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‘Rough and tumble show biz epic’

Rufus Wainwright on his new ‘best of’ release, tour and inspirations

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Rufus Wainwright, gay news, music, Washington Blade
Rufus Wainwright, gay news, music, Washington Blade

Rufus Wainwright (Photo by Sean James; courtesy Slate PR)

‘The Best of Rufus Wainwright’

With Lucy Wainwright Roche

Lincoln Theatre

1215 U St. N.W.

Wednesday at 7 p.m.

$45

rufuswainwright.com

ticketfly.com

Rufus Wainwright took a few minutes during a tour stop in Warsaw a few weeks ago to talk to us by phone about his show next week in Washington.

Touring behind two projects that were released last month — hits package “Vibrate” and the Blu-ray video “Rufus Wainwright: Live From the Artists Den” — Wainwright, 40, says he’s at a logical career mid-point that inspired revisiting his catalogue.

WASHINGTON BLADE: Are the audiences significantly different in Europe versus the U.S.?

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT: It really varies. I did shows in Latvia and Lithuania recently and you could have been talking about the East Coast and then the West Coast in terms of differences and it’s fascinating how it’s real peaks and valleys on this continent. It’s a little daunting. Occasionally you get some kind of icy folks, but mostly they’re very happy I’m here.

 

BLADE: The Artists Den show was recorded in May 2012 but just released last month for purchase. Did you always plan it as a home video release?

WAINWRIGHT: I just thought it would be a TV special and then we did a good job on it, so it made sense to keep the ball rolling. I’ve always concentrated really hard on my live performance and making sure that the pinnacle of my career is really what you see on stage in front of you when you’re in the room. I put a lot of faith in my live work, so it’s good to release it.

 

BLADE: So this is an entirely different show from the Artists Den show?

WAINWRIGHT: Oh yes, very different. Now I’m mostly promoting the “Vibrate” CD, the best-of CD, so I’m just doing a lot of songs from the expanse of my career and even a couple of new ones to whet people’s appetite. But it’s a much more intimate show, just one on one. Or hopefully one on a thousand, at least. But yeah, you’re hitting the core of the matter when you come see this new show in the spring.

 

BLADE: It’s a solo show? No band?

WAINWRIGHT? Just me and either piano or guitar.

 

BLADE: You have a strong body of work built over many years. What’s your philosophy of set list construction? To what degree is it informed by what you’re promoting at any given time?

WAINWRIGHT: Well there’s a few projects now so it’s definitely dictated to some degree by what I’m trying to sell. There’s lots of good stuff to talk about. For instance, I’m raising money now to record my opera “Prima Donna” (pledgemusic.com/projects/primadonna) which will be my next album, but I also sing some of my mother’s material (the late Kate McGarrigle) to promote some of her work, because I feel she was a great genius. And there’s also just the fun of making music.

 

BLADE: About how long do you play on average?

WAINWRIGHT: About 90 minutes.

 

Rufus Wainwright, gay news, music, Washington Blade

Rufus Wainwright (Photo by Sean James; courtesy Slate PR)

BLADE: In addition to the aforementioned projects, you also had a lavish box set out a couple years ago. Are you curating your body of work in a sense?

WAINWRIGHT: Well, I have a lot of it and I hit 40 so I have 40 years left to fill up in terms of my career so yeah, I’ve definitely spent the last five years going over what’s happened and putting it in its rightful place. I’ve also been writing another opera, “Hadrian,” and now I’m working a lot on some films for Hollywood and putting together some other tracks for another pop record but we’re definitely at the middle point right now. The best is yet to come.

 

BLADE: It’s obvious, though, that you put some care and thought into these things. Fans can always tell when they’re just slapped together by the label. Yours clearly were not.

WAINWRIGHT: Well, I have a lot of supportive and very intellectual people who helped me do that along the way. Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys was influential and instrumental I should say in putting together the list of songs for “Vibrate.” And, you know, I had such a great band for the Artists Den recording. You know, you’ve got to have good people around you.

