Thursday, August 10, 2006

Rufus? You're A Doofus!

It took more than one man to change my name to Bathhouse Betty (1)

I have had this vague dislike of Rufus Wainwright for some time now. He had his three chances at bat, but he's struck out, in my book. I wish I could go all Bart Giamatti on him. (2)

Strike One: It started in the early days of his career when his performances were running parallel with Jeff Buckley. Both young men were children of famous fathers: Jeff's father, Tim Buckley, was a singer and a songwriter from the 1960's, (3) and Rufus' father, Loudon Wainwright, III (4) had his greatest success during that same era. Rufus' mother, Kate McGarrigle, is also well known as a singer-songwriter from the time she began singing with her sister Anna as The McGarrigle Sisters. I'll leave it to the critics to sort out who was the more talented of the two, but my tastes run more to Tim than Loudon, and Jeff over Rufus.

I may be dead, but I'm more beautiful.

It seemed that every time I picked up some music magazine or trade paper, Rufus was badmouthing Jeff and whining about how Jeff got more attention from the media. He would complain so much, it felt like he was in a looped Jan Brady moment: always living in the shadow, "Well, all day long at school I hear how great Jeff is at this or how wonderful Jeff did that! Marcia, Marcia, Marcia! Oops. Jeff, Jeff, Jeff!" (5) Jeff was incredibly handsome, and Rufus factored that into the equation of the imbalance. His looks certainly didn't hurt Buckley, but I still think he had more talent than Wainwright. When Jeff's life was cut short in a drowning accident in 1997, I am sure few tears were shed over the loss. Somehow I picture a race to the mirror with the query, "Now who's the prettiest?"posed. (6)

Strike Two: Another festering Wainwright moment was in viewing a PBS broadcast in 2003 of Lance Loud: Death in An American Family.

~~We're a happy family,
We're a happy fa
We're a happy family.
Me, Mom and Daddy~~ (7)

Back in 1971 PBS television filmed a documentary in 12 episodes following the lives of a nuclear family called the Loud's in Santa Barbara, California. The show was called An American Family. What the filmmakers did not anticipate was watching the disintegration of the American family as they filmed. The show was aired in 1973 to much controversy, then a follow-up was done in 1983, and the most recent film of their gay son's life in 2003. Lance became well known himself for a time, initially from these shows, but also through later connections with Andy Warhol and Interview magazine and then as a musician and writer. (8) He died at age 50 following a longstanding addiction to crystal meth, then later diagnoses of HIV and hepatitis C. At the end of his life, he and his antagonistic father reconciled, and they had a genuine appreciation of each other.

When the Lance Loud show aired, at the end of the film there was a memorial tribute held in what looked like an outdoor patio of a restaurant, and Rufus was preparing to sing "Over the Rainbow." (9) His mother, Kate, was just beaming at him as she lead into the song's opening notes. She was so proud of her boy. Observing her prideful glance and his posture you immediately sensed spoiling and brattiness, an opinion which was cemented when he petulantly snapped at her, "Mother! Key of B!"

"A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow"
~~ Charlotte Brontë (10)

God I wanted her to have a Joan Crawford moment a la Mildred Pierce and slap him silly. You can just hear him snipping, "Oh it's impossible. Look at it. Ruffles! I wouldn't be seen dead in this rag. It's horrible. How could she have bought me such a thing?" (11)

Infamia, Infamia, Infamia (12)

Strike Three: Just recently I read that Rufus recreated Judy Garland's legendary 1961 performance at Carnegie Hall in New York. He used footage from the original event, reproduced her poster using his name instead of hers, so you got "Rufus, Rufus, Rufus," rather than "Judy, Judy, Judy," and he sang every song in the same order that Judy performed them on that memorable night. (13) Does this man understand the meaning of the word, "hubris?" (14) PBS has been running a documentary on Judy Garland called Judy Garland: By Myself, part of their American Masters series, (which is scheduled to be re-broadcast on August 30th at 9 p.m.,) (15) and if you watch this, you can only marvel at nature's gift and the genius this woman possessed. For Mr. Wainwright to even touch the toe of her ruby slippers (16) is an infamia, let along applying his nasalities against Garland's instrument filled with rarely heard emotional nuances. Three strikes and yer out! Hit the showers, Bathhouse Betty!

