‘Tori Amos helped me get over my rape ordeal!’
Not happy with recreating the legend that was Judy – in New York and London – Rufus Wainwright comes back with an album that seems to be keeping everyone happy (if happy’s the right word). Here he talks exclusively about this thing he had for crystal meth, how he loved lip-synching to his own records at orgies and how Tori Amos made him face up to his rape ordeal…
Are your records getting happier or sadder, do you think?
I’m hoping for them to get happier and sadder at the same time until I’ve created some kind of parallel universe.
Are you a sad person?
No. I don’t think I’m a sad person. I definitely have touches of melancholy but most of my dark clouds have a silver lining to them.
Are you the sort of person to lay in bed and wallow?
Not unless there’s somebody in that bed with me. I tend to get the blues when I’m walking around – I walk around New York a lot – maybe when I see a happy couple or parents with their lovely children or someone in a wheelchair, I get a touch of grief [laughs].
Are you from New York?
I was born in New York but I was brought up in Canada. My father’s from New York.
They’re hippies aren’t they, your parents?
They were never really hippies, they were sort of beatnicks. There’s a very slight, discerning discretion there.
Did you realise growing up that this wasn’t normal apple-pie family stuff?
I grew up in a very odd environment, number one being it was in Montreal, so it was predominantly French, like I went to an all-French school and Celine Dion was a huge superstar when I was a child but only known in Quebec.
And was it always going to be music for you because of your parents [both musicians]? Did you never just think you wanted to be a stewardess?
I maybe dreamt of being heir to a great fortune but my parents were very, very well respected but they never raked it in.
You should have been born to Celine Dion.
But, I don’t know whether I would have had these stunning looks [laughs]. I met her once at the Canadian Grammies. Someone introduced us and said, ‘Celine, this is Rufus Wainwright; Rufus, this is Celine Dion’, and the only thing she said to me was, ‘That shirt looks yellow on TV,’ and then walked away. But she was right, it did look yellow. I don’t think it was a question of being a bitch or anything, she’s just such a mechanical showbusiness creature.
Last time we interviewed you, you were being quite funny about your experience of being raped in a London park as a teenager. Are you usually funny about things like that or is it your way of dealing with it?
Well, I’ve since realised that it was perhaps more serious than I perhaps cared to jest. The experience that I didn’t have was that I was touring with Tori Amos for about two months in America and she had her organisation called RAIV, which is ‘rape and incest victims’, and she would do this whole thing where after each show she would talk to people who had been abused as young people. And for about two or three weeks I really slagged her off; I just thought, ‘Who is this ridiculous person kind of profiteering from her experiences?’ I just had this viscerally really bad reaction to it and then about a month into the tour, I was like, ‘Hold on a minute: I have never been able to sustain a successful relationship and I was raped at a very young age – when I was 14 – and it has affected me to this day…’
Did you go to one of her meetings?
I never went to one of those meetings and talked to her about it. But it did open my eyes.
She’s so sorted, isn’t she?
Yeah, she is. She’s like a corporate witch! [Laughs]
So, have you been to therapy?
Yeah, I went to therapy. Well, I went to rehab for a while. I was into this horrible crystal meth nightmare.
It’s not been a big thing in the UK, crystal. What does it do?
My experience has been – and most gay men’s I know – that decades of fear about disease and frustration about sex and low-grade discrimination in our society are out the window and you just lose all your inhibitions and become the whore of the century. Go on Gaydar and go crazy.
Did they know who you were when you went round?
I kind of dug the whole thing of going to some sex thing and then all of a sudden in the middle of it throwing on my album and lip-synching for the orgy. It was fun for a while but unfortunately there’s a real price to pay.
What is the price?
Oh, just utter mental breakdown. And lots of visits to the clinic.
Do you come out unscathed?
I came out unscathed but it was a real miracle.
Have you ever thrown your own orgy?
I’ve never thrown one.
That’s crossing a line, isn’t it, putting out the nibbles? But it’s a shame that everyone has to find a downside to orgies…
I think they’re great but when you have them when there’s a lot of drugs involved, there’s always going to be some victims. Mentally anyway. And little purple penises.
Rupert Wainwright’s album Release the Stars is out now.