 

BLADE: What was it like singing with Joni Mitchell at her birthday tribute last year?

WAINWRIGHT: Oh, that was wild. Really amazing. I can’t say that I was the biggest Joni Mitchell fan growing up. Not so much because I didn’t like her music but my mother was very jealous of Joni Mitchell. My mother was a very well known Canadian songwriter as well, so we weren’t allowed to listen to much Joni Mitchell in the house. So I wasn’t really that familiar. So it was really an amazing education and kind of a baptism by fire and the last lesson was singing with her on stage. It was a lot of fun.

 

BLADE: Did you get to interact much with her aside from what we saw on stage?

WAINWRIGHT: Oh yeah, a lot. We hung out a lot. I went to her house a few times because my husband (Jorn Weisbrodt) runs the festival, we had to really work with her on everything so we spent a lot of time together, Joni and I. It was a great honor.

 

BLADE: In interviews, she’s never been one to mince words. Is that how she is when the camera’s not rolling too?

WAINWRIGHT: Oh yeah, there’s no filter there whatsoever. You know, she’s lived in her own universe for so many years, there’s no way to really encapsulate and explain what she is. She’s kind of transcended what it is to be real.

 

BLADE: With the operas, which came first — the concepts or the commissions?

WAINWRIGHT: Well, I’ve always wanted to write operas, that desire was always there, but you really cannot write an opera in a vacuum. You need a commission to really hold on to because it’s such a laborious and intense process so yes, thankfully, I did receive one commission and now I’ve received another so I’m continuing that journey. But yeah, you can’t really write an opera on the side. It doesn’t work that way.

 

BLADE: Your vocals manage to be both full voiced and big, yet also have a world weariness to them. How do you do that?

WAINWRIGHT: I think part of it is due to my love of opera. They have to project in these huge halls so I try to kind of emulate that. But growing up, even before I became a big opera fan, my other influences were people like Judy Garland and Al Jolson, these, you know, much older kind of vaudevillian performers who, again, had to project. I think that kind of thing always attracted me more than, I don’t know, some kind of high quality recording. I was more into the kind of rough-and-tumble show biz epic. My voice is a very unusual and mystifying monster to me. I mean, I love my voice and I’m indebted to it eternally, but on the other hand, it puts me through hell sometimes trying to figure out what it is, where it’s going to go and what it needs. It has a life of its own. I’m just dragged around.

 

BLADE: You’ve said your last studio album (2012’s “Out of the Game”) with (producer) Mark Ronson was the most pop album you’d ever made. Do you think about pop and commercial appeal when you’re writing?

WAINWRIGHT: When I talk to my accountant I do (laughs).

 

BLADE: But do you with the muses as well?

WAINWRIGHT: A little bit. I know a lot of people who are very successful in the industry in terms of pop music. You know, Elton John or Neil Tennant. People who’ve had real hits. Norah Jones. So it’s around me and I see it happen and I wonder, you know, why not me? It’s always important to have a dangling carrot in front of you in the arts. You always have something you haven’t quite attained yet, so I’m thankful for this as an impetus.

 

BLADE: Is your stuff too smart perhaps for the masses?

WAINWRIGHT: I think that might be an issue. When I sing, it tends to grab your attention fully. I’m not very good background music. It seems like most pop music today is made to be played in restaurants really.

 

Rufus Wainwright, gay news, music, Washington Blade

Rufus Wainwright (Photo by Sean James; courtesy Slate PR)

BLADE: How gay is your fan base would you say?

WAINWRIGHT: Well, that’s an interesting question. I’ve never felt supported by my own kind. I think there are a lot of great gay music fans out there and definitely a strong nugget of wonderful queers who get it, but I’d say like the majority kind of mainstream gay sensibility really kind of runs countercurrent to what I’ve been trying to put forth. I’ve never felt that embraced by gay culture, especially by gay men. But that’s also part of my aesthetic. If I felt accepted by them, I’d be far too happy. (laughs)

 

BLADE: Do Jorn and (3-year-old daughter) Viva travel with you?

