Song Of The Day 6/26/2015: Rufus Wainwright – “I Don’t Know What It Is”

Pride Week: The Wainwrights are my favorite musical family, and it’s not a close contest. Patriarch Loudon Wainwright III is one of this blog’s most-tagged artists, having graciously tolerated my interview questions and been featured on Song On The Day three times (four if you count the song he wrote that Johnny Cash covered.) And LWIII’s got another SOTD coming up next week. His late ex-wife Kate McGarrigle and her sister Anna comprised one of the greatest folk duos of all time. Their daughter Martha has some astounding songs (including a harsh one about her dad) and her half-sister Lucy is out there too. Hell, I’d listen with open ears if very unrelated Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright put out an album. He’s out for the season though, so don’t expect too much.

It’s Loudon and Kate’s son Rufus drew me in most, though. It started with his first album in 1998, three years after I’d had a comprehensive musical awakening involving Harry Nilsson and John Cale. If you combined those two and threw in Van Dyke Parks for a laugh, I think you’d have a fairly operative, imperfect sketch of his first album. I probably played “Foolish Love” twice a day for about three months. I liked to consider it one of my secret favorite songs. Nobody was ever around when I played it, and nobody I knew was into it as much as I was. I also had something of a subterranean apartment at the time that got very humid (this was in Silver Lake in Los Angeles), so the setting was that much more isolated and uncomfortably intimate. It got better. Anyway, that was the environment in which I played a lot of Rufus Wainwright songs.

Want One came out in 2003 when I was in Olympia. Again, I thought I was the only one who loved it as much as I did. A lot of strange things happened in 2003. I don’t really know how to explain it without spoiling the autobiography I’m planning on not writing, but 2002 and 2003 were probably the most untethered years of my adult life. I was quite enjoying the rootlessness, or at least pretending to enjoy it. Actually I’m not sure I enjoyed it at all. The jokes were funnier. It was a fragmented era. I’ve read a little bit about what Rufus was going through before he buckled down to record Want One, and I can assure you nothing I was going through came anywhere close to what he was. That didn’t stop me from listening to Want One about three times a day from September 2003 until the end of the calendar year. There’s a lot on that album that I was feeling (or thought I was) at that exact same moment. That’s happened with, maybe, three albums in the course of my entire life, and just based on the principles of inverse social engineering I don’t think it’s ever going to happen again. “I Don’t Know What It Is” was the promising, seafaring side of what I was feeling at the time. (Well -- more like train-faring. Rail-faring?) If I hadn’t heard it, I might not have ever made it to Steilacoom.

You know, maybe I should reevaluate my current relationship with the Wainwrights. For their peace of mind, more than mine. Anybody got a spare Osmond lying around the attic?
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