By most accounts, Rufus Wainwright shouldn’t even be doing a "greatest hits" tour. That’s not to imply that he hasn’t produced a consistent stream of excellent albums filled with decidedly catchy songs that once made Elton John knight him "the greatest songwriter on the planet." No, it’s just that in listening to his first album, "Rufus Wainwright" (1998), and even his second, "Poses" (2001), one could have easily gotten the sense that while he was a huge talent, he was also one that was destined to crash and burn. That this man -- with his angelic tenor and forelorn, baroque-pop songs about unrequited love, addiction and isolation -- was just not meant to be with us for long.
And yet, here he is almost two decades later. Even he thinks it’s kind of funny.
"It’s completely surreal," says Wainwright via email when asked if he ever thought he’d one day be on a tour performing all his hits. "Not to mention that I'm writing two operas at the same time. But doesn't life just get weirder and weirder for everybody?"
That it does. And for Wainwright, the journey has been a bit weird along the way. The son of legendary Canadian folk singers Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III, he was writing songs and touring when he was still in his teens. Coming into his own in the late ‘90s, he was singing openly about his homosexuality when most of his gay peers were still lyrically working in vagaries and allusion. His songs were vulnerable, often fabulous, and he rarely hid the fact that he often felt out of control. Shortly after "Poses," he became dangerously addicted to crystal meth, even temporarily losing his sight at one point. He cleaned up just before recording what is arguably his best album, "Want One," in 2003. When asked if he still recognizes the young man who wrote those songs of promiscuity and debauchery all those years ago, Wainwright says that man is still there. He’s just under control.
"I tend to take a Hindu approach to existence. Meaning that as you get older instead of becoming a different person, you just become several different people and more and more kind of a schizophrenic. And I can still feel that young Rufus, that young restless Rufus within me pining for a bigger life. Thank God there's an older Rufus who owns real estate."
Not only does he own real estate, but he’s also a married father of one. In 2010, he became engaged to his longtime beau, German arts administrator Jorn Weisbrodt (they officially married in 2012). And with help from friend Lorca Cohen (yes, the daughter of Leonard Cohen), the couple had a daughter in 2011. Wainwright’s subsequent album, "Out of the Game," revealed a more mature and happily domesticated artist with songs about fatherhood ("Montauk") and settling down ("Out of the Game").
"I would say it would be presumptuous of me to make any broad statements in that kind of department at the moment," says Wainwright when asked if parenthood has changed him. "When I'm with my daughter every second is a profound discovery [laughs]. Call me in 20 years."
More recently, he just finished recording an opera he wrote in 2009 called "Prima Donna," with the BBC Orchestra backing him up. "It sounds incredible. It will be released in the fall," he says.
The second opera, "Hadrian," about a Roman emperor at the end of the classical era, will premiere in the Canadian Opera Company's 2018-19 season. Luckily for his fans, he says more "greatest hits" will be coming very soon.
"I’m constantly writing songs. The nice part about this particular juncture, while doing classical works, is that I haven't had time to go into the studio much. In the end and in regards to a new Rufus album, I think I'll have a lot of material to choose from and a lot of excitement in terms of getting away from, you know, grumpy string players."