WAINWRIGHT: Jorn sometimes but he’s busy with his festival. We kind of run into each other along the way. My daughter lives with her mother (Leonard Cohen’s daugher, Lorca) in Los Angeles so I see her once a month or so.

 

BLADE: Did you see the Judy tribute at the Oscars?

WAINWRIGHT: No, I didn’t. What was it? Was Liza in it?

 

BLADE: Well she and Lorna and Joey were there but it was clips from “Wizard of Oz” and Idina Menzel sang. Do you know Liza well?

WAINWRIGHT: Well, I know Lorna a lot better. I don’t think anybody really knows Liza that well.

 

BLADE: You do so much work aside from the traditional writing/recording/touring cycle of a typical recording artist. Do you think you would have been doing as many other things had you been doing all this, say, a generation before?

WAINWRIGHT: I think if all of this had been happening even 15 years earlier, it would have been a whole other story. Financially, well, you know, there was just more of a kind of market and structure in the record business to support developing artists. I don’t think the deals were particularly good, but you were nonetheless kind of strung along more and there were more platforms to really express yourself whether it was TV or the radio. There was more to do. But I’m happy. I don’t know — I probably would have branched out anyway, now that I think about it. I tend to be pretty slippery.

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Tagg turns 10

D.C. magazine thriving post-pandemic with focus on queer women

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‘Tagg is a form of resistance,’ says editor Eboné Bell. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a 10-year-old YouTube video, owner and editor of Tagg magazine, Eboné Bell, — clad in a white cotton T-shirt, gray vest and matching gray fedora — smiled with all her pearly whites as a correspondent for the magazine interviewed her outside now-closed Cobalt, a gay club in downtown D.C. that hosted the magazine’s official launch in the fall of 2012. 

“I want to make sure that people know that this is a community publication,” Bell said in the video. “It’s about the women in this community and we wanted to make sure that they knew that ‘This is your magazine.’”

As one of just two queer womxn’s magazines in the country, Tagg has established itself as one of the nation’s leading and forthright LGBTQ publications that focuses on lesbian and queer culture, news, and events. The magazine is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.

Among the many beats Tagg covers, it has recently produced work on wide-ranging political issues such as the introduction of the LGBTQ+ History Education Act in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Supreme Court’s assault on reproductive rights through a reversal of its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling; and also attracted the attention of international queer celebrities, including Emmy-nominated actress Dominique Jackson through fundraisers.

“Tagg is a form of resistance,” Bell said in a Zoom interview with the Washington Blade. “I always say the best form of activism is visibility and we’re out there authentically us.”

Although the magazine was created to focus on lifestyle, pressing political issues that affect LGBTQ individuals pushed it to dive deeper into political coverage in efforts to bring visibility to LGBTQ issues that specifically affect queer femme individuals. 

“We know the majority of our readers are queer women,’ said Bell. “[So] we always ask ourselves, ‘How does this affect our community?’ We are intentional and deliberate about it.”

Rebecca Damante, a contributing writer to the magazine echoed Bell’s sentiments. 

“The movement can sometimes err toward gay white men and it’s good that we get to represent other groups,” said Damante. “I feel really lucky that a magazine like Tagg exists because it’s given me the chance to polish my writing skills and talk about queer representation in media and politics.”

Tagg’s coverage has attracted younger readers who visit the magazine’s website in search of community and belonging. Most readers range between the ages of 25 and 30, Bell said. 

“[The magazine] honestly just took on a life of its own,” said Bell. “It’s like they came to us [and] it makes perfect sense.”

Prior to the magazine becoming subscription-based and completely online, it was a free publication that readers could pick up in coffee shops and distribution boxes around D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. 

Battling the pandemic 

Eboné Bell (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, newsrooms across the world were forced to function virtually. Additionally, economic strife forced many publications to downsize staffs and — in some cases — cancel entire beats as ad revenue decreased, forcing them to find alternative ways to self-sustain financially. Tagg was no exception. 

