The last time we caught up with Rufus Wainwright he was weeks away from his soon-to-be-legendary on-site tribute to Judy Garland’s 1961 Judy At Carnegie Hall album. Now, putting his debauched days as a Chelsea Hotel-dwelling, crystal meth-abusing playboy even further behind him as he prepares to release his fifth album, Release the Stars (executive-produced by Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant), the openly gay singer-songwriter suggests that sobriety, sanity, and even monogamy simply suit him best.
By Brandon Voss
HX: You recently performed at Susanne Bartsch and Kenny Kenny’s Kino 41 party, but queer club appearances are rare for you these days, aren’t they?
Rufus Wainwright: Susanne has been so kind to me over the years and has given me a membership to [her husband David Barton’s] gym, so you have to repay the favor. And I’m still a princess who has to be seen by her public every once in a while.
What’s your current pop cultural obsession?
I’m still a big Britney fan, just in terms of her being exactly what she should be — a total wreck. I feel bad for her and everything, but she’s sort of like an emblem of what’s really going on.
What advice do you have for those crazy kids in and out of rehab?
The only advice that I have is that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Whether it’s music or drugs or relationships, variety is the spice of life, darling.
Things got out of hand, but do you ever miss your old wild lifestyle?
Yeah, I do miss it sometimes. I definitely feel it was the right thing to do at the time and that one should live life to the fullest when they’re young. But on the other hand, so many amazing things have happened to me in the interim — whether it’s making albums or being commissioned to write an opera for the Met or looking much better or finding a boyfriend — so it’s very hard for me to argue with the facts.
Some say the greatest songs stem from misery and longing, so how has being happily coupled affected your music?
There’s still misery and longing — trust me. And I’m still prone to the destruction of beauty. Or the beauty of destruction. Or the destructive power of beauty. One of the things you learn as you get older is that there are different people within you and that the lost little boy or that whorish 20-year-old, they never really go away. They just sort of get a drink and laugh at you.
Will we ever see you and your boyfriend, Jorn Weisbrodt, pushing a baby stroller around Chelsea?
Oh, God, no. He actually wants to have children and I don’t. I think that children are faking it. I don’t think they really talk that way. They’re just small beings — it’s like a costume. I don’t believe them.
You’ll appear on the Boston and D.C. dates of Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors tour, and you get political on us with this album’s first single, "Going to a Town." Do you feel a responsibility to speak out against social injustice?
Well, that song totally arrived of its own volition. I had no intention of writing a political number, but one day I had 10 minutes to spare before going to dinner, and next thing you know it just kind of dropped in my lap. I ran with it because the minute I would play it for someone there was this instant reaction. Even if you’re Republican, I don’t see how you can be happy with the state of affairs. So I’m just stating the facts.
How do you feel about the gay media’s obsession with outing closeted celebrities?
All I can say is that I’m happy that I’ve divorced myself from that whole phenomenon because of coming out myself right at the beginning, which is still very rare. So I’m off the hook. Otherwise, there is freedom of information and you can say what you want. The one thing that does bother me is when the gay media can be really bitchy and gossipy about the whole thing, but that’s going to happen anyway, so I don’t really care.
Do you ever regret coming out?
Only when I look at my bank statement. I definitely feel if I’d been more mysterious and cloudy about my sexual preferences, I would’ve sold a lot more records. But it’s too late now, and it’s fine.
Does it hurt not to have Liza’s stamp of approval for your Judy tributes?
No. I appreciate Liza’s contribution to showbiz and I find her fascinating to watch in a sort of spectator sport kind of way, but I’ve always been a much bigger Judy fan and didn’t need Liza’s approval. I think she’ll come around eventually — if she knows what’s good for her.
If you woke up tomorrow a straight man, who’d you want to sleep with?
Sienna Miller. I would actually almost sleep with her now. Ever since I saw the Edie movie I kind of fell for her.
You often write pointedly personal songs about those in your life. Who’d you like to write a song about you?
I’d love it if Brandon Flowers [from The Killers] wrote a song about me saying that he’s totally in love with me and wants to move to Acapulco. I have a bit of crush on him, but I’m a total lover — I have so many crushes on so many people. I mean, if I have a crush on someone, it’s no big news [laughs].
Your new track "Between My Legs," with spoken-word by actress Sian Phillips, is inspired. What are your other dream collaborations?
I would love to work with Colin Farrell. I’d like to produce his porn movie or he could produce mine — whichever. On a more artistic note, I’d also love to work with a great opera singer named Waltraud Meier, who I’m trying to hunt down to write my opera for.
What would your drag queen name be?
Lady Cadaver. I never did Lady Cadaver, but I thought that would be a good drag queen name. Just hold that thought — that’s all I’m saying.
HX, May 2007; extended online version.