Wanted: Man

Rufus Wainwright on metrosexuals and Mozart -- and why the latter can't hold a candle to Billy Ocean

Will you still love a man out of time?

The iconic, ironic troubadour Elvis Costello posed the question in song some years ago, and a sobered-up Rufus Wainwright -- stylistic kin to the bespectacled Brit, in art if not sexuality -- is hoping that the answer is still yes.

Still fairly fresh from hanging up the clandestine cleats of a wicked awesome meth addiction, Wainwright, who recently turned 30, credits that three-decade milestone as being pivotal in his maturation and rehabilitation.

If Rufus Wainwright's meth addiction left him looking 
like this, we're going to go do a few bumps right now.
Yeleno Yemchuk
If Rufus Wainwright's meth addiction left him looking like this, we're going to go do a few bumps right now.

"I definitely subscribe to that theory," Wainwright says of the start-shitting-adult-turds-or-get-off-the-pot weight that some people place on turning 30. "I think there is something to the whole Peter Pan trap. You're going to go one way or the other at that age. You either have to grow up or grow down."

Not that Wainwright doesn't value his recently aborted wild streak, which he dubiously described as "gay hell" in an August 2003 interview with the New York Times.

"I think it is important for every artist to go through a dark period in their art and discover stuff and go to that place," says Wainwright. "The trick is to get out of that place and to transcend that whole idea and not become a victim to it. That's really tough. I don't think a lot of artists do that. The music I love -- which is classical music, mostly -- it's all about getting better and more broad as you get older and uglier. Most composers write their best work when they're ancient, and it's very happy and fulfilled."

While the lyrics on his lovely latest offering, Want One, reveal a more ponderous, dynamic Wainwright than those on his prior Poses and Rufus Wainwright, the singer's formula for success remains consistent. Want One, while slightly more ambitious than his previous albums, remains a sonic blueprint for lush, beautiful arrangement, an approach that gets short shrift nowadays in a testosterone-drenched music industry.

"I think there's essentially a breakdown in culture in terms of what sells the most," says Wainwright. "And I think sex has always sold records, but I feel like the scales have really tipped and, yeah, I feel like some kind of warrior in a sea of mud."

To wit: If Brad Pitt's denim-clad arse in Thelma and Louise was, as Melissa Etheridge suggested, hot enough to make a dyed-in-the-wool dyke think twice about her romantic predilections, then Wainwright's seductive, honeycomb vibrato is enough to make a straight man ponder how personal a position he should assume in next year's Pride parade.

Should such introspection yield a surprise answer, the crooner will have you know that he's on the market -- but that metrosexuals need not apply.

"I hope it isn't here to stay," Wainwright says of the metrosexual craze. "I've always found straight men to be more attractive in their slovenliness and dissatisfaction. But it's hard, because there's a lot of product out there that has to get sold."

He ain't too bowled over by Queer Eye, either.

"I've only seen the show once, and I would have to say that it just never really happened to me," says Wainwright. "I didn't go through that."

What Wainwright hasgone through is a dizzying fifteen-round title bout with drug-fueled decadence and an acrimonious, love-hate relationship with his famous folk-singer father, Loudon Wainwright III, an absentee parent after divorcing the junior Wainwright's mother, Canadian pianist Kate McGarrigle. Much has been made of Wainwright addressing this complicated relationship head-on in Want One's finale, "Dinner at Eight." Perhaps the song's inclusion on its writer's most clairvoyant album to date is of some significance, but really, even a cursory analysis of the Loudon-penned "One Man Guy" on Rufus' sophomore release, Poses, would expose the singer as unafraid of singing through his personal pain. That track, a tragic, melancholy tribute to absolute seclusion, is now fertile ground for the extraction of new meaning -- specifically from its title, which can be viewed as a paean to monogamy.

"Monogamy is 'Collect $200' on the Monopoly board for me right now; it's 'Go,'" enthuses Wainwright. "I'm very much into monogamy at this point. I've been thinking of doing a reality TV show at this point called Who Will Marry Rufus Wainwright? It's come down to that."

Of course, Wainwright tinges this comment with his own unique brand of sarcasm, a tone that is again employed when the singer is asked to assess the career of Billy Ocean, the British brother whose "Loverboy," "Caribbean Queen," and "Get Out of My Dreams (Get Into My Car)" once occupied a place in the eye of the Quiet Storm during that oft-derided genre's halcyon era.

"I think he blows Mozart out of the water," Wainwright says of Ocean (given name: Leslie Charles), carefully preventing a faint giggle from advancing to full-throated laughter.

Fortunately for fans who will attend shows on his current tour, which began in Vermont and is currently winding its way across a serpentine swath before a March 5 finale in San Francisco, Wainwright has not lost his sense of humor as a writer. Prime evidence: Want One's "Vibrate," in which Wainwright cites his advanced age as the reason why he can't "dance Britney Spears" -- yet, in the next breath, he utters the very b-boy line, "My phone's on vibrate for you."

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