Throughout 2022 I’ll be counting down my 100 favorite albums, because why not. We’re up to number ninety-eight.
The first time I saw Rufus Wainwright in concert was at NYC’s The Knitting Factory in August of 1999. The songs were great, his voice in fine form, and the long rambling stories between songs, along with the banter between him and his special guest, singer-songwriter Kate McGarrigle (Rufus’ mother), were hilarious. A couple of days later I bumped into him on the corner of 18th Street and Eighth Avenue, catty corner from the restaurant where I once had a blind date who got hit by a car while crossing the street to meet me. That’s a funny story. So I’d recognize my date, he told me he’d be wearing a scarlet “A.” From across the street he saw me waiting outside the restaurant and figured I was his date. As he crossed Eighth Avenue he reached into his pocket to retrieve the scarlet “A” and pin it to his coat. In the midst of doing that, he hadn’t noticed that the light changed and a car went through the green light and hit him. This story’s not funny like ha ha funny, but funny like does this potato salad smell funny to you? And the impact wasn’t THWACK! CRUNCH! WAAH!, but tap oops ouchie. He was fine.
I’m not sure I could say the same about Rufus, who on the afternoon I bumped into him by the scene of the crime was wearing long sleeves and long pants despite 100% humidity and a temperature of 312 degrees Kelvin. It was probably because at that time in his life he was putting into his body substances which, for several reasons, we won’t mention. I told him I loved the show, but didn’t talk long, as I was sober and sweaty despite my weather-appropriate ensemble.
I saw Rufus again by the Barnes & Noble on 21st and Sixth, whose closure a few years later would force me to walk all the way to the Barnes & Noble on 18th and Fifth, whose closure shortly thereafter forced me to walk to the Barnes & Noble on 17th a block east of Fifth. What can I say? I’m a schnook for a book, a jerk for a work, a nerd for the word, a dopus for an opus, a shlublication for a publication, a twit who should quit this bit. At first I saw his pants. Fine, it was cooler that evening than that of our first encounter (probably around 291 degrees Kelvin), but those pants! They were a crazy patchwork design that looked like dozens of discarded potholders stitched together by Mr. Magoo with one hand in his pocket and the other hailin’ a taxi cab. (My friend Chris pointed out that a Rufus Wainwright lyric would make for a better joke here, but I couldn’t think of any that fit, so I went with this reference to a song from Alanis Morissette, who, like Rufus, hails from Canada.) I couldn’t help but stare. I looked up to see the face of who would wear such a monstrosity. “Hey Rufus!,” I said, and then rambled a bit, digging myself a deeper hole with each word. “I noticed your pants – who could miss them? – and was wondering who would wear pants like that like who would be willing to wear pants like that out and was curious as to what kind of person and seeing it’s you makes sense because you DIG DIG DIG, GLENN and I’m going to cross the street now.” He looked bemused by my barmy banter and let out his Woody Woodpecker laugh as I crossed Sixth Avenue.
In all fairness, I’m not the late Mr. Blackwell, the arbiter of fashion. I have a stylist friend who helps me pick out my clothes. If Rufus liked/likes those pants and has no reservations about wearing them where others can see them, that’s all that matters, While I’m concerned with how others will judge me based on my appearance, Rufus isn’t – clearly! That’s something I should strive to emulate. Rufus inspires me to be more comfortable in my own shoes, which, suffice to say, are more fashionable than the shoes he was wearing that day.
Rufus’s music is as distinctive as his habiliments. I’ve heard that genre called “baroque pop,” to which I say, if this is baroque, then don’t fix it. The songs are smart, melodic, lush, and singular. His catalogue continues in the vein of his self-titled album, which was his debut, introducing me to the man who has since become one of my all-time favorite recording artists, which I’ll tell him the next time I bump into him on the street.
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