A lot of those old pop CDs of mine represent a simpler time (though, let’s face it - Green Day’s pretty much got your 20s pop sensibilities covered, too) - before I had any inkling of a basis of comparison for the things Rufus Wainwright writes about. There’s an undeniable sense of melancholy involved in losing some of that innocence, and he captures that, too. This seemingly normal, hilariously self-deprecating creature in rainbow striped pants relates. Rather than become mired down, he creates, recognizes that these are the things that make life what it is - difficult, heartbreaking, imperfect, beautiful. In the act of creating, he not only touches others in becoming part of the soundtrack of their lives, he enriches it by providing an outlet what others are ill-equipped to characterize. It’s what makes true artists so impressive. It’s why you can never really fully devote yourself to anyone whose music or other tastes you utterly detest. It’s what inspires me to write as much of it down as possible.
“Go, or go ahead.”