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Clay Aiken, parents join lawmakers to push anti-bullying bills

‘American Idol’ singer tells Capitol Hill briefing he suffered taunting

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Clay Aiken on the Hill last week. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

“American Idol” singer Clay Aiken and two mothers whose sons committed suicide because of anti-gay bullying at their schools appeared at a Capitol Hill briefing Thursday to urge Congress to pass two bills that would require schools to address bullying and harassment targeting LGBT students.

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) organized the briefing as a means of drawing public attention to the two pending bills, the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

“Like many kids now in middle schools and high schools, I was bullied,” said Aiken, who came out as gay in 2008 after winning the runner up title of best singer on the widely viewed television show “American Idol.”

“I was picked on, I was called gay, I was called fag, I was called sissy, you name it,” he said. “Fortunately, I was able to overcome it and live through it because of a number of friends who were supportive of me.”

Aiken and Louis Van Amstel, host of the television show “Dancing with the Stars,” joined parents Sirdeaner Walker of Massachusetts and Tammy Aaberg of Minnesota in making an impassioned plea for lawmakers to pass the two bills. Sirdeaner and Aaberg’s sons took their own lives earlier this year due to anti-gay bullying.

“Over the past few months I have heard so many stories about other youth who were suffering,” said Walker, who lost her 11-year-old son Carl Joseph Walker, who hanged himself in his bedroom with an electrical cord.

“Too many of our children are being tormented in schools – and not enough of our adults are doing the right thing and teaching respect for all. Enough is enough,” she said.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), who introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act, and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act, also spoke at the briefing, calling on their colleagues to support the legislation.

“No student should have to dread going to school because they fear being bullied,” Franken told those gathered for the event, held in a committee hearing room at the Rayburn House Office Building. “We must address bullying and harassment in schools in the next Congress.”

Polis, who is gay, said school bullying affects students living in both Republican and Democratic leaning states, saying he would work with his colleagues on both sides of the political isle to push for passage of the legislation.

“Every student has the right to an education free from bullying, harassment and violence, and we are here today to show that Congress is ready to take a stand against bullying in our schools,” he said.

Franken and Casey cited recent cases of suicides due to anti-gay bullying in their home states. They pointed to what they called a courageous decision by Walker and Aaberg to speak at Thursday’s briefing to tell the stories of the loss of their own teenage sons as a means of drawing support for the legislation.

“Recent stories of the tragic effects of bullying in Pennsylvania and throughout the country are evidence of the urgent need to address this issue in our schools,” Casey said. “We owe it to our children to do whatever we can to ensure their pleas for help do not go unheard.”

Casey introduced to the briefing Joey Kemmerling, a high school student in Bucks County, Pa., near Philadelphia, who helped form an anti-bullying group as well a Gay-Straight Alliance organization at his school.

“I came out in eighth grade and ever since then I have been bullied every day,” Kemmerling told the briefing. “There’s not been a day that has gone by where I have not heard the word faggot, queer or fairy or told that I was not human.”

He described an incident when another male student threatened him with a knife on the school grounds after school officials declined Kemmerling’s plea that they search the student for a weapon.

“He came up to me and he looked me in the eyes and he had the look of hatred,” Kammerling recounted. “I didn’t know who he was but I knew that he hated me. And he said, ‘Your life is in my hands.’ And he walked away.”

The incident caused him to become deeply depressed and to contemplate suicide, Kammerling said.

“I thought I didn’t deserve to live. I was gay so did my life really matter? I didn’t think so,” he said.

“I almost committed suicide, and somehow I overcame that and started working to change the schools,” he said. “I was so thankful to meet GLSEN and work with them to fight all injustices all around the United States.

“I really just hope you’ll join me in that fight because the real change is going to come from society and the change is going to come from the people stepping up and saying, ‘I don’t want to see another kid ever go through what I went through and what the students went through that committed suicide.'”

His remarks drew a loud and prolonged applause from the audience, which included staff members of senators and members of the House.

GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said she was hopeful that Congress would act on the two bills next year despite reports by Capitol Hill observers that the new Republican controlled House of Representatives would block all LGBT-supportive legislation.

“They currently have bipartisan support in this Congress,” Byard said. “And I think just as children’s safety, it’s not a gay or straight issue, it is not a Republican or Democratic issue.”