~~Dead skunk in the middle of the road
Stinkin' to high heaven~~ (17)

(1) This is actually a quote from the 1933 von Sternberg film, Shanghai Express, starring Marlene Dietrich in which she utters the highly quotable, "It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily." Bathhouse Betty is the name of an album by Bette Midler and alludes back to her early singing career at the Continental Baths, a gay bathhouse in New York, where an equally young Barry Manilow was her accompanist.

(2) Bart Giamatti (1939-1989) was at one time President of Yale University and later, the Seventh Commissioner of Major League Baseball. He was also father to actor Paul Giamatti who is about to be featured in the Edward Norton film The Illusionist,(opening on August 18th.) It was Bart Giamatti who banned Pete Rose from baseball for multiple gambling infractions. The reference is also a little play on "I'ma get medieval on your ass,"from the movie, Pulp Fiction.

(3) Tim Buckley never knew his son intimately and passed over well before his son's own fame, dying of a heroin overdose in 1975. They were very close in appearance physically, down to the same bushy eyebrows. Both also possessed voices with far reaching octave ranges and purity of tone.

(4) Rufus' father Loudon is the son of a famous Life magazine writer and editor. Loudon also played Captain Spalding, the singing surgeon, on the television series M.A.S.H. in the 1970's. His songs are usually considered "witty and self-depreciating."

(5) This is, of course, a paraphrasing of the comment made by Jan Brady about her more popular, more beautiful sister, Marcia, from the television series, The Brady Bunch.

(6) The wicked Queen in Snow White, asking the eternal question of narcissists everywhere, "Magic mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?" These days, we get Paris Hilton sex videos, where she might be posing the question into her cell phone while positioned doggy style.

(7) From the Ramones' song, “We're A Happy Family,” whose opening refrain is:
Sitting here in Queens, Eating refried beans.
We're in all the magazines, Gulpin' down thorazines.
We ain't got no friends, Our troubles never end.
No Christmas cards to send, Daddy likes men.

(8) There is also a rock/pop group called "The Loud Family," from the San Francisco area: Loud Family - The Official Web Site

(9) “Over the Rainbow” was written by Harold Arlen and tailored specifically for Judy Garland to sing. At one time, the producers of The Wizard of Oz were considering Shirley Temple for the role of Dorothy, in which case, we certainly never would have had that song. Instead, Shirley would have been singing about "Lollipop munchkins in my soup, witches and monkeys loop the loop. Golly gee, but I have fun, counting the yellow bricks one by one"--or something of that ilk.

(10) Charlotte Brontë. You want to know more, you ask? Have I got the link for you: The Life of Charlotte Brontë

(11) A quote from the film noir 1945 classic, Mildred Pierce, starring Miss Joan Crawford, with Ann Blyth as her bratty daughter, Veda. It is at this point in our reading that we can peruse the question, "Who would name their child Veda OR Rufus...or Butterfly, for that matter?" Butterfly McQueen is also in this film, and she's about as useless at helping out in restaurants as she was in birthing babies in Gone With The Wind.

(12) From the Sicilian dialect indicating infamy or scandalous act. This word crops up a lot in the novel The Godfather by Mario Puzo. Do I get a triple word play score in noting that it was believed actor Cary Grant had once said (in his Bristol accent,) "Judeh, Judeh, Judeh," when in truth he never uttered this phrase on film, but rather it was used by mimic Larry Storch much later in his own Cary Grant impersonations.

(13) Judy's conductor for this performance was Mort Lindsey who later went on to conduct the band for the talk television show The Merv Griffin Show. Merv Griffin, wealthy as Croesus now, used to sing in a band in his youth, and his big hit song was, "I've Got A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts." Oh yeah..Croesus.

(14) Hubris: Overbearing pride or presumption. Excessive pride. Arrogance. As in, "I'm showing a lot of hubris in defining the meaning of the word "hubris," when my readers already know what it means."

(15) Try and catch this show if you love music and the arts. You will truly understand what "God's gift," and "natural talent" mean.

(16) The Wizard of Oz, again. Actress Debbie Reynolds owns a pair from the original movie. You can also go over to the Smithsonian and see their pair. Every year for Christmas I ask Santie Clause to bring me a battalion of flying monkeys. Maybe if I'm good this year.

(17) Part of the lyrics to Rufus' father's most popular song, "Dead Skunk."


