Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Apr 27th 2012 10:30AM by Joshua Ostroff
His mother Kate McGarrigle, of much-loved folk duo Kate and Anna McGarrigle, died in January 2010 after a long struggle with cancer. It was devastating for Rufus, who was famously close with the mother who raised him alone after she split with his father, singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III, when he was young.
Later that same year Wainwright got engaged to his partner Jörn Weisbrodt. A few months after that, Rufus and Leonard Cohen's daughter Lorca had a daughter together, who will be raised by all three. For the rest of the 2011 Wainwright worked on Out of the Game, an album which proved to be his most personal as he processed his mother's death and his daughter's birth by turning tragedy and triumph into song.
In a similarly personal interview with Spinner, Wainwright opens up about life, death and Grandpa Leonard.
I hate to perpetuate the stereotype that everyone in Canada knows each other, but my aunt and your late mother and her sister were university friends back in Montreal in the '60s.
My mom was very, very social, and also had a really big affect on everybody who came into contact with her. And since she died, even just the outpouring of love and also appreciation for how open she had been with everybody was kind of outstanding.
It sounds like back before everybody was famous, when they were just hanging out in the folk scene in Montreal, that it was a really exciting time for everyone.
Yeah, that was very exciting, and I think it was quite close-knit, especially if you were English. [laughs] because there was this exodus occurring in the background. But here I am, in Toronto.
How was it writing about all this personal stuff on an album?
A lot of people tell me, "Oh, it's so amazing to hear this record. It's so personal." I mean, I've always tried to do that in general with my work, but, funnily, this one people are reacting to in more of a kind of understanding way. They're kind of getting a lot of the references, and a lot of the dramatic situations, and that is... I don't know why that is, maybe there is a clarity there, or a kind of intention that is more direct. I'm not quite sure.
There's something about writing about your own experiences, and then there's something about writing about your mom or your daughter. You do your own thing, and people can't quite relate to it in the same way 'cause it's your own personal thing. But everyone has a mother; lots of people have been impacted by cancer. My mom had cancer five times.
Wow. And she's still alive?
That's amazing. That's fantastic.
She's tough. Montreal-bred.
Yeah, I think that's the case. I think also, though, certainly after the projects I've done in the recent past, be it the [Judy] Garland show, or the opera, or the Songs for Lulu, they were all very much concerned with a dramatic mystery that was either with a full orchestra or just me alone at the piano in some sort of strange outfit. It was very ethereal and therefore very ephemeral. But this one, we're kind of like, bang, right back on earth a little bit with this record. I think there was a hunger that I had to do that and a newfound kind of fascination with life in general -- perhaps after losing my mother -- that people are relating to.
I have a two-year-old...
...so your new fatherhood is something that interests me a lot in how it's kind of changed your life and how that reflected on an album which is obviously a lot more optimistic than your last one was.
To be honest, it's so early in the process for me, and I never really intended to be a father. It kind of came out of a period of extreme chaos and also emotional searching and it was a wonderful miracle that occurred in my life, and I'm very thankful to my friend Lorca [Leonard Cohen's daughter] for allowing that to happen.
I wanna be a good dad, and once again I'm flung into a similar situation that I was in as a child, where my dad had to work and he wasn't with my mother, he didn't live with my mother -- though we have a much different relationship, Lorca and I. But I do think that with technology and also with hindsight, in terms of what I went through, growing up in a musical family, I'm gonna be able to make some smarter decisions, hopefully. I have been thinking a lot about how at a certain point, I'm going to really have to look at the landscape and say, you know, "what do I need to do now for my daughter? What does she need?" It's more important than what I need. It's the centerpiece of my life, and how do I accomplish that?
It's a cliché until you actually have a kid, but then you're like, "Oh. Actually, no, you do have to recalibrate everything."
Yeah. So I'm ready to recalibrate and I've certainly spent... I mean, you know, in my latest video, I'm having an orgy with three of me, a ménage a moi as I call it. So I think I'm pretty ready to focus on someone else at the moment -- both my husband and I, both Jorn and I are. It's an exciting prospect.
How old is she now?
She's one and a couple of months.
Oh, so you don't really have to worry about it for another year when she'll start figuring out that you're not around.
Actually, the timing is fairly good, because I'll do this album, and I'm gonna go all out, tour the world, hopefully, you know, make millions of dollars -- why not me? [Laughs] Sorry. That'll be in about a year and a half, and she'll be gearing up at that point, and in need, so I'll buy her a pony. Finally, here we go. [laughs]
This album has obviously been in the works for a long time, but Adele, Mark Ronson's former musical partner, has had quite the year. It feels to me that she's ushered in this whole era of authenticity. And it's not like you need to sound like her, you just need to sound authentic in however you do it. Lana Del Rey got busted for not being authentic enough. How do you think that's gonna impact the music industry and you in particular?
Well, you know, I'm always so trepidatious in terms of gauging that whole situation because it seems like whenever I make a pronouncement it always fails miserably. But I will venture to say, if I could be in any corner behind a fighter egging them on, it would be the boxing song. I'm into songs. And that is sort of the emblem that I want to wear. And so that's where I'm putting my chips, and we'll see how it fairs in this climate. I think it's a pretty good time to make an impact, and also I have a pretty fantastic team behind me, so we'll see. But in the end, I can always retire and play Carnegie Hall for the rest of my life.
But think about what Lorca's grandfather's record did. [At age 77, Leonard Cohen's new album debuted in the top three in the US, UK and Canada.]
No, I know, that's amazing. And it's amazing to think about Leonard, how he put out his first album I think in his mid-thirties, and I'm 38, so there's lots of room to do lots of stuff.
Did you ever think that Leonard would be the grandfather of your child?
[Laughs] No, no. But you know, we're all from Montreal, and we're all in the same business. You know, a lot of people say, "Oh, it's this new dynamic or paradigm of what a family is," and I'm like, in a weird way, it's very old what we're doing. It's just two families uniting from similar backgrounds... for world domination.
I'm just kidding.
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