Every Friday, national arts reporter Geoff Edgers hosts the Washington Post’s first Instagram Live show from his barn in Massachusetts. He has interviewed, among others, comedienne Tiffany Haddish, infectious-disease expert Anthony Fauci and journalist Dan Rather.
Recently, Edgers chatted with singer Rufus Wainwright, 47. Here are excerpts from their conversation.
So, we’re in this pandemic, and I look at everything you’re doing – a new album, “Unfollow the Rules,” and an Audible Original. Most famous people, when they do an Audible Original, they just go, “All right, I’ll do a half-hour.” This covers an eight-hour road trip with your therapist. You do daily “Quarantunes” on Instagram, and tonight, you’re doing a benefit for the Georgia Senate candidates. I’m exhausted just reeling this off.
Well, I mean, the Audible Original – it’s not eight hours, don’t worry, it’s three hours. We whittled it down to three parts, three chapters. And it’s a drive from Montreal or Quebec down to New York City with my therapist. We did it in the fall before COVID obviously not knowing that was going to occur. There was this amazing foliage, and it was a perfect time to spill your guts, metaphorically.
And thankfully it’s interspersed with some concerts I did at McCabe’s in Los Angeles, which is a classic folk venue that my parents (musicians Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle) used to play in. That meant a lot to me. … I think one of my coping mechanisms is to remain busy and productive and to give as much as I can. And also make money (laughs).
You’ve had this incredible life. Chapter 1, you deal with your mother, and in the second episode, your father, and you don’t pull any punches. You’re very open about the good and the bad and the challenges. Was that hard?
There was a lot more I could say about my mother that was brutally honest because she passed away 10 years ago, and then certainly about my coming out. I was quite young when that occurred – about 13. Both of my parents got failing grades.
That’s something I feel very comfortable talking about and expressing because there are other kids going through a similar situation, and I can help those younger people who are having trouble in their families. Things have gotten better, but it was a roller coaster. And with my dad, I have to be a little more careful because he’s still with us, and we have a very good relationship.
You describe what happened with your mother very clearly.
When I was about 13, she found a gay magazine in my room. This was in the late ‘80s, when AIDS was decimating the gay male population. So it was a heavy time. I walked in, and she had a Scotch in one hand and a cigarette in the other. And she immediately, without me saying anything, just said, “Rufus, don’t tell me something I don’t want to hear.” And we kind of left it at that. I was like, “No, I’m not gay.” She was like, “OK, good.”
And she actually said she would have thrown me out at that point. Several people were a little shocked at hearing that my mother did that and saddened because they all knew her. She was a wonderful woman, and she was very brilliant. I mean, a real genius. But I feel it’s important to say it anyway because the kids go through that. Look, I ended up making up with her, and we reconciled.
You have a wonderful artistic life and such a musical family. Do you want your 9-year-old daughter to pick up a guitar if she hasn’t already, or sit at a piano?
Well, she has picked up a guitar. I don’t want to push her into oncoming traffic artistically. But on the other hand, it’s deeply embedded in her and her life on both sides of her family. So if I were a betting man, I would bet on it that most likely it will happen.
Let’s talk about this series you’re doing, where you perform your albums at home, one at a time, with a celebrity guest there.
I’ve been doing this for a while, every Friday. It’s called “A Rufus-Retro-Wainwright-Spective.”Jamie Lee Curtis was my first guest. We always have a celebrity guest since we live in Hollywood. I enjoy it. A part of it is also that I’m incredibly grateful and fortunate that I have this catalog to lean on at this time.
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