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Rufus Wainwright Biography

22 July 1973, Rhinebeck, New York, USA. The son of singer-songwriters Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, Rufus was raised by his mother in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, following his parents’ separation. He began studying piano at the age of six, and by his early teens was touring with his mother, aunt and sister in the McGarrigle Sisters And Family. At the age of 14, Wainwright earned a Juno nomination as Most Promising Young Artist and a Genie nomination for his performance of his own song ‘I’m A-Runnin’’ in the television film, Tommy Tricker And The Stamp Traveller. He attended Millbrook school in upstate New York and briefly studied piano and composition at Montreal’s McGill University, before electing to try his hand as a performer on the Canadian and American club circuits.

A recording contract was offered after Wainwright’s demo tape found its way to Lenny Waronker at the fledgling DreamWorks label. Wainwright spent most of 1996/7 in the studio recording a prodigious amount of material with producers Jon Brion and Pierre Marchand. His highly stylized 1998 debut album revealed a striking talent clearly influenced by classic American songwriters such as Cole Porter and Brian Wilson, with the piano-driven melodies augmented by lush orchestral arrangements courtesy of Van Dyke Parks. The album was warmly received by music critics, with Rolling Stone magazine naming him Best New Artist Of The Year. Wainwright spent over two years completing the follow-up, employing five different producers including Alex Gifford of the Propellerheads. Although Poses included typically florid statements such as opening track ‘Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk’ and ‘The Consort’, it also took in more unexpected musical turns such as a stark reworking of his father’s ‘One Man Guy’. The sombre mood of the album also reflected a more mature artist.

By this time Wainwright’s hectic social life on New York’s gay club scene was beginning to have a detrimental effect on his music. After coming close to physical and mental collapse, he took stock and returned to the studio to record a projected double album with producer Marius deVries. The first instalment was released in September 2003. At times a ridiculously flamboyant enterprise, from the cover art of the singer in heraldic armour to the epic orchestrated pop of the key track ‘Go Or Go Ahead’, Want One nevertheless confirmed Wainwright as one of America’s finest contemporary singer-songwriters. The muted sales of the album must have worried his record company, however, who embarked on a major promotional push for the follow-up Want Two. Featuring more of the material recorded with deVries at the Want sessions, the album was if anything even more grandiose than its predecessor, opening with a five minute plus track sung entirely in Latin, and reaching a climax of sorts with the controversial ‘Gay Messiah’. Amidst all the melodramatics were two of Wainwright’s finest compositions, however, the live recording ‘The Art Teacher’ and the Jeff Buckley eulogy ‘Memphis Skyline’.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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