Rufus Wainwright on Music and the Movement


Dave Valk is a 21-year-old senior at UCLA. The L.A. Weekly has dubbed him one of the “new generation of gay leaders” and we wholeheartedly agree, which is why we sent him to Washington to give you his own unique take on everything from inaugural balls to Rev. Warren’s invocation. Here, his take on an interview with Rufus Wainwright at Tuesday’s HRC Ball.

At Tuesday’s Inaugural HRC Ball, the night was filled with music and dancing courtesy of performances by everyone from the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington to Cyndi Lauper. And some of my favorite conversations throughout the evening were not just with the DC politicos, but with these musicians, who offered a different approach to what it means to create real change. One of the people I enjoyed speaking with most was Rufus Wainwright.

I’ve always admired Wainwright not only for his rich, vibrant singing voice, but also for the voice he uses to stand up for some of the most important issues facing the LGBT community today. When we sat down for a casual conversation, I mentioned to him that when thousands of people were marching through the streets of Los Angeles and moving up Wilshire Boulevard, all I could think about was how all the artists out there in the protests would be creating the backbone of the movement with their music. Bob Dylan did it, and now, so is Rufus Wainwright. I think Rufus also saw his potential, though he was humble in admitting it:

Music is basically a window into several different souls. You can be inclusive or you can be exclusive. You can even be bigoted with your music if you want! But I don’t think the form itself has any requirements. Yes, music is powerful—it’s a force. You can use music for its good side or even its bad side. For me, I choose to create music that is from my good side, and some people out there think it’s from an evil side. It really depends.

Perhaps the best thing about Wainwright’s music is its transformative power. Whether he is helping people through personal struggles or speaking about the problems of an entire generation, he uses his power in a way that can propel real change. Here’s to hoping his music helps spark what my generation needs: an event, a real action that will not only unite the leadership in the youth, but also the other artists and the speakers who can reach the masses with their voices and paintings and writings.

According to Wainwright, “Music is powerful because it captures what is happening.” The fight for civil rights—all civil rights—that’s what happening. So let’s give ‘em something to sing about.

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  • JohnInManhattan

    Wainwright is Tammy Lynn Michaels with a penis. Read on…

    Rufus Wainwright on Marriage Equality
    From an interview in the New York Press:

    “Oddly enough, I’m actually not a huge gay marriage supporter. I personally don’t want to get married but I think that any law or amendment to the constitution that deals with sex and love should just be banned in general. I don’t think any government should encroach on what goes on in the bedroom at all. Frankly, if you want to marry a dog, why don’t you go ahead and marry a dog, I don’t care. I’m a complete libertarian and so I really disagree with it.”

    What a tool.

  • ggreen

    I wish people would concentrate on Wainright’s talent or lack of it. He seems to me to be the laziest of singers. Not singing with his diaphragm but from his throat making wheezing sounds like a chain smoker. That’s some great talent? Politically he’s a proven dumb bell.

  • GJR


    Well, translate it as gay performer who has no clue about all that hard politics stuff. Melissa Etheridge is a good person but is just pretty clueless about political realities. More reason why we need to pick our community spokespeople more carefully and not rely on flighty celebrities who have not thought the issues through.

  • ask ena

    I like him, and I didn’t ask him to be my spokesperson for gay marriage. I get the impression he doesn’t lie about stuff.

    I don’t think Bob Dylan sings from his diaphragm either Ggreen, but he is an artist none-the less.

  • dellisonly

    I will take Rufus’ lyrical honesty over any pop synth plastic crap. He is allowed to have his political beliefs. Remember he is Canadian. Gay marriage and equality are not huge issues for him.

  • Leland Frances

    My, my. Are you sure Mr. Valk is a senior? His sophomoric ejaculation suggests UCLA’s intellectual standards have plummeted. He excels in arrogance, however, as his recent pontification, “The moral authority of the movement has shifted.” Nota bene, he didn’t say, as some might agree, “strategic wisdom” or even just “energy,” but MORAL authority. Does Amazon sell a “Gay Movement History for Dummies”?

