Rufus Wainwright is back this summer with his fifth album, "Release The Stars," but for the moment he’s talking icons, Austrian leisurewear and a new addition to the gay lexicon. Rufus may be an opera-obsessed pop music sensation, but can he help lovin’ than man named...Brandon Flowers?
INSTINCT: Rufus, I read on the oh-so-authoritative Wikipedia that you coined the term “bussy”, a merging of “boy” and a certain slang word for the female anatomy. True?
RUFUS WAINWRIGHT: It’s probably something I said in the heat of battle [laughs]...I wouldn’t put it past it myself to come up with such an edifying term for our homosexual shenanigans, but no, it’s good. I like bussy. I have it. I like it.
You encountered Brandon Flowers, lead singer of The Killers, while you were both on tour. There’s a song called “Tulsa” on your new album that seems like a diary entry of that night. All true?
Every line in that song is true, expect for the line at the beginning – “You taste of potato chips.” I can’t wait to see him again, I miss him terribly. [Laughs] I need to lick his stubble to find out if he tastes of potato chips. I’ve got to make it sure it’s all true, you know?
We expect a full report. We know for sure you’ll be doing a few dates on this summer’s True Colors tour with two icons, Cyndi Lauper and Debbie Harry. Any on-stage collaborations planned?
That’s not a bad idea. [Debbie Harry] is definitely an icon and a friend...when I was a kid - like 9 or 10 - I would sing “Heart Of Glass” incessantly and pretend to be her in front of my horrified father. So maybe I can get some healing done.
Speaking of icons, you recently performed a song-by-song recreation of Judy Garland’s 1961 Carnegie Hall show in New York and London. Is it true that Liza Minelli was unhappy about the show?
She didn’t approve of it from the beginning and I think that the main thing is...I would assume that she’s not angry, but disagrees because she’s spent so much of her life from separating herself from her mother and has done so quite successfully, which his tough when your mother is a legend. I think she also found me a little bit too panting for her approval. My father used to know her when he was a kid, they grew up together, and when I met her, I kind of sprang that on her...and she kind of jumped back. So I think that kind of set the scene of me trying to kind of devour her Garlandness. But you know she did make a mistake, because it was a great show and she’ll come around.
Dear Liza! Right now there seems to be a rehab zeitgeist going on. Some celebrities go to rehab because they need it, but it seems insincere with a few of them. You’ve benefited from rehab, so what’s your take?
Well, I think that if anybody goes to rehab it’s a good thing. If you go into rehab, your chances are three in four that you’ll probably end up back in rehab, like it’s not necessarily a cure. But that one fourth will kind of spring into the future and become a really great example of beauty. And it’s worth it for that one fourth. It is a bit sad that it’s used as this kind of escape from publicity thing, and especially in political circles where you have these preachers and congressmen who do these horrible things and go to rehab so they don’t have to talk about the fact that they’re gay or whatever. That’s terrible. That being said, rehab is good. I wish I could go back to rehab. [Laughs]
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No you don’t! It’s amazing that you got the Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant to executive produce the new album. Was he in the studio with you?
I did all the work and Neil essentially came in a few times and, you know, demanded a glass of wine and the latest Mojo magazine and then, after listening to a few of the tracks, would just give some really, really sound criticism...He just kept me grounded about the fact that there is a public out there and that, though I am brilliant and have this incredible imagination [laughs], I still have to relate to the plebeians and make some money.
So will we finally hear a Pet Shop Boys remix of a Rufus track? You seem to have resisted big club mixes of your songs...
[Sighs] I can’t say that those environments - like gay nightclubs with dance music and stuff - have ever done me any favors. [Laughs] I mean, I love bars and stuff - I used to love bars a lot more. I am a fan of the nightlife, let’s say, but that whole pump and grind thing, I always felt like I was in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, you know? I just needed to sedate myself. That being said, I was also very jealous of everybody with perfect bodies, these kind of collegiate, straight-acting bussies and stuff. God, I love that new term now.
Use it wisely, sir. There’s a really dramatic song called “Between My Legs” on the new album. We love the monologue at the end by the British actress Sian Phillips, who starred in I Claudius in the '70s. How did that come about?
I went to this party once and I saw her in the corner and I said, “Oh my God, that’s the Empress of Rome over there” and, you know, immediately pulled my gay number and became a sycophantic fag and thus, you know, hit it off and worshipped her at her alter and we’re now very good friends. When us gays want to get a living legend, it’s like in our genes, in our clutches.
It starts like a normal pop-rock song, but then it veers off into this sort of Shakespearean moment with Sian...The end of the piece is kind of this big huge bombastic flowering of fantasy where all the sudden this tunnel opens up in my apartment and there’s a river leading out into the ocean. A kind of Escape from New York moment...I really wanted the song to open up into this fantastical atmosphere and who better to do that than The Empress of Rome suddenly appearing and pointing the way to Neverland?
Maybe the audience can recite those lines en masse when you do it live?
That would be great.
You have such a dedicated fan base, Rufus. Your message board is like an underground city that’s just constantly going, whether you’re in the public eye or not. Do you ever peer in there or do you keep a distance?
I peer in sometimes, but I wear sunglasses when I’m doing it...and sunscreen. It’s incredibly fascinating and also frightening at the same time. You don’t want to get sucked in or get a sunburn...but I go in sometimes.
Does it make you self-conscious?
Well, there’s actually very interesting information on there. Occasionally there’s certain pictures that have arisen from my childhood, long lost experiences from here and there...certain memories from shows and documents of events. That’s kind of cool. But I don’t know...I think if I looked closely on it, it’s about ten people, you know? [Laughs] I still think of it as thousands and thousands and it’s maybe about a dozen.