The return from my three weeks in Los Angeles has been met with storm after storm, with wild winds, driving rain, drizzle, low pressure and the darkest clouds. The sun has so rarely appeared that it’s enough for me to feel quiet despair. Even my daily walks along the cliff have been hampered because of the depth of the mud. Occasionally I pull on my wellies and brave the elements regardless, with a determination I know not from where, other than necessity. Occasionally I put on music either to soothe me, like Lyle Mays, or defiant empowering music like African Head Charge, to release the energy that needs to move through me. Of course, painting too. And my current job as peripatetic English teacher to Syrian refugees is incredibly rewarding and I feel I am helping them and perhaps even inspiring them. I showed one of my students the work of British Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, as she is studying the art and design diploma, and now she want to be an architect. This makes me happy.
As I sat with my despair yesterday about the relentless storms, dreaming of Spain, and a ticket to see Rufus Wainwright in my bag, I almost cried off, due to a persistent weather-related migraine. However, I put a big scarf on and went to the White Rock Pavilion to meet my cousin Roger, a music lover like me. The White Rock is a smallish theatre, so the venue was perfect. Rufus was performing as part of the Hastings International Piano Festival, and was accompanied by a part of the London Symphony Orchestra. He was dressed in a brown and gold-striped suit with just the right amount of bling and fabulousness and in his middle years has grown a beard which really suits him. His voice is still this incredible instrument. Lavish and mellifluous, with the quality almost of a wood instrument or something reminiscent of teak, with warmth, depth and just the right amount of something solid and hard and distinctly north American. He told stories, funny ones, personal ones, sensitive ones, and engaged the audience with his warmth, sensitivity, emotion and humour. Occasionally he forgot the lines and had to start over, which only added to the sense of intimacy, and his total ownership of his craft and lack of rigidity. He seems so at ease in his skin.
Every song he sang got me right in the solar plexus. Tears rolled down my cheeks, I laughed, smiled, cheered (at the end of songs) and felt fully engaged. I see a lot of live music and often musicians or song-writers seem a little removed or detached from the audience. Rufus draws you right in. You feel like a friend. He feels like a friend. My daughter had been lucky enough to meet him at a lavish music biz party a few days before and she told him how her Mum (me) had raised her on his music. She could tell he was moved, and he touched his heart as a gesture to her words. There was a time when I was addicted to listening to him, as the emotion in his work helped me with the emotion in my mindscape. Dinner At Eight was a song we played so often, as it is a song he wrote about his Dad, (Loudon Wainwright III) and the abandonment wound, and Ellie and I listened to it to help us cope with ours on the part of her biological father.
Rufus is such a pure vessel for music and it just moves right through him and you are drawn in and so present with every note he sings, every chord he plays and every nuance of complexity, every word. The melodies are often long fluid meandering rivers, meeting cascades and confluences. The lyrics are fascinating, his sentences complex and they run into each other, with never a trite word or thought conveyed. His song ‘Poses’ had me feeling that I was almost sitting next to him, so present was I with every second of that piece. My head nodding in agreement or shaking in some sort of conveyance of understanding. It was like a conversation. He was mesmerising. Vulnerability is strength, and he possesses both, which makes him so beautiful. His honesty, true originality and intimacy are simply unparalleled.
His music also takes me back to my love as a child for musical theatre, and how I always wanted to be a singer, the compositions of people like Ravel; one of his pieces was interwoven with Ravel’s Bolero. There are allusions to Gershwin and of course Judy Garland. His final piece was an intimate performance of Somewhere over the Rainbow, where he sat on the edge of the stage and sang out pure and simple. There were two standing ovations. Hastings loved him.
I wonder too, if the best songwriters are made in countries or places where the weather is cold or disagreeable as Rufus is from Montreal, and was of course fortunate to have the wonderful Kate McGarrigle as his mother, whom he so clearly adored. That thought about songwriters is definitely arguable, but there certainly are some great songwriters from Canada and the northerly places. Joni, Leonard, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Prince, Van Morrison, John Martyn, Nick Drake, the Beatles, Bowie… the list is long.
Later, after our cups ran over, they ran over some more as we went to an evening/night of contemporary dance floor jazz at the Printworks, organised by my daughter Eleanor, and Jeff Higgins and Gavin O’Brien of Beaten Track, where we saw a great band headed by jazz saxophonist Sean Khan, and it was so good to dance. Today I feel different. Music heals and heals again.