    Please share with us, mon petit, exactly WHICH Rufus rumblings are “the backbone of the movement”; which is his equivalent to Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind” or “The Times They Are A’Changing” that you’ve heard, that anyone’s heard, sung at gay protests? Evuh.

    A part of the mythical “Stonewall 2.0,” which Mr. Valk clearly has crowned himself one of the divine rulers of, should be, along with eliminating awards to and cover stories about D-List straight celebs simply because they’ll say the word “gay,” and the counterrevolutionary adulation of closeted cowards like Anderson Cooper, the successful repression of the jejune need to ask every gay performing scarecrow questions that only those with brains could answer. Harvey Milk once wrote for the “Bay Area Reporter.” Imagine HIM asking political rubes like Rufus and Melissa for insight.

    Still, this does serve one purpose—it provides competition with “Recreating Judy At Carnegie Hall” for the Rufus the Stupid Award.

  • Cam

    This is the same guy that basically compared gay life with Crystal Meth Hell, and wasn’t into marriage equality. Can we as a community stop assuming that every famous gay has something intelligent to say?

    Additionally, you said that this was the authors take on an interview with Wainright….how interesting, there was no interview in there, just the author sounding like a Jr. High school student on NoDoze blathering on before inserting one quote from the person who was supposedly the suject of the interview. I don’t know which is more stupid, Wainwright for what he says, or Valk, for using so many words to say absolutly nothing.

  • Sean

    It was not an HRC Ball. The Ball was sponsored by many gay rights organizations including The Task Force, the Victory Fund, GLAAD, SLDN, NGLCC and many other LGBT organization

  • L Jenkins

    You all sound like a lot of little bitches. Whenever Rufus says anything, everyone seems to feel the need to criticize every syllable. Why so bitchy? What do you think this all says about you? It seems to me he is human and trying to be honest in answer to questions he is asked. I am not aware that he has ever tried to set himself up as a political leader. I am a huge fan. I love both his lyrics and his music and I wish people would just show common courtesy in their postings about another human.

  • Leland Frances

    Oh, please, Mary er L.

    To paraphrase an Armistead Maupin character, life is NOT a Hallmark Card. No one said YOU couldn’t love his music, him, his shorts, whatever.

    But we have just as much right to express OUR opinion. I was perfectly willing to simply ignore him as I do countless other in my opinion overrated performers. But then Ms. Thing had to go and imagine that he was in the same league with the legendary Garland. It was like Britney imagining herself Leontyne Price or Reichen imagining himself ANY real actor.

    The bigger the ego the harder they deserve to fall.

  • petted

    @Leland Frances: Expressing your opinion is one thing, but I think you go to far. There is never universal agreement on the value of an artist nor is it desirable that there be. Perspective is everything from mine your overly caustic tone lacks sensibility. For a segment of the current cadre of fresh faced volunteers Wainwright may very well serve as a resource with which they reflect and transpose their worldly interactions, but as this current theatre of events has just begun it is nonsensical to expect anyone to provide an in depth overview of the mentality of these advocates. For the fresh wave of a movement that is in its beginning which will find and develop its own energies to defeat not just the towering cliffs defining the desired shore but must overcome the lurking reefs before it can strive to reach the shore (Damn rhetoric impulses).

    In short I’m giving you the pot calling the kettle black speech – no doubt you’ll have plenty to say to that. However I suggest you endeavor to show a little restraint because your ire ill becomes you.

    On the side I feel inclined to point out on Mr. Wainwright’s behalf that the quote attributed to him by the first poster accurate though it may be (and I do not dispute its accuracy) does not present a balanced depiction of his views on the subject. For those interested ( ) provides Wainwright’s clarification – no one is immune to putting their foot in their mouth, history has shown that but every generation must find its path.

    Awww bugger this is crazy long now :( shrug as Livingston and Evans said ‘Que Sera, Sera’

  • JamesR

    Bitter – party of one, two, three, four? Nice. Everybody’s entitled to an opinion, but based on what?