The Safe Schools Improvement Act requires schools receiving federal funds to develop policies to prohibit bullying based on race, sex, national origin, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. It has 130 co-sponsors in the House and 15 cosponsors in the Senate.

The Student Non-Discrimination Act calls for providing protections to students who are targeted for bullying, harassment and discrimination based on their “actual or perceived” sexual orientation or gender identity. It currently has 127 cosponsors in the House and 30 cosponsors in the Senate.

Franken said he has proposed that the Student Non-Discrimination Act be incorporated as an amendment to legislation reauthorizing the longstanding and highly popular Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which Congress is scheduled to vote on next year.

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Bill

    November 19, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    Let’s be very clear that much of this anti-gay hatred is promulgated and supported by religious organizations. While there are wonderful exceptions (Episcopal, UCC. Unitarians), are too many churches create “hell on earth” for the GLBT community. Further, all too often we have government-sanction hatred of the gay community. If we are to address the root causes of this hatred, it’s imperative that churches and government do what is moral.

  2. Pat

    November 19, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    Also, parents need to reinforce to their children that it’s not okay to make fun of / bully someone just because they are different.

    A little tolerance and understanding goes a long way in helping to see that people who are ‘different’ have the same rights that everyone else has.

  3. Joey

    November 19, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    When I read this article, I was shocked to sya the least. I honestly never knew that bullying had such a tragic effect on students. I just do not understand how people could possibly treat others in such a way as to make them want to cause harm to themeselves. I really just think that this occurs because people do not understand how much name calling or any type of bullying can hurt someone. It can really push someone over the edge and make them do things that they would otherwise not even think about doing. I think that people need to start taking into account the way that they treat others. People should treat others the way that they would want to be treated. Eventually, people will have to be able to live with the fact that everyone is their own person and there is not one thing that they can do to change it.
    I feel that this bill should be passed because it really is a step in the right ditrection. It seems that there really is not much being done to prevent bullying in school systems. I would have to agreee with this article one hundred percent when it says that noboby should ever have to fear going to school. One possibl solution to the problem could be that there is constant patrolling within schools in order to decrease the amount of bullying being done. I cannot say that I understand everything that these students have been through but i really think that it is wrong that they had to go through all of it. In class, we learned that teachers are able to prevent bullying by being aware of everything that goes on throghout the schoolday. I feel that awareness in this situation would definitely be a helpful tool in pinpointing the problem with schoolsystems and bullying.

  4. carla

    November 19, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    The singer, Clay Aiken appears to be really “good” guy as well as having a really “good” voice. I had a child who was bullied in school. It is worse than many people believe. Thank you, Clay Aiken and others who are working on this problem

  5. barb

    November 19, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    I agree with you totally. There is definetely a major hate wave against Gays in “some” churches. Somehow they have managed to twist the written word to suit their preferences and this is a problem that is going to take some time to correct. The government is all consumed by the” vote” factor and some churches by the”holier than thou” attitude…morality seems to be on the sidelines right now.You would think that bringing everyone together to live with acceptance and equality would be at the forefront because it would alleviate so many of the world’s problems…so much for thought.

  6. Vickie

    November 20, 2010 at 8:07 am

    I am almost emotionally spent on this subject, having ranted about it all through the month of Sept. Now, I am just sad. I still get angry, though, when I read idiotic comments about bullying in general, and “why is anti-gay bullying any different?” I have come to the conclusion that some people will simply never get it, because their world view is so warped.

    Two small facts in your article need correcting, though(forgive me; I’m compulsive this way sometimes): Louis van Amstel is not the host of DTWS; Tom Bergeron is. Louis is a professional dancer who sometimes competes on the show. And, your sentence,”…said Aiken, who came out as gay in 2008 after winning the runner up title of best singer on the widely viewed television show “American Idol.”” makes it sound like he competed in 2008. It should have read “…said Aiken, who came out as gay in 2008, 5 years after winning the runner up title of best singer on the widely viewed television show “American Idol.””

  7. Rosemary Peppercorn

    November 20, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    Bill’s comment is correct.

  8. Sarah

    November 20, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    If they haven’t done so yet, GLSEN needs to reach out to the Trevor Project and all of the people (Adam Lambert, for one) who’re supporting the “It Gets Better” campaign, because they’re essentially approaching the same problem from two slightly different directions and they would probably have a lot more sway if they joined forces.

