Elvis Costello and Rufus Wainwright
Rufus Wainwright. Hey, just the name is cool. I’ve always thought it helps to have a cool name if you want to be a rock star. I know, Rufus isn’t a “rock” star, but he is a “rock star”. Anyway, he’d have a leg up just on the strength of the name, but when you add talent, intelligence, looks and that voice – not to mention his pedigree – you have a lot more than a star. (And, after all, any karaoke singer can be a star these days.)
No, Rufus is the real deal, as people in the music business like to say (well, some people anyway). As such, he was always on the list for Spectacle.
He’s made a pretty dramatic impression since breaking out ten or so years ago. Great voice, big personality and, more than anything, an ambitious songwriter blazing his own trail. Referencing pop and opera, and coming from a serious music family (his mother is folk royal Kate McGarrigle, his father the respected and arresting songwriter Loudon Wainwright III)…well, it all (including a personal life that by his own admission has careened out of control at times) clearly shaped this remarkable young man.
Rufus wasn’t an easy guest to prepare for. Not that he was difficult in any way. On the contrary, he gave up a day of his vacation at the beach to come in to the city to do the show – and he was running a fever to boot. No, he couldn’t have been nicer. I just mean his music is so distinctly his that to try to get inside and explore it is difficult. I don’t presume to speak for Elvis, but I can say that he spent a lot of time with Rufus’s music and after not a little consideration, came to the conclusion that he could not cover one of his songs to open the show. So he didn’t. (Elvis being Elvis, he chose a slightly more obtuse but no less satisfying approach to the opening – and then decided to tackle one of Loudon’s songs as well.)
In terms of getting to what makes Rufus tick and more specifically what makes him the musician that he is, once again I think this is where the artist to artist dynamic helps enormously. These conversations and demonstrations/performances unfold each in their own way and in their own time, and inevitably with an artist as complex and eclectic as Rufus, you can just sense that Elvis’s own keen curiosity and his own multifarious career come into play in not only putting the guest at ease, but in opening up some avenues that otherwise almost certainly wouldn’t see the light of day with cameras rolling.
Also, in Rufus’s case there were a few things that he wanted to do and a few others that just kind of happened on the day. His mother showing up with him was a surprise – a pleasant one, but still a surprise. Totally unplanned, so it required a bit of adjusting on the fly, but it resulted in a performance that unquestionably sheds light on where Rufus comes from musically, as well as on the fascinating McGarrigle-Wainwright family dynamic. (Some of us were half-expecting/hoping for Rufus’s very talented sister Martha to show up at the last minute, but alas that didn’t transpire…maybe some other time. She’s also pretty great.)
It all made for what I hope you will agree is a rather interesting show. Rufus is never less than totally honest – in conversation and especially in his performances, flushed with fever and maybe even a little delirium at times, he just puts it all out there.
And that’s really what Spectacle is all about.
Spectacle: Elvis Costello with…