Ru­fus Wain­right

Home­grown hero on why queer men love their di­vas

NOW Magazine - Pride - - Front Page - By GLENN SUMI glenns@now­toronto.com | @glennsumi

RU­FUS DOES JUDY per­formed by Ru­fus Wain­wright, with con­duc­tor Stephen Ore­mus. Pre­sented by Lu­mi­nato at the Hearn (440 Un­win). Thursday-Fri­day (June 23-24) at 8 pm. From $39. lu­mi­natofes­ti­val.com.

Ru­fus Wain­wright made in­ter­na­tional head­lines a decade ago by hav­ing the co­jones to recre­ate, on­stage, Judy Gar­land’s leg­endary 1961 Carnegie Hall con­cert.

Wain­wright’s show, with the same set list of stan­dards, or­ches­tra­tions and even sim­i­lar flubs, sold out ev­ery­where: Carnegie Hall it­self, L.A.’s Hol­ly­wood Bowl, Lon­don’s Pal­la­dium, all stops on Gar­land’s tour, with A-lis­ters in each city clam­our­ing to score tick­ets.

Now it’s com­ing to Lu­mi­nato to help close out the fes­ti­val’s 10th year, the fi­nal one un­der the artis­tic di­rec­tor­ship of Wain­wright’s hus­band, Jörn Weis­brodt.

“A lot’s hap­pened to me in 10 years,” says Wain­wright, wear­ing sun­glasses on the shaded Drake Ho­tel pa­tio.

“Whether it’s my mother’s pass­ing, or my mar­riage, or hav­ing a child, hit­ting 40, all of those things,” he says in his dis­tinc­tive nasal voice. “I also felt the songs could stand a re-do. Th­ese are the great Amer­i­can mas­ter­pieces. They are built to re­flect all of life’s ex­pe­ri­ences. I wanted to shine that light on them now.”

Per­form­ing the con­cert in the first place was a po­lit­i­cal act. Liv­ing in L.A. and ap­palled by the U.S. in­va­sion of Iraq, Wain­wright was con­sid­er­ing leav­ing but had to stay for work. He wrote one of his best songs dur­ing this time, the mourn­ful Go­ing To A Town. And he also dis­cov­ered the Judy At Carnegie Hall al­bum.

“It was one of the sav­ing graces that got me through,” he says about the record­ing. “It re­minded me of all the fab­u­lous things that Amer­ica could rep­re­sent. There was this ear­lier age when there was op­ti­mism and bril­liance, and this was a cel­e­bra­tion of it.”

Wain­wright de­scribes the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate as “be­ing on the precipice of de­struc­tion – we haven’t gone over the cliff yet. I’m back­ing Hillary Clin­ton, partly be­cause she’s a great can­di­date, but also be­cause the al­ter­na­tive, if Trump wins, is re­ally the apoca­lypse.”

The con­cert is be­ing co-spon­sored by Pride and is a re­minder that Gar­land’s death – and the po­lice in­ter­ven­tion around me­mo­ri­als and sub­se­quent ri­ots – helped spark the North Amer­i­can Pride move­ment.

Wain­wright says he doesn’t want to shove Gar­land’s sig­nif­i­cance down younger peo­ple’s throats. He ac­knowl­edges that some peo­ple who will be com­ing to his show might not even know any­thing about her apart from The Wizard Of Oz.

“A lot of young gay peo­ple com­ing out now have a cer­tain sense of en­ti­tle­ment, an ‘I’m great be­cause I’m gay’ feel­ing,” he says. “Which is fine. But when I was grow­ing up, you had to seek out the rea­son why you were great, learn about all th­ese in­cred­i­ble fig­ures from the past. You had to do re­search. I hope do­ing the show this time re­minds a younger gen­er­a­tion that there was a bat­tle waged and won and that it’s im­por­tant to give that a bit of re­spect.”

Oddly enough, even though he grew up in what would seem an ashram of ac­cep­tance and al­ter­na­tive views – his mother was the late Kate McGar­rigle, his father Loudon Wain­wright III, both folk icons – his par­ents were up­set when he came out.

“I re­serve the right to con­demn my par­ents for their mis­han­dling of my com­ing out,” he says, laugh­ing. “But you have to put it in con­text. I was 14 years old, and it was smack in the mid­dle of the AIDS epi­demic, 1987. To be gay at that point was ba­si­cally a death sen­tence. I un­der­stand their hor­ror. I for­gave them. It wasn’t well han­dled. And I had to fend for my­self in a lot of ways.”

Af­ter Lu­mi­nato wraps, he and Weis­brodt will be pack­ing up their rented An­nex home and mov­ing back to the U.S. to spend their time be­tween L. A., where his daugh­ter, Viva, is be­ing raised by her mother, Lorca Co­hen, and New York – “bi­coastal, like all civ­i­lized peo­ple in the world,” he quips.

But he’ll still be mak­ing pe­ri­odic trips to Toronto to work on Hadrian, his Cana­dian Opera Com­pany com­mis­sion with play­wright Daniel MacIvor, which is sched­uled for 2018. His de­but opera, Prima Donna, played Lu­mi­nato sev­eral years ago and got mixed no­tices.

Prima Donna. Gar­land. When I ask him why so many gay men wor­ship di­vas, he de­liv­ers a husky laugh wor­thy of Bette Davis.

“It’s a fig­ure that they can be en­am­oured of, and yet they don’t have to get it up,” he says. “There’s an amorous adu­la­tion that’s de­void of sex. So many gay men’s lives re­volve around sex, and that’s a fact of life. Maybe th­ese fig­ures al­low you to put sex on the back burner and just en­joy tal­ent.”

“I have the right to con­demn my par­ents for mis­han­dling my com­ing out. But I was 14 and it was right in the mid­dle of the AIDS epi­demic.”

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