By Isa Jones
By Mary Willson
By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
This important query is posed by Adrienne, a young woman whose essay appears on "Our Matinee Idol," a charming Web page at members. tripod.com/~rufuswainwright -- and she comes up with more than her fair share of answers to it. Although she acknowledges that "every girl has her reason for loving the man in the floral shirt!" Adrienne points to "the amazing voice, the brilliant piano playing! The honest songs that seem to come together so well!" Granted, Wainwright also happens to be an attractive hunk of man meat, but the fact that he's openly gay serves to inoculate Adrienne and the rest of the Rufus Sisterhood's junior branch against the charge that their adoration only runs skin deep. "Put it this way," she writes. "Who can accuse us of being teen-boppers when we're sitting in the front row of a Rufus Wainwright concert? We know, he knows, the whole world knows that he'd be more interested in our BROTHERS than he is us!"
Some performers might react condescendingly to such observations, but not Wainwright, an effervescent personality a few years shy of thirty. Despite the raves he's received for his first two albums for DreamWorks Records (1998's bright, intriguing Rufus Wainwright and this year's first-rate Poses), he seems genuinely flattered by Adrienne's thesis and eagerly springs to the defense of the demographic she represents.
"Honestly, that generation of young girls, especially, has been really brutalized in terms of what's offered them and what's presented to them musically," he says, his words rushing out in mad, enthusiastic bursts. "I'm not saying I'm better than any group or band or this or that. But I just feel that a lot of times, girls' intelligence is really insulted by what people are trying to sell them, and there's bound to be a fallout. And that's what I'm going for." He laughs before adding, "I'm not saying all of them will come to me, but I do think a lot of people think all young girls do is go out and buy merchandise and scream for any cute boy. And I think that's a falsity. They're yearning for knowledge and to hear interesting things, and that should be available to them."
Still, he doesn't want to be exclusively typecast as the alternative to O-Town. "I have that niche, sure, but I have a couple of other niches, too. My music is for anyone who's a little bit disgruntled with life in general and needs a break. My main focus -- and this is due to my love of opera and certain other things -- has a lot to do with escapism and with forgetting about the daily world and other things, and just going into some other planet, you know? And I think a lot of people relate to that these days."
Wainwright certainly does. A native Canadian, he currently lives in New York City and was in uptown Manhattan on September 11 when the World Trade Center, located on the lower half of the island, came tumbling down. In the attack's aftermath, he was filled with a desire to help the thousands of victims; fortunately, an opportunity to lend a hand presented itself almost immediately. He had already committed to appear as part of Come Together, a tribute to the music of John Lennon organized by Yoko Ono, Lennon's widow, and John's son Sean Lennon, with whom Wainwright has been friends since they toured together in the mid-'90s; Sean opened for Rufus in Canada, with the bill's order reversed in the U.S. The show was subsequently reconceived as a WTC-relief fundraiser and broadcast to a national cable audience that undoubtedly found a new poignancy in "Across the Universe," the Lennon-McCartney number performed by Wainwright, Lennon and another celebrity guest, Moby -- particularly the line, "Nothing's gonna change my world."
These words carried with them a sense of discovery for Wainwright; he's young enough to have been unfamiliar with the ditty before Sean suggested they sing it together. But he's certainly well versed about at least a couple of the senior Lennon's contemporaries. Rufus is the son of recent Westword profile subject Loudon Wainwright III ("Family Values," October 18) and Kate McGarrigle, half of the folk-music duo Kate & Anna McGarrigle. Kate spoke to Westword about Rufus shortly after he signed with DreamWorks ("Sister Act," February 27, 1997), noting that she never tried to dissuade him from becoming a musician because "it wouldn't have done any good. He started doing these sorts of creative things when he was two. My favorite anecdote about him goes back to when he applied to go to a music camp, and after he gave me his application, I noticed that he put down his height as 'five feet twelve.' And I thought, 'Should I correct this or just let it go?' But he just doesn't think about those things. He's so totally focused on what he's doing artistically that I don't think he knew there were twelve months in a year until he was 22. But that's one of the reasons I love him."