  9. Skeeter Sanders

    November 22, 2010 at 9:40 am

    I have no confidence that the proposed Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act will have any chance of passage in the House after the Republicans take over in January. The new batch of GOP freshmen will be more right-wing than the Republicans who were swept into control of Congress in the 1994 election.

    There won’t be enough time in the lame-duck session of the outgoing Democratic-controlled House to get the measures passed — and even if they did, the bills would likely run into a GOP filibuster in the Senate.

    I agree with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) — we can forget about any pro-gay legislation passing in Congress as long as the Republicans are in control. It’s going to require legal challenges to anti-gay laws in the courts to win full civil and constitutional rights to LGBT Americans.

  10. corinne

    November 22, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    Hard to support the It Gets Better concept when your experience does not support that, Perhaps the legislation is being lobbied now because the political climate is better now than it will be next year.

  11. Anne

    November 24, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    This comment really hit a nerve.

    “I agree with you totally. There is definitely a major hate wave against Gays in “some” churches. Somehow they have managed to twist the written word to suit their preferences and this is a problem that is going to take some time to correct.”

    The TWISTING is done by those who believe gay behavior should be considered acceptable. Churches continue to change (and twist the scriptures) in order to make the gay lifestyle acceptable in an attempt to keep or gain church members. Those are man’s views, not God’s. That being said, according to the Bible, the gay lifestyle is no more immoral than that of those having sex outside of marriage.

    Bullying individuals for ANY reason is wrong. Man and politics will never be able to change perverted or violent (bullying) behavior, only God can and will.

    Can people not see that Clay Aiken is only now speaking on behalf of gay rights because his career is in the toilet?

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Music & Concerts

5 little questions for bounce queen Big Freedia

New tour comes to D.C. on Sept. 29

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Big Freedia plays D.C. next week. (Photo by kathclick via Bigstock)

There wasn’t much good news coming out of Katrina-ravaged New Orleans in 2005, but bounce music queen Big Freedia changed that narrative when she returned to the Big Easy to uplift community spirits with her high-energy stage performances. 

She was already well known in the area, having made a name for herself on the Crescent City club scene, and she was just starting to break out nationally. Fast forward a decade to 2016 and she was a full-fledged star featured on Beyoncé’s “Formation,” and Drake’s “Nice For What” in 2018. In 2021, after a lengthy hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Freedia is bigger than ever, with a current tour and a new album, “Big Diva Energy.” The D.C. stop on the tour is Sept. 29 at Lincoln Theatre; tickets available at ticketnetwork.com.

WASHINGTON BLADE: You have a penchant for purses. What’s a favorite in your own collection, and what’s one you can’t wait to get your hands on?

BIG FREEDIA: Michael Kors is one of my all time favorites, but I can’t wait to get my hands on the new Tory Burch tote that I ordered. It’s burgundy and I cannot wait for it to arrive!

 BLADE: You always have the wildest looks. Where does your style inspiration come from? What’s one place you love to source your pieces?

BIG FREEDIA: My looks are inspired by anything and everything I see. I can be at the grocery store, watching a movie, or touring in a new city and get ideas and style inspiration. My secret sourcing spot is on Melrose Avenue in L.A. I won’t tell you the name though; it’s my secret.

BLADE: You’re also a gun-violence activist. Your brother was killed a few years ago by gunfire, and you’ve been shot yourself. A documentary on the subject called “Freedia Got a Gun” – starring you – is available to stream on Peacock. Was this a cathartic project for you?

BIG FREEDIA: I haven’t the slightest idea how to solve the awful gun violence problem we have in America. I do believe in prevention though, and I know that mental health is a very important part of it for our Black and LGBTQ+ youth – all youth. If kids have hope and opportunities, a life of violence will be much less likely. I am very much an advocate of mental health services and support in our communities. 

BLADE: What do you have planned for your fans that have waited so long to see you on tour? 

BIG FREEDIA: A Big Freedia show is a big party, so they can expect an even bigger party since we’ve been in our homes. Extra energy, extra Bounce! All I can say is please BE VACCINATED if you come to a show and let us all celebrate safely. 