“We didn’t fly unscathed,” said Bell. “[The pandemic] took a huge emotional toll on me because I thought we were going to close. I thought we were going to fail.”

However, the magazine was able to stand firm after a fundraiser titled “Save Tagg Magazine” yielded about $30,000 in donations from the community. 

The fundraiser involved a storefront on Tagg’s website where donations of LGBTQ merchandise were sold, including a book donated by soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe. 

There was also a virtual “Queerantine Con” — an event that was the brainchild of Dana Piccoli, editor of News Is Out— where prominent LGBTQ celebrities such as Rosie O’Donnell, Lea DeLaria and Kate Burrell, gave appearances to help raise money that eventually sustained the publication. 

“There was a time where I was ready to be like ‘I have to be OK that [Tagg] might not happen anymore,” said Bell. “But because of love and support, I’m here.” 

While the outpouring of love from community members who donated to the magazine helped keep the magazine alive, it was also a stark reminder that smaller publications, led by women of color, have access to fewer resources than mainstream outlets. 

“It’s statistically known that Black women-owned businesses get significantly less support, venture capital investments, things like that,” said Bell. “I saw similar outlets such as Tagg with white people making $100,000 a month.”

Bell added that Tagg had to work “10 times harder” to survive, and although the magazine didn’t cut back on the people who worked for it, it ended free access to the magazine in the DMV especially as the places that housed the magazine were no longer in business. The publication also moved to a subscription-based model that allowed it to ameliorate printing costs. 

Despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic, Tagg remains steadfast in its service to the LGBTQ community. The magazine hired an assistant editor in 2021 and has maintained a team of graphic designers, photographers, writers and an ad sales team who work to ensure fresh content is delivered to readers on a regular basis. 

For Bell, Tagg mirrors an important life experience — the moment she discovered Ladders, a lesbian magazine published throughout the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. 

“To that young person coming up, I want you to see all the things that happened before them, all the people that came before them, all the stories that were being told” she said.

Eboné Bell (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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Daisy Edgar-Jones knows why ‘the Crawdads sing’

Actress on process, perfecting a southern accent, and her queer following

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Daisy Edgar-Jones as Kya Clark. (Photo courtesy Sony/Columbia)

Daisy Edgar-Jones is an actor whose career is blossoming like her namesake. In recent years, she seems to be everywhere. LGBTQ viewers may recognize Edgar-Jones from her role as Delia Rawson in the recently canceled queer HBO series “Gentleman Jack.” She also played memorable parts in a pair of popular Hulu series, “Normal People” and “Under the Banner of Heaven.” Earlier this year, Edgar-Jones was seen as Noa in the black comedy/horror flick “Fresh” alongside Sebastian Stan. 

With her new movie, “Where the Crawdads Sing” (Sony/Columbia), she officially becomes a lead actress. Based on Delia Owens’ popular book club title of the same name, the movie spans a considerable period of time, part murder mystery, part courtroom drama. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for the Blade.

BLADE: Daisy, had you read Delia Owens’s novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” before signing on to play Kya?

DAISY EDGAR-JONES: I read it during my audition process, as I was auditioning for the part. So, the two went hand in hand.

BLADE: What was it about the character of Kya that appealed to you as an actress?

EDGAR-JONES: There was so much about her that appealed to me. I think the fact that she is a very complicated woman. She’s a mixture of things. She’s gentle and she’s curious. She’s strong and she’s resilient. She felt like a real person. I love real character studies and it felt like a character I haven’t had a chance to delve into. It felt different from anyone I’ve played before. Her resilience was one that I really admired. So, I really wanted to spend some time with her.

BLADE: While Kya is in jail, accused of killing the character Chase, she is visited by a cat in her cell. Are you a cat person or do you prefer dogs?

EDGAR-JONES: I like both! I think I like the fact that dogs unconditionally love you. While a cat’s love can feel a bit conditional. I do think both are very cute. Probably, if I had to choose, it would be dogs.

BLADE: I’m a dog person, so I’m glad you said that.

