Rufus? You're A Doofus!
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.
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 family
We're a happy family.
Me, Mom and Daddy~~ (7)
We're a happy family
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)
~~ 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."