Monday, March 20, 2006

Rufus Wainwright -- Poses

"Cigarettes and chocolate milk. These are just a couple of my cravings." These two lines open the Poses CD and hold the listener rapt. His voice rises and falls, lulls and inspires, over acres of intelligent lyrics meant for repeat listenings at high volumes underneath the Sunday crossword and a giant slab of java or full tilt for a very long road trip. This is Rufus Wainwright's loves, missteps, and New York City lifestyle laid out on a platter for gulps of borderline operatic pleasure tinged with top-40 aspirations.

Rufus Wainwright, child of Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III and sister to Martha Wainwright, produced a stellar CD on Poses released in 2001. I didn't find this gem until 2003 but it was well worth the wait. Once you find it and connect with the 14-song artistic swell, you can't stop listening to it for months. I had the same reaction to David Gray's White Ladder in 2000 and, prior to that, Sarah McLachlan's Building a Mystery released in 1997. Poses mesmerizes the mind and strings its catchy hooks into cranial regions yet explored.

I won't pretend to know everything there is to know about Rufus nor his music. You can read all about that on Roger Bourland's "Red Black Window" web log. Roger Bourland has even taught college courses about Rufus' music -- way out of my Rufus league.

I can only speak to the enormous and instantaneous attraction to Rufus' lyrics, and incredible orchestration. The CD is filled with the standard drums, guitars, and piano accented by the unusual use of dobro, slide guitar, mandolin, and strings. The CD's gorgeous melodies swell underneath Rufus' storybook lyrics.

You can throw this CD into the player and close your eyes for transportation into stories filled with longing, drugs, gay club culture, and love. To say that Rufus is tender would be the understatement of the year, perhaps the decade. In a world filled with cruising men, he takes the brunt of the injury into his genius songwriting and culls it to dramatic heights as "poses."

Even the liner lyrics are written across the double page, requiring you to concentrate on the words and punctuation until it forms one blurred, wave-like roll of hurt, anticipation and heaving emotion.

This is the kind of CD you can build an entire dinner party around. It's that provocative and funky in a soulful way. Make sure you put on "Tower of Learning" just as the second or third bottle of red wine is uncorked and the main entree is served. The song begins to the half-notes of looking for the tower of learning and swells instrumentally and lyrically accompanied with a driving drum beat, a chorus, and funky guitars to the leaning tower in Paris.

He's slated to recreate Judy Garland's "Live From Carnegie Hall" at, where else, Carnegie Hall in NYC this June for two shows (not sold out according to the Carnegie Hall ticketing site as of today -- damned near sold out though with tix in the waaay back). Rufus' last two CD's Want One and Want Two were kind of lost on me. They didn't hold the same fascination and adoration I had for Poses, perhaps because they were more operatic in nature. I can say that Rufus fans adore them. They were recorded back-to-back but released a year apart.

"Grey Gardens" on Poses was written about the musical "Grey Gardens" based on a very sad documentary from the Mayles' Brothers made in the mid-70s or so. It's the name of a mansion that an old mother and her slightly crazy middle-aged daughter lived in, in squalor. Cats. Squirrels, other animals roam the house. The daughter talks about how she was going to be a singer and marry Joe Kennedy Jr. She wears wacky clothes and blames her mother for keeping her there. They're pack rats and seem to live in a time warp of when things were better. Rufus actually uses a sound bite of Edie saying something like "it's very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present, you know what I mean?" They're famous because of the documentary and because they were Jackie Beauvior (sp?) Kennedy's cousins. The mother died in the 80's and Edie died a few years ago. Yup. it's a laugh riot. Perfect material for a musical . . . NOT [blatantly stolen from Leigh Hampton in an email to me about the song].

My fondest memory of this CD will always be introducing my good friend to it on a drive to New York City to see our friend battling cancer and him falling in absolute love with it. We played it 10 times that trip up and back from Pittsburgh to NYC. It was adoringly fitting that my friend fell in love with it on the way up because when we walked in the door of our dear friend's apartment, it was playing in the background. One of those beautiful days in life that live on long after they're gone.

This CD will bring years of joy to your audio listening and transport you to places best experienced alone or with the best of friends or with family (hey, it's all over the map). If all else fails and you hate the CD, you should at least appreciate Rufus' take on "Across the Universe" by the Beatles. It closes this brilliant CD with a force de-jour that may just make you a convert.

If you want to check out Rufus Wainwright's music, check out his tasteful (yet slow loading) and expansive website. After all "life is a game and true love is a trophy." Well said, Rufus ... well said. Poses is his most accessible CD to date and a fine introduction to this incredible singer/lyricist. NOTE: Not for the squeemish or those who admonish gay and lesbian people as satan's brother.


Anonymous rachel said...


You very randomly found my blog through my friend Richard's blog at and you asked me if I know anything about yousendit. Truth be told, I've only ever been on the receiving end of an MP3 off that site - I don't know how to send them myself; I've never actually tried.

Good luck though!

1:47 AM  
Blogger Dickolas Wang said...

A fine album, for sure. I am more partial to his eponymous debut myself, and his newer albums Want One and Want Two. I assume you've checked them out, but if you haven't, definitely start with his first album.

Thanks for the comment, I'll be sure to check in on what you're listening to.

1:50 AM  
Blogger bruce said...

I've known about RW for years but never really spent any time with any of his CDs. You made that one sound so delicious though, I have added it to my buy list. Thanks.

11:41 AM  

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