Blogger playfulinnc said...

Your research is amazing. I have a different reaction to him, but mostly it is due to a "sleep mix" made my my charming N with a few songs on it.

We, however, do share a strong stance against Franz Ferdinand. Not sure why, but it's fun to have a stance.

Any thoughts?

1:59 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Playful: It's not research, it's the garbage I carry around in my head like a cultural dumping ground. Funny. I cut Franz Ferdinand slack and don't have any strong feelings one way or the other on them, but with Rufus it's more a matter of reading his quotes (his whining,) combined with his prissy petulance and posturing of believed God-given entitlements combined with full blown egocentricity to even put himself on a par with Judy Garland. And yet...I liked his version of the Beatles "Across the Universe," so go figure.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Momentary Academic said...

Please, darling Cube, let me know if I ever, ever get on your nerves. The repercussions are wonderful, but I would not want to be at the center of your critique.

4:07 PM  
Blogger ThaiMex1 said...

Website details the NPR segment of Rufus doing Judy.

Rufus is that proverbial "dead skunk in the middle of the road."

6:06 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Momentary: I am just grateful that I have any readership at all, and God knows you and others have been very loyal to what I blather on about. Most people look at my subject matter or the length of the piece, blanch, or get bored, and move on. I've had my own friends tell me they don't have the time to read me which has been....not so good. I'll always be happy to have people leaving their comments here. Also, I find I learn a lot in reading comments on blogs, don't you?

Thai: I read a piece the other day talking about the Garland concert (and Rufus' shot at it,) and it said that the Garland concert was such a watermark for performance that others should tackle it, as Wainwright did, on a regular basis. In other words, take her concert and use it as an American Songbook; a national treasure.

6:34 PM  
Blogger taleswapper said...

Excellent post.

I always think of the Professor on Gilligan's Island when I hear 'Judy,Judy,Judy.' There was an episode where he was trying to impress Ginger with his Cary Grant impression. He also tried to wow her with his use of fancy terms like acetylsalicylic acid.

8:24 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Tales: The Professor was a doofus, too. I adore Ginger. I don't know what that says about me, but Mary Ann was always a little too....chipper. I loved the Howell's, too, with their Long Island lockjaw accents. Is TVLand still running this show? I have a friend totally addicted to old tv. I think it's her "safe, happy place." I should have added in a footnote that later in his career, they were doing test shots on Cary Grant, and someone egged him on to say "Judy, Judy, Judy," which he did, and he added, "There. Now it's officially on film that I said it."

8:33 PM  
Blogger Stef said...

I don't really have anything substantive to say since I don't know anything about Rufus, but I just *love* the fact that you use footnotes!

Keep writing, we'll read it! :-)

10:24 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Stef: I'll tell ya. Writing those footnotes made it for me. I had the best time with them.

10:25 PM  
Blogger O-FACE said...

Never heard of him till today...I'll have to go check him out...

2:01 AM  
Anonymous John said...

I saw "Lance Loud: Death in An American Family" a few months ago, and I also was slackjaw horrified by Wainwright's performance. It was mighty challenging to take a moment that bittersweet and touching in the film, in Lance's life story in general, and turn it into a narcissistic mess. But by golly, Rufus sure seems to have pulled it off.

It's a shame, because he does have a compelling voice, and I do like some of his music. But I haven't been able to enjoy any of it in the same way since watching that scene unfold.

5:53 AM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

I forgot all about An American Family - yikes - that was the first 'reality' show, wasn't it? Great feature, as always, Cube! Thank you, and thanks always for quoting the Ramones. I loved them; they were so sweet. As for Rufus: three strikes, yer OUT!

9:01 AM  
Blogger Megarita said...

I'm not a huge fan of Rufus, either, but I do like the lyrics to "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk" and "I set my phone on vibrate for you." I was stunned by the Judy Garland tribute, too. The New Yorker had some choice words about it, as I recall, but was not as scathing as I think the moment demanded!

9:19 AM  
Blogger Alejandra said...

This was just spectacular... Probably the most entertaining thing I've read in a long while. I also can't stand Rufus...I always felt like I was missing the point. Like something was just going right over my head. A secret inside joke that I wasn't privy to. Buckley on the other hand--well he just makes sense.

9:43 AM  
Blogger ThaiMex1 said...

