By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
“And I know this sounds so silly,” he laughs, “I was sooo attractive! And I had to figure out, songwriting-wise, why. But, I’m always gathering material — I’m always on the make.”
“Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk,” which bookends the album, coyly hints at other habits “which for several reasons we won’t mention/Everything about ’em is a little bit stranger, a little bit harder/A little bit deadly.” Which verse might remind one of the recent headlines regarding an uptick in the number of young gay men contracting the HIV virus.
“I quite recently have been tested,” says Rufus. “I mean, I’d been tested .a few years earlier, but I was not one of those people who do it every six months. And I was fine. But, during that winter, I had a serious sort of anxiety attack about it, only because there is definitely a slackening in terms of attitude. I think the main problem is drugs, personally. I think there’s a big drug problem in the gay community. On one hand, it’s denial about everything that’s going on, but it’s also that people just don’t care about each other. You know, I’ve done drugs, and I’ll probably do drugs again at some point, but I do believe that drugs connected to sex equals AIDS. I’m talking about crystal and Special K and GHB, those club drugs — those kinds of wild sexual drugs. The attitude is, if you’re taking pills to have fun, just to get your dick hard, why not just take some extra pills for your virus, you know? You do meet a lot of people who, I guess after years of being so sexually repressed, are just like, ‘Gimme the fuckin’ virus, they have these new medications, I don’t really care about it anymore.’ And even I have felt that way, in the heat of passion.
“Then again, I think that sex will always be reckless. Anything involving that kind of energy is always gonna be.”
“Grey Gardens,” the album’s centerpiece, continues the theme: The refrain of “Tadzio, Tadzio” summons visions of Mann’s Death in Venice— of impossibly idealized love (Tadzio, a beautiful 14-year-old boy, is the middle-aged male protagonist’s object of distant desire) and deadly plague. “Grey Gardens” also draws a parallel between contemporary gay life and the aging, recluse mother-daughter “stars in their own heads” of the documentary film of the same name — a film that Rufus has watched dozens of times.
“There’s a certain barrenness in the film, of not having any kids, of losing your beauty,” explains Rufus. “Old age, when you’re past your prime in the gay world, you’re discarded very quickly. It’s pretty harsh. On the other hand, it’s amazing how many gay clubs or bars you go to and you’ll still see those old guys out there, 75-year-old guys with their private go-go dancers. Or in the backrooms. And that’s something that’s in the movie, the attitude that ‘We’re just gonna keep fighting being ourway, being rugged individuals.’ So I think that relates to it. Big Edie and Little Edie are certainly animated — they’re certainly not dead. They have a certain energy — they’re not afraid to be ridiculous.”
As good as Posesis (and it’s very good, easily one of the finest albums released this year) and as far afield as its songs sometime venture (especially the string-laden epic “Evil Angel”), one senses that Wainwright is compromising in a way the Edies never did — that the three-and-a-half-minute pop song is not his native habitat, that he’d be more at home applying his obvious skills to more rarefied genres: to operas and Broadway musicals, or cabaret torch songs and piano concertos. It’s as if he’s posing as a conventional singer-songwriter, allowing his musical ideas to be shaped into pop-palatable tracks by high-profile collaborators, which on Poses includes people who have produced Adult Alternative–format staples like Sarah McLachlan, Emmylou Harris and Crash Test Dummies, as well as Alex Gifford of the electronic outfit Propellerheads. The wry name of Rufus’ publishing company — Rock and Roll Credit Card Music — suggests that his DreamWorks solo records may just be a means to the more commercially perilous ends that ’til now have only surfaced in projects like setting a Shakespeare sonnet to music for a forthcoming benefit album. So: Is Rufus slumming?
“Well, I look at it in a pragmatic kind of way,” he says. “At the moment, I’m 27. I know that, you know, I have a good face for this stuff, I’m slim and healthy — with a certain healthy dose of unhealthy, heh heh. I feel like when I signed up with a major label that there was a certain obligation, let’s say, to spread the wealth in my success, and that that counted on me having a traditional kind of success in that field. So this is more of a way to allow me in the future to really be heard, when I make the decision to go in that direction. And I’m aware that that’s a very dangerous road to walk — one can sort of forget about why they started on this.