Like a Snake in the Orchard
September 22, 2008, 4:06 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

So far we’ve mostly spent Rufus Wainwright Month talking about Rufus Wainwright, but I’m sure the most pressing question on everyone’s mind has been this: What on earth was going on with me, Dena Tarlin while whatsisname was busy forming an aesthetic and establishing himself as a major recording artist? As we shall establish in what follows, it turns out I was quite busy in the years from 1998 through 2000, switching from one overdemanding social service job to another and trying to have a baby.

I have neither the time nor the inclination to say too much about the former, but as far as the latter goes I first had one pregnancy that failed in the first trimester due to a genetic abnormality, followed by tears and a D & C.  I finally got pregnant with my daughter in 1999, gladly enduring nine months of chronic nausea, carpal tunnel syndrome and hypertension.

Stubborn from the get-go, Stella was a week late and then failed to emerge when they tried to induce labor with Pitocin and then (many hours later) broke my water.  After almost 24 hours of this nonsense, they finally did a C-Section and yanked out a vociferously hungry baby, who has justified the effort and then some.

All of this goes to demonstrate that between 1998 and 2000 I was preoccupied with other things and hence only peripherally aware of this Rufus Wainwright.  Son of Loudon, of whom I was amused to remember once sang “Rufus is a Tit Man,” back in the days when I read Creem Magazine.  Grazing reviews, I registered the right associations.  Rufus had Van Dyke Parks for a producer, was compared to Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake, and was probably just another critic’s darling that would turn out to be overhyped.

Rufus was but one of many artists that I thought might be worth a listen someday, but when I read that he referenced  Albert Maysles and the Beales with “Grey Gardens” in 2001, it was like he’d tapped me on the shoulder and demanded that I pay attention.  Just who was this effete young whippersnapper who dared to appropriate my hard-won cultural points of reference for his ditties?  It was time to find out.

Around March of 2002, I finally bought a copy of Poses through eBay.  Always busy mothering my daughter,  I heard the whole thing thing through in its entirety in my old teenage bedroom in Peoria, where I tuned out the torments of my life as a teenage outcast by escaping into Elton John The Kinks and Patti Smith.  I played those records until they were scratched, and now, in my forties and a mother, I played Poses until I had to replace it.  I just couldn’t get enough of that voice, I “got” the sensibility, found the songs melodic to the point of intoxication, the arrangements complex enough to reward repeat plays, and the whole package simply irresistible.  In short, I was completely infatuated to the point where I could no longer be responsible for my actions.

Having missed the Poses tour when it came through Chicago because I was busy cheering up a nauseous pregnant friend in Denver, I feverishly checked the listings and discovered the last show of the tour was scheduled for May 12 at the Vogue Theater.  The Vogue happened to be some 3 hours and 180 miles away in Indianapolis and I had no idea how I would get there, so of course I bought tickets on the spot.

My spouse had absolutely no interest in driving me to this show, but I have never for one moment regretted that I guilted him into taking me because May 12 happened to be Mother’s Day.  This was my only chance to see Rufus perform with both Teddy Thompson and Martha in his band, and my first-ever glimpse of Rufus happened when I emerged from the powder room just in time to see him sing background for Martha when she opened. He was far too skinny, sang with a cigarette, and was fully the most compelling and magnetic performer I had ever seen.

As much as Rufus may not have been in his most robust health in that phase of his life, he put on a triumphant show and took his shirt off during “Evil Angel.”  Huzzah.  By that point I was well and truly Hooked on Rufus, an unexpected and only slightly embarrassing condition that has occasioned a fair amount of travel and expense and for which I have some quite extraordinary memories to cherish.  Just to give you a taste of the Rufus I fell in love with, here is a 2001 solo performance of “Poses” from the Vicki Gabereau show:

3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

He really does inspire some fierce fan loyalty. One of the bloggers I read is a huge fan of his:

Comment by Bubs

Yes. Recognize it all. Well said!

Comment by Sibi

Bubs is correct: I adore Rufus Wainwright. Got to hug him while he was manning his own merch table once — quite the wee fellow. I hope you caught last year’s tour, when he did some of his Judy Garland numbers during the encore.

Comment by Beth

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