Arts » Pop Music & Jazz

Rufus Wainwright grows up and mellows out

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Family man: Rufus Wainwright plays a holiday show with his sister Martha at The Fox in Oakland today.
  • Family man: Rufus Wainwright plays a holiday show with his sister Martha at The Fox in Oakland today.

Since his 2001 breakthrough — the Chelsea Hotel-inspired sophomore CD “Poses” — Canadian crooner Rufus Wainwright has  projected an air of cavalier, slightly decadent dandyism.

But things have changed dramatically for the once-insouciant singer.

“Over the past three years, I’ve had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at me,” he says. “On one hand, it’s been very, very difficult and arduous, and on the other, there’s been a certain sweetness to those human experiences that I hope has made me a better person.”

These shifts are the reason that the man and his kid sister, Martha Wainwright, are hitting the Bay Area with their “Christmas 101” tour, onstage today at Oakland’s Fox Theater.   

After losing their mother, folksinger Kate McGarrigle, to a rare type of sarcoma two years ago at age 63, the family prefers to stay close during the holidays.

“Because we do lead such busy lives, it’s become more and more important to get everybody together and celebrate all that’s around,” says Wainwright, 39, who is donating all proceeds from the show to the Montreal-based cancer charity the Kate McGarrigle Foundation.

Wainwright charts more changes on his latest Mark Ronson-produced  album, “Out of the Game.” Songs such as “Welcome to the Ball,” and the album itself, are dedicated to Viva Katherine Wainwright Cohen, his child with Los Angeles-based Lorca Cohen (Leonard Cohen’s daughter).

Another track, “Montauk,” references the city where he and his longtime beau, Jorn Weisbrodt, recently tied the knot.

“We had a fantastic wedding in August, right after (same-sex marriage) became legal in New York, and everybody was there,” he says of the ceremony attended by Yoko Ono, Lou Reed, Alan Cumming, Julianne Moore and others. Milestones galore, he says: “The next thing you know, I’ll be glazing ham!”

The once-misanthropic Wainwright no longer views modern society with the same old cynicism.

“I’ve been really optimistic in a lot of my portraits of the world lately, although I don’t mind acknowledging and accepting the sadness of it all — I find the noblesse that is imbued in that,” he says. “But with children, you’re not the one who’s bringing them into the world. They’re the ones who are choosing to come and do their thing. So at the end of the day, they are the masters of their own destiny.”

Wainwright has matured — but not too much.

“I take the Hindu approach, in that you are many, many people, and you die a great army,” he says. “So, yes, that foppish roue-child still exists. But he’s just part of a cast of characters that I’ve developed over the years.”