Thursday, June 16, 2005

Rufus in the Garden

A halcyon summer night greeted Rufus Wainwright at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. A loving crowd filling the expanse of lawn before the Greenhouse stage cheered him. He could do no wrong. His self-mocking, often melancholy, lyrics penetrated the night air. His songs pierced our hearts.
His wit also pierced. He dedicated his song "Pretty Things" to Michael Jackson. He sang to the frogs in the pond that spread at the foot of the stage. He mistook the loud pulse of crickets for the frogs singing back. When trying to think of an image to embody Atlanta, he came up not with a monument, but with a fire. Southern Boy Rufus ain't.
And the night, like the singer, was upstate New York, or Canada. It cooled as a bright half moon lit the lawn of listeners, as the moon slid closer to Jupiter, the lone "star" visible in the hazy Atlanta sky. The audience leaned back or spread their legs into the wet grass, and settled in for a full night of song. (Some Atlantans got out their ubiquitous cell phones to take blurry pics as a cop, loud on his walky talky, made sure no one smoked).

Rufus Wainwright is from a musical family: Mother, father, and sister are singers too. His dad, Loudon III, is still performing and can be remembered for "Dead Skunk," and the song to his son,"Rufus is a Tit Man." Nice irony. Rufus, in turn, sang a song to his father.
Rufus' style reminded me of off-Broadway musicals or cabaret songs. No wonder there's a movie connection. He appeared in Aviator and one of my favorite performances is his rendition of "Origin of Love" from Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
It was not always easy to decipher Wainwright's lyrics, often nasal, high-pitched, and blending into the night sounds-- crickets, an airplane. Yet, two songs did come through with clarity: Peach Trees (dedicated to the "capital of the Peach state") and "Art Teacher." Rufus sang the last from the point of view of an 11- year- old girl in love with her art teacher ( her favorite work of art was he).
Here are four links well worth a look (and a listen):

and of course,

and for RW's innovative lyrics:

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