BLADE: Tell me all about your next album. Are there any fire collabs in the works?

BIG FREEDIA: I’m very excited about my new project. It’s called “Big Diva Energy.” I wanted this to be my album and reflect my voice, so I didn’t get collabs. My homegirl, Boyfriend, is on one track. We’ve worked a ton together this year, but she’s the only one.

Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBTQ lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels.

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Music & Concerts

Live music returns to D.C.

9:30 club, The Anthem, Fillmore, and more fill up calendars for fall

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HER performs at the Anthem on Oct. 25.

Fall is almost here. And, with cooler weather fast approaching and more people getting vaccinated, many venues have decided to go full force with their programming. Here are a few events you should make sure to mark in your calendar. 

The Anthem

Juanes will grace The Anthem’s stage on Tuesday, Sept. 21 for his Origen Tour. The show begins at 8 p.m. and tickets can be purchased for $55 on Ticketmaster. 

Other fall highlights include: Violent Femmes with Flogging Molly on Sept. 26 at 6:30 p.m.; Dead Can Dance on Oct. 11 at 8 p.m.; HER – Gabi Wilson on Oct. 25; and former TV anchor Katie Couric brings her book tour to the venue on Oct. 30 at 7:30 p.m.

9:30 Club/Merriweather

Bob Mould returns to 9:30 to perform along with Kestrels on Sept. 18; Tinashe brings her “333 Tour” on Oct. 3; Alec Benjamin sold out his first show on Oct. 4 so a second has been added for Oct. 5; and for all the ‘90s fans, White Ford Bronco performs Oct. 15. 

“92Q End of Summer Jam Featuring Future” will be at the Merriweather Post Pavilion on Sunday, Sept. 19. This event will feature prominent artists including rappers Future, City Girls, Moneybagg Yo, and 42 Dugg. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the concert begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are selling for as low as $99, and you can purchase them on Ticketmaster.

U Street Music Hall will present Luttrell on Saturday, Sept. 25. At 10:00p.m. D.C. DJ Sabeel Cohan will also play a set at the show. Tickets are available on Ticketmaster and cost $20. 

Fillmore

Jack Harlow, who recently featured on gay singer Lil Nas X’s song “Industry Baby,” will be performing at Fillmore on Saturday, Sept. 18 for his Crème de la Crème Tour. Babyface Ray and Mavi will be performing as well. This standing room only event begins at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $29.50. For more information, visit Fillmore’s website.

Tanzanian superstar and BET Best International Act award nominee Diamond Platnumz will perform on Sunday, Oct. 10 at 7 p.m. Tickets are as low as $39.99 for general admission. This event is a standing room only event. More information is available on Fillmore’s website.

Fillmore will also present Nigerian singer Omah Lay on Monday, Sept. 27. Tickets are $27 and doors open at 8 p.m. This is a standing room only event.

Dance Gavin Dance will play at Fillmore as part of their Afterburner Tour on Wednesday, Sept. 29. Doors open at 6 p.m. and tickets can be purchased for $29.50 on Fillmore’s website. 

Howard Theatre

Jay Electronica and Smoke DZA will perform at the Howard Theatre on Saturday, Sept. 18 at 9 p.m. A-King will host the event. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the concert begins at 9 p.m. Advance tickets cost $25 and can be purchased on the Howard Theatre’s website.

Grammy Award-winning singer iLe will bring some bolero tunes to the Howard Theatre on Friday, Oct. 1 at 8 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m. and tickets cost $39. Visit the Howard Theatre’s website for more information. 

“The Biggest ‘90s Party Ever” will be hosted on Saturday, Oct. 9 at 8:15 p.m. Join the Howard Theatre in your best ‘90s-inspired attire for a night of nostalgic vibes and ‘90s tunes. Advance tickets are $34.99 and tickets purchased the day of the event will be $60. For more information, visit the Howard’s website.