    If one wants to evaluate a graphic artist, look at his work. Physically if one can. If one want to evaluate a dancer, see a dance. If one wants to evaluate a singer / composer listen to the songs, read the lyrics, and go to a damn show if one really wants to comment on his voice.

    Do example 3 and 4, each one of you who is critical. As a listener of a musician and composer one can be critical of tone and composition and presentation and melodic theme and key and phraseology and subject, and then not listen again if it is annoying. That is fair. The artist has control over his production – the beginning, middle and end of each song and they are obviously meant to be listened to from start to finish.

    Judge Rufus’s songs and lyrics and performances, if you have seen them, accordingly. But what he “said” and was quoted from was taken out of context from a conversation and stitched together deliberately to make him look like a fool. A thoughtful and fair person, or dare I say a canny person who did not similarly want to look like a self-made fool would do a bit a research first before pontificating about a person based on a few quoted quotes. A fair person would take a bit of their precious time and make sure they were sure, and investigate before dogging someone, even someone famous whom many love to project all sorts of motives and characteristics upon. Usually ones quite similar to those of the projectors.

    In other words, if you’re gonna read someone, do it right, and pick a target you know, eh? I have recently seen him, and was close enough to hear his unamplified voice – he can sing. Amazingly. Yet I had not thought so beforehand based on the quality of the audio and the mixing of it I had heard before. Go Figure. I also perceived him as rather shy and introspective yet without narcissism. And Earth to the really bitter: Judy is dead. Nobody can replace her. Don’t criticize another’s (rather well done) homage just because you can’t do one.

    The quote that everybody wants to have their panties in a bunch over is from when he was commenting on the institution of marriage itself contrasting it with the basics of human nature from personal experience, a singer’s, poet’s comment wasted on the defective amanuensis. Rick Santorum – not so much.

    Rufus is not a politician, to be caught in a politician’s trap of mis-speaking. He cannot program your computer nor do your taxes. But what he can do is sing, and compose, and produce music that is evocative and provocative and that is universal and transcendent. He sings of gay subjects, honestly and personally, but that goes beyond just gay audiences because of the universal connection to the human condition(s) and the beauty of the music. In political terms he is more of an ambassador rather than legislator or sheriff pandering for approval for votes for a career. He is a bridge that unites gay and straight and all in between at a level of strong emotion, of humanity. Worth more than ten, a hundred, a thousand volunteers doing dubious actual work who few outside the active gay community ever has an actual human interaction with. Especially the supremely worthless HRC who seem to fete him often but I will not turn this admonition of criticism into criticism right here, for now.

    And way to go the original poster Dave Valk – you keep your optimism and enthusiasm! You go. Or you’ll end up ready to criticize those whom you think you know because you were too lazy to find out for yourself, and become satisfiable by others’ simplifications of issues beyond their comprehension.

  • petted

    @JamesR: I thought that quote was taken out of context though to be honest I was a little too lazy to verify (I checked first few links but couldn’t find the article that I’d read it in) so I just linked to the article that provided some balance to their portrayal. I’ll try and remember to locate one of Wainwright’s songs tomorrow. Hope I didn’t come across as criticizing Valk’s opinion of Wainwright – I probably tried to cover too many directions. As I said before I’m not familiar with Wainwright but I’ll try & look into his work at some point though I’m usually more into the techno and rock genres – really anything with a good fast beat with exceptions of course Ravel’s Bolero for one… sleepy – later gators

    must stop editing…………….

    Post Script: ah I have heard some of his stuff before – he’s technically very good but I usually prefer a faster tempo though Hallelujah is very nice.

  • JamesR

    @ petted – THANKS, and NO – I was kinda aiming above your head! [I was composing my response to the others, seen above yourself in most browsers, even as you posted.] Heh. I appreciate what you say and think I can read it correctly considering the time of posting. (Beyond my bedtime…)

    I was introduced to his body of work via his latest ‘Release The Stars’ album. If you are in the right mood to listen, and feel, all I can say is I found it to be fuckingdevastating, in the best way. “Going to a town” – which is on youtube – is – no words. Except that when I saw him live just after the election he changed some of the lyrics. ! According to Florida and California yet not so down on the rest. Listen, I do not want to spoil the experience.

