Family Matters

A big hello to everyone who was kind enough to pop in here from the Rufus Wainwright forum.  The old red and grey board was the first fan forum I ever posted in, somewhere back around 2002-2003.  I still know some of the people who were around then, but it’s amazing how the Rufus fan base has grown in these five years.  For those of you who don’t know me, I am not presenting myself as a critical authority on Rufus, just a die-hard fan with some big ideas.  Plenty of other people can recite more facts about what was recorded where and with what equipment, collect promo schwag (although I do have a coupla things, of course), and that sort of thing.  I’ve attended a total of ten Rufus shows in six different states and I never tire of his voice, much to the chagrin of the less Rufus-tolerant of those around me.  For those of you who just parachuted in, this is Rufus Wainwright month in these parts and you’ll just have to deal with it.

People like Rufus fascinate me not only because they are immensely talented but also because they are the living proof of how impossible it is to ever sort out the relationship between nature and nurture.  It’s old news that both of Rufus’s parents are prominent musicians Loudon Wainwright and Kate McGarrigle, but the question is, to what extent was Rufus genetically predisposed to become a musician and to what extent did Rufus become a musician because he was surrounded by music?  It’s purely a hypothetical question, because in all likelihood it will (and should) remain a mystery.

Speaking of little Rufus (as we were yesterday), one of my favorite stories about Rufus as a child comes from the program notes for his Rufus! Rufus! Rufus! show.  Underneath an image of a baby Rufus looking up quite apprehensively while his mother plays the banjo, Kate tells in her own words how disappointed she felt when he appeared to evince a distaste for the “noisy metallic thumping” of her instrument of choice.  Giving up, she poured herself a large scotch and sat down at the piano to play standards.

Then, a funny thing happened. The boy came over to the woman to console her, and when she looked into his eyes, that look of doubt had disappeared: there was a smile on his face and he said to her, “teach me that, that’s what I want to learn.”

She dried her tears, swallowed her disappointment, turned the banjo to the wall and taking a deep breath said, “OK, we’ll start with the best of the bunch in my opinion. It’s called ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow.’”

Some 20-odd years later, Rufus finally exorcised the spirit of Judy Garland by doing several performances of her famous 1969 Carnegie Hall show in its entirety.  Included was a song he has performed many times, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  As he fulfilled this lifelong dream, his mother brought the story full circle by accompanying her son at the piano, one one occasion doing so at Carnegie Hall where her parents had watched Garland perform in 1969.  The video that follows is from the London Palladium performance, the one featured on the DVD of the show.

Rufus was perhaps not in his very best voice that night, but I chose this clip because the quality is so nice and because it always makes me think of this quote, from Kate in a 2007 Guardian profile of Rufus:

You see the real Rufus when he’s singing, not between songs. He doesn’t show off when he’s singing. He sings with great humility and gets completely within himself and within the song. Then it’s as if he gets out of that person and starts acting like the clothes he’s wearing.”

As a mother, I can see the pride in her eyes as she watches her son take on the massive challenge of this very big song that has followed him through a lifetime.  He may not have followed precisely the route she mapped out for him, but he nonetheless manifests the very best of everything the Wainwrights and McGarrigles had to offer in the way of both genetic and environmental blessings.  Given the tempestuousness of Loudon and Kate’s relationship, I’m grateful they lasted long enough to produce two such talented progeny, and I suspect they are (grateful) as well.

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Loved to read this, thanks so much! And I know exactly what you mean when you write: “As a mother, I can see the pride in her eyes as she watches her son take on the massive challenge of this very big song that has followed him through a lifetime.” I’m a mother too! (of two grown-ups…). And there’s not only pride in Kate’s eyes, the look that Rufus gives her at some point is also priceless. Kate reflects it with so much love that Rufus’ voice actually breaks when he continues the song. It’s so heartbreaking to watch and I cry every time I see it. Thanks for reminding me 🙂

Comment by Sybilla

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