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Music & Concerts

Musical adventurer Rufus Wainwright returns to touring, plays D.C. Sept. 28

From Judy to Shakespeare to opera, gay wunderkind embraces it all

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Rufus Wainwright says critics considered his 2020 album a ‘seminal’ project. (Photo by Tony Hauser)

Rufus Wainwright and Jose Gonzalez
Unfollow the Rules in the Local Valley Tour
The Anthem
901 Wharf St., S.W.
Tuesday, Sept. 28
8 p.m. (doors: 630)
$55-75
ticketsonsale.com
theanthemdc.com
rufuswainright.com

After some artistic detours — in 2018, a second opera; before that, an album of songs based on Shakespearean sonnets in 2016 — Rufus Wainwright returned to his “regular” music in July 2020 with the release of his 10th studio album “Unfollow the Rules,” which was critically embraced and nominated for a Grammy.

A live album of the “Unfollow” material dubbed “The Paramour Sessions” was released Sept. 10.

Wainwright, 48, spoke to the Blade by phone on Sept. 1 from Nashville where he had a City Winery show that night as part of his “Unfollow the Rules Tour.” He joins Jose Gonzalez for the “Unfollow the Rules in the Local Valley Tour,” a co-headlining, 10-city mini-tour, next week. They play The Anthem on Sept. 28. Then Wainwright, who’s been publicly out since his eponymous debut album dropped in 1998, will resume his solo tour next month in the U.K. His comments have been slightly edited. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: You’re back on the road. What have the audiences been like?

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT: Well, they’re very excited. … There’s definitely a palpable sense of appreciation and excitement. And it’s good to be back.

BLADE: Do you feel safer singing more of the new album now that it’s been out a year and people have had time to absorb it? Is that easier than trying to sing more of it when it’s just out?

WAINWRIGHT: I definitely enjoy the whole kind of common knowledge thing now that exists with this album. And certainly having this other record, “The Paramour Sessions,” to promote as well, which is just another take on some of the same material. One can also go on a bit of a deeper dive. You know, this album actually did very well critically, it was nominated for a Grammy and a lot of people consider it a seminal work for me. I think it can handle that stretch.

BLADE: Do the new songs dovetail fairly naturally with your older songs in a set?

WAINWRIGHT: Yeah, I mean, this album is very much related to my first album. I’m not going to be doing my first album in the show, but it’s kind of a return to my California roots. You know, where I began my career over 20 years ago. The songs are answers in a way to some of the questions raised on the first album. … I’m not singing them back to back or anything, but a lot of my fans have followed me from the beginning so we all get it.  

BLADE: How did “Unfollow the Rules: The Paramour Sessions” come about?

WAINWRIGHT: When the album was released, we still wanted to do something special online so we made this film doing a lot of the songs with a smaller ensemble at this incredible Hollywood mansion. This was at the height of the pandemic, possibly slightly illegally in the sense that we weren’t necessarily supposed to be working. But people needed to do something, you know, to get their heads out of the chaos. This was last summer during the Black Lives Matter protests and just the heat of those fires that were about to ignite, there was a very intense atmosphere and I do feel strongly that some of that drama is possibly on the recording. At least I think there’s this sort of depth there that can only come out of something like that. 

BLADE: Did it seem relatively easy returning to quote-unquote pop music after writing opera? 

WAINWRIGHT: Yeah. One of the great gifts of me writing opera, which I will continue to do intermittently, is that it gave me a whole new appreciation of where I came from and all the freedoms I have in the pop world. I’m very grateful for my work in the songwriting universe and all the freedom that comes with it. 

BLADE: Are you co-headlining this tour with Jose Gonzalez?

WAINWRIGHT: Yes. It will be nice to be out with a brilliant songwriter and singer. It’s been a while since I’ve done this sort of thing. When I began my career, it was more the norm to be part of a lineup. 

BLADE: Do you know him? Will you sing anything together?

WAINWRIGHT: We haven’t met but I think it will be a very emotional meeting in a way, because it’s been a long time coming. 

BLADE: What was it like revisiting the Judy (Garland) album last summer and on her birthday no less? (Wainwright recreated Garland’s famous live Carnegie Hall album in 2007.)

WAINWRIGHT: It was a thrill. How many people can claim to have sang the same songs in the same room where she recorded a lot of them and on the actual microphone that she used with Renee Zellweger (who won an Oscar for the 2019 biopic “Judy”) as a captive audience. So yeah, I just felt a lot of gratitude and felt very privileged to be able to go on that journey. So yes, in honor of Judy, but the main thread that I’m actually worshipping is the material itself whether it’s Gershwin or Berlin. They inspire me, as a songwriter myself, to keep the bar fairly high. 