    Poses, like the song of that name, Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk and Greek Song. Want One and Want Two… Go or Go ahead [Want One] even though I have not been through exactly what was the inspiration of that song… Listen. Much can be found on lo-fi internet radio sites, as well as some youtube, to listen to. I bought several CDs after finding some pirate crap as my intro… Rufus is an acquired taste, and not every day must-hear-it-all-the-time fare, at least for me, but so is foi gras (if you can find any you can guilt-free eat from geese not tortured.)

  • tarxien

    Thanks JamesR. That was a very eloquent rebuttal of the mindless criticism of Rufus from peple who know nothing about him except a few out of context “quotes”.

    I have loved Rufus’ music for over two years and have travelled the world to see him live. In fact I’ve just got back from Wasington, I attended the HRC Ball to see Rufus.

    He is an exceptional songwriter, an incredibly talented musician, and has an amazing voice. In addition, he has been open about his sexuality since the beginning of his career, though he realized it would adversely affect his career,especially in parts of the USA. He is extremely popluar in Europe,however and has the respect of other msicians from many different genres,including classical artists.

    He is also a wonderful person, I have had the privilege of meeting him several times – he is shy, despite his interview style, sensitive, very intelligent and politically aware. He has done a lot for gay rights issues, both in performing at benefit concerts and just by being so open in his own life. He has performed in eastern European countries such as Poland,where he has raised the subject of gay rights.

    He has struggled with addiction,particularly crystal meth, has overcome his and been honest about it, using his experience to warn young people of the dangers.

    I am often shocked at the hatred and vitriol directed at Rufus by other gay people. I can only think that much of it is motivated by envy of his talent, success and lifestyle.

    Incidentally the song Go Or Go Ahead is about his drug addiction. It is written as a goodbye song to a lover, but the’lover’ is the drug which almost destroyed him.

  • AaronS

    JamesR – thank you.

    i feel like i’ve known Rufus for my entire life. i’ve been a loyal fan since ’97. not because he’s gay, or even cute (in my opinion) – but because he’s a true artist. being younger than he by a few years, i found power in his early honesty. starting in the music industry “out” is no easy task, yet he leaned on his talent to get him by. that’s my definition of an artist.

    hate his voice, hate his face, hate his bizarre laugh, hate his lyrics, hate his public persona – that’s definitely a right. but really, don’t for a minute believe that he doesn’t support gay (& therefore “civil”) rights because of one blurb someone decided to quote out of context for effect. he’s lived openly gay for most of his life, he’s been in a long term relationship with a man, he – like many of us gay people – is proud of who he is yet doesn’t want to be married. i’m of the same group & i’ve been in a 7 yr long monogamous relationship. he actually took the quote seriously enough to post a followup clarification on his site – something i’ve never seen him do before.

    i was at the 2nd Judy Garland concert at Carnegie Hall & i can tell you, it was clear from the beginning the respect, admiration & love Rufus has for Judy. he never intended to reproduce her – he can’t. it was simply a gay man paying respect to the near deity that got him through some tough times & doing a damn good job in my opinion.

    there’s a lot of people in the music industry i don’t care for or have lost respect for for any number of reasons. i don’t buy into the negatives though & then come post incomplete truths online where i don’t have to back up my ramblings face to face~

  • rob

    I saw him perform w/ Belinda Carlisle. They were performing songs from her CD VOILA. He was so charming, I now understand his appeal. I’ve been a fan ever since.

  • strumpetwindsock

    I don’t think it’s fair to expect artists to do my political work for me. That’s my job.
    And while there is political art, and I appreciate a lot of it, I think vetting artists is going down a narrow and dangerous road. Am I not supposed to appreciate Dali’s work because of his fascist leanings?

    But I do like Rufus Wainwright’s music, as I like that of the rest of his family (father, mother, aunt and sisters).

    And say what you will about his politics, the fact he would turn down a commission because the company tried to make him write the libretto in English scores points in my book.

  • Had

    Bravo, JamesR. Bravo. : )

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