Cube? I'll never forget when I heard the recitatif to "Over The Rainbow" and how it added meaning to the song. So many songs of the day had recitatifs that are now long-forgotten.

Frank Sinatra sang it in his "Frank Sinatra - The Tribute Collection Vol I as did Mandy Patinkin in his solo, debut album "Mandy Patinkin."

Here, then, is the intro that is left out of the movie:

"When all the world is a hopeless jumble
And the raindrops tumble all around
Heaven opens a magic lane

When all the clouds darken up the skyway
There's a rainbow highway to be found
Leading from your windowpane

To a place behind the sun
Just a step beyond the rain"

BTW, Grince read the entry and is now thinking of what to write. She has to get on her tortoise-shell glasses on, tho! ;)

10:51 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

I was telling someone last night about the intelligence level I find in my blog comments. You have not disappointed. Let's see. Where to begin:

O-face: I can't even say if he's worth checking out or not. I think he's an aquired taste like onions in martinis. He has legions of fans in place, don't get me wrong. You may find yourself really enjoying his work.

John: THANK YOU. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You saw it. Lance's story was so incredibly moving from his youth until his sad end, and he handled what life gave him with humor, with grace and with dignity. To witness his proud, stern father finally gaining insight and love for his son was a gift. You've said it so well, "...a narcissistic mess." And the way Rufus snapped at his mother and her slavering grin, you could tell she'd been lapping it up for a long time. It was all done in a blink, but it spoke volumes. Watching that little diva moment acted out during a memorial and tribute to someone's life was a bit much for me. All of his music isn't offensive to me. As I told Playful, I think his version of "All Across the Universe," is sung rather sweetly and trusting and open. It's the underpinings that make me wonder.

Reya: Some call "An American Family" the first reality show. I'd really have to do some homework to figure that one out. I know on occasion that PBS has re-run it, so it is still viewable. It also fits the mindset of what I've been thinking about ever since seeing Edward Norton in Down in the Valley this summer, this fraying and disassociation in family values and ties to society, youth with no emotional guideposts or means to find their way, each person locked in their own role with no means of empathic connection to the other, but then...that's a whole 'nuther blog piece, ain't it? :) As for The Ramones. Well. They are highly quotable, aren't they? And they fit in so well with this theme of "family." You cannot play Ramones music around me and leave me sitting. I will be UP!

Mega: I used to have a subscription to "The New Yorker." Now I've got to go and look for that piece. Most reviews I've read of the concept/concert have raved, but America is already for it's next mess. Can Whitney recover? Will Britney be back?

Alejandra: It's a matter of taste, really: apples or oranges. I always preferred the music of Buckley father and son as it seemed to contain more depth and complexity in terms of pushing boundaries of what it could evolve into next.

Thai: That is a beautiful recitatif. I wish singers used them more often. Judy Garland uses one when she sings, "You Made Me Love You," that includes the infamous "Dear Mr. Gable." There are some other great ones from songs like "I've Got A Crush On You," to "Makin' Whoopee." I know K will be writing in. The woman knows her stuff.

12:01 PM  
Blogger mysterygirl! said...

I never leave any smart comments for you, and this will be no exception, because I don't know anything about Rufus Wainwright. Still, this did make me remember Jeff Buckley, who I hadn't thought of in a long time. And I loved your captions once again-- RW sounds like he kinda sucks. You mess with Judy, you're messing with the whole family...

12:03 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Mystery: Please don't say you never make smart comments. First of all, I love your blog and read it daily, and I am so thrilled when people stop by my blog and comment I want to serve drinks and pass around trays of nibbly things. I'm no walking authority on Rufus, either. Obviously he has a huge fan base and people find meaning in his music. To quote my mother, "He's just not my cup of tea."

1:14 PM  
Anonymous Mme Royale said...

The definitive proof that Rufus is inferior to Jeff? Compare their versions of Hallelujah - apologies to Leonard Cohen, but Jeff Buckley owns that song. the fact Rufus recorded it is just pathetic.

7:16 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Mme Royale: I didn't even want to get into any of that in writing this piece, although I was aware of it, and to me anyway, it's only further proof of this neurosis he carries against Jeff Buckley. I couldn't believe the venom he used to spew against him. You rarely see that type of thing in print.

7:20 PM  

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