EDGAR-JONES: [Laughs]

BLADE: Kya lives on the marsh and spends a lot of time on and in the water. Are you a swimmer or do you prefer to be on dry land?

EDGAR-JONES: I like swimming, I do. I grew up swimming a lot. If I’m ever on holidays, I like it to be by the sea or by a nice pool.

BLADE: Kya is also a gifted artist, and it is the thing that brings her great joy. Do you draw or paint?

EDGAR-JONES: I always doodle. I’m an avid doodler. I do love to draw and paint. I loved it at school. I wouldn’t say I was anywhere near as skilled as Kya. But I do love drawing if I get the chance to do it.

BLADE: Kya was born and raised in North Carolina. What can you tell me about your process when it comes to doing a southern accent or an American accent in general?

EDGAR-JONES: It’s obviously quite different from mine. I’ve been lucky that I’ve spent a lot of time working on various accents for different parts for a few years now, so I feel like I’m developed an ear for, I guess, the difference in tone and vowel sounds [laughs]. When it came to this, it was really important to get it right, of course. Kya has a very lyrical, gentle voice, which I think that North Carolina kind of sound really helped me to access. I worked with a brilliant accent coach who helped me out and I just listened and listened.

BLADE: While I was watching “Where the Crawdads Sing” I thought about how Kya could easily be a character from the LGBTQ community because she is considered an outsider, is shunned and ridiculed, and experiences physical and emotional harm. Do you also see the parallels?

EDGAR-JONES: I certainly do. I think that aspect of being an outsider is there, and this film does a really good job of showing how important it is to be kind to everyone. I think this film celebrates the goodness you can give to each other if you choose to be kind. Yes, I definitely see the parallels.

BLADE: Do you have an awareness of an LGBTQ following for your acting career?

EDGAR-JONES: I tend to stay off social media and am honestly not really aware of who follows me, but I do really hope the projects I’ve worked on resonate with everyone.

BLADE: Are there any upcoming acting projects that you’d like to mention?

EDGAR-JONES: None that I can talk of quite yet. But there are a few things that are coming up next year, so I’m really excited.

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CAMP Rehoboth’s president talks pandemic, planning, and the future

Wesley Combs marks six months in new role

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Wesley Combs took over as president of CAMP Rehoboth six months ago and is now focused on searching for a new permanent executive director. (Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

June marks half a year since Wesley Combs stepped into his role as president of CAMP Rehoboth. In a conversation with the Blade, Combs recounted his first six months in the position — a time he said was characterized by transition and learning.

Since 1991, CAMP Rehoboth has worked to develop programming “inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities” in the Rehoboth Beach, Del. area, according to the nonprofit’s website. As president, Combs oversees the organization’s board of directors and executive director, helping determine areas of focus and ensure programming meets community needs.

For Combs, his more than three decades of involvement with CAMP Rehoboth have shaped the course of his life. In the summer of 1989 — just before the organization’s creation — he met his now-husband, who was then living in a beach house with Steve Elkins and Murray Archibald, CAMP Rehoboth’s founders.

Since then, he has served as a financial supporter of the organization, noting that it has been crucial to fostering understanding that works against an “undercurrent of anti-LGBTQ sentiment” in Rehoboth Beach’s history that has, at times, propagated violence against LGBTQ community members.

In 2019, after Elkins passed away, Combs was called upon by CAMP Rehoboth’s Board of Directors to serve on a search committee for the organization’s next executive director. Later that year, he was invited to become a board member and, this past November, was elected president.

Combs noted that CAMP Rehoboth is also still recovering from the pandemic, and is working to restart programming paused in the switch to remote operations. In his first six months, he has sought to ensure that people feel “comfortable” visiting and engaging with CAMP Rehoboth again, and wants to ensure all community members can access its programming, including those from rural parts of Delaware and those without a means of getting downtown.

Still, Combs’s first six months were not without unexpected turns: On May 31, David Mariner stepped down from his role as CAMP Rehoboth executive director, necessitating a search for his replacement. Combs noted that he would help facