There’s no denying the power of a climactic ending to a first act. Look no further than Wicked’s “Defying Gravity” or La Cage aux Folles’ “I Am What I Am” as proof.
For singer and songwriter Rufus Wainwright, his latest album Unfollow the Rules is the Act 1 finale highlighting his artistic growth. Luckily for his Houston fans, the singer will deliver an intimate performance of his album at The Heights Theater in mid-September.
Inspired by married life, fatherhood, middle age, and loss, Unfollow the Rules captures Wainwright at a crossroads—ready to tackle new challenges, yet compelled to confront his past.
In the album, he takes stock of more than two decades of running riot with the rules, making sense of how he has matured as a musician since his 1998 debut, and celebrating the contented family man he has become.
“I was edging toward the 20th anniversary of my first record, and once again I was living in California. There was a circular situation where I was revisiting and reassessing my pop career. It felt like a homecoming in a lot of ways,” he says.
Much has happened in the last two decades for Wainwright. He dropped eight albums between 1998 and 2012 before taking a self-imposed hiatus from pop music. He overcame an addiction. He and his husband, Jörn Weisbrodt, expanded their family with the birth of their daughter via a surrogate.
Unfollow the Rules reflects his development over that period. “I started in the late ’90s, and it was very much this kind of old-school Hollywood fable. I was a regular guy, and then next thing you know I was flying first class to Los Angeles, staying at Chateau Marmont, and taking limos everywhere. It was a fabulous emergence into showbiz. I ran on that scene for many years and had great fun—but also some trials and tribulations.”
“Somehow, I managed to survive, both career-wise and health-wise, because there were a lot of shenanigans,” he admits.
“Now, I have a husband and a child. I’m just living my life as a normal person. It’s sort of like the before-and-after shots, which is less cinematic than your typical rock-and-roll story, but it’s also kind of a beautiful-sunset ending.” A few things haven’t changed, though. He’s continued a tradition established long ago by his musical family by including songs on the album for his loved ones.
“It started with my grandfather on my father’s side. He was a writer for Life magazine in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. He would write about his life and family. My father, Loudon Wainwright III, ended up continuing with folk music during his singer/ songwriter career—and my mother, Kate McGarrigle, as well. It eventually became kind of a language that we all utilize to both understand each other and also occasionally attack each other, depending on what was at stake,” he says.
The other constant is that Wainwright has unabashedly remained true to himself, both as an artist and as a gay man.
“I am technically the first out gay artist in the mainstream who really succeeded and made it about the music. There were certainly other gay artists at the time, but most of them did start in the closet.”
“I was very direct with my label at the time, that I was going to be me and sing songs about men, and so forth. At the time, I wasn’t being political or strategic about it. I was afraid, frankly, because AIDS was so rampant at the time,” he recalls.
“In hindsight, that was a very important move, and I’m very proud of that. When I look back at that era, especially after getting married and having a child, it’s been a wild ride for gay men over the last 40 years. Unimaginable things have happened, both good and bad.”
“Sadly, we are entering a more conservative period in the world, especially in the United States, and it seems the battle is not over yet. But, boy, we’ve been through a lot.”
As Wainwright savors the ending of this chapter in his life, it does beg the question of what comes next. The answer might lie in his recent dabbles in other forms of music. Wainwright fans will know that the singer tackled opera during his sabbatical from pop music, so it will come as no shocker that he is looking
at musical theater after his entr’acte. Though he remains tight-lipped on the details, he does say that audiences can expect to hear something soon.
“I’m starting to shift my viewfinder to the world of Broadway and the West End. Now that some time has passed, with some shoes to fill there—and I’m not saying I’ll be the one to do it—I think there is a kind of calling to the stage that I’m feeling,” he says.
“I want to write a classic piece that will be performed for many years to come. A beautiful melody line in the musical theater world is very luxurious and romantic. I’m definitely into bringing the grand melody back to Broadway.”
What: Rufus Wainwright performs ‘Unfollow the Rules’
When: September 17
Where: The Heights Theater, 339 W 19th St.