BLADE: You’ve hinted in other interviews that you want to write a Broadway musical and perhaps a ballet. You’ve written two operas. Where does this drive come from to conquer such ambitious and disparate art forms?

WAINWRIGHT: Well obviously with COVID, touring was suspended for a while, so it was a chance to try to advance the Broadway jalopy, which I’ve been trying to do for a while. There are about three or four projects that I have in the works that unfortunately I can’t talk about too much, but what I can say is that there is a wholehearted effort going on to, you know, secure my place on the Great White Way one way or another. It’s something people have been after me to do over the years because they say my music already has that sensibility. So I’m finally kind of doing my homework now. 

BLADE: And whether it’s Broadway or opera, what are the gatekeepers like in those arenas? Since you’re a known entity, is it easy to at least get a pitch meeting? How does it work?

WAINWRIGHT: Well they’re very different. I’m happy that I went into the opera world first. My first opera has been done seven times all over the world and my second one has other productions coming, so it’s been a success. Not everybody adores my work, but it made an impact and it seems to be continuing on so that’s all you can ask for anyway. I’m happy I did it, but it’s a very, very tough battle. The standards are very, very high, which is actually a good thing. With Broadway, I think there’s a whole financial element to it where people are looking to make a fortune off of these shows, so that’s kind of new for me and something I have to be cognitive of. 

BLADE: You said in another interview that the classical world could be poisonous at times. How so?

WAINWRIGHT: I meant it was the opposite of what I believed it was going to be. I had a very nice view of the classical world, and I’ve adored opera for most of my life. I thought I would be able to unleash my talents and it would be accepted and appreciated and I would be, you know, brought into the fold when in fact, it was the opposite. They were very, very dubious to me and very protective of their sacred cows, so it was a real rude awakening. It’s a very cliquish environment and everybody kind of knows everybody. So if somebody wanted to poison the well, they can and then it spreads to this massive disease about you and they’re able to spread it very easily. So the happy story is that it survived and thrived and I guess what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. 

BLADE: Whether they’re fans or not, most people would concur your songs are fairly intelligent. Are art and culture and society in general getting dumbed down a little more each year?

WAINWRIGHT: I think there are some aspects that need some attending to for sure. I mean in the pop songwriting world, I’d say lyrics are really under threat. When you look at the generation that’s about to exit — people like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and the ones who have left us, like Bowie, and so forth, lyrics were really kind of the most brilliant jewel in the art form and now they’re just so throwaway. I don’t profess to be the world’s greatest lyricist or anything, but I do try very hard and I wouldn’t say the age we’re in is a golden age of the word. But maybe there are other art forms, like fashion or something perhaps, that are at their peak now, who knows? 

BLADE: Was it hard to maintain sobriety during lockdown last year?

WAINWRIGHT: No. My wonderful husband (Jorn Weisbrodt, whom Wainwright married in 2012), he’s not about alcohol at all. He doesn’t drink because he just doesn’t need to. And I do Zoom meetings here and there. So I thank my lucky stars it wasn’t. It would have been hard to contend with alcohol as well as COVID. 

BLADE: How’s your daughter? What’s she excited about these days? (Wainwright’s daughter Viva is 10)

WAINWRIGHT: Oh, she’s into horseback riding. She loves Tina Turner. She loves to draw. She’s actually really happy to be back in school and hanging out with her friends. 

BLADE: How often do you talk to your dad on average? (Wainwright is the son of Loudon Wainwright III, an acclaimed singer/songwriter.)

WAINWRIGHT: We try to talk once a week. We’ve kind of made it into this calendar item and it works really well that way. Just to touch base and see how we’re doing. Other times we’ll get into more sensitive territory. I think especially since losing my mother, I’m just aware that it’s a finite amount of time these people are going to be around, so you might as well spend time with them while you can. 

BLADE: How closely do you follow current pop music? Is there anybody who particularly excites you?

WAINWRIGHT: I do. I like Perfume Genius and Lana Del Rey. And I like The Weeknd. When those songs come on, I’m like, “Wow, that’s a real hit.” I admire that because I’ve never been able to crack that nut, nor do I think I probably ever will. 

Rufus Wainwright says returning to pop songcraft after two operas was artistically satisfying. (Photo by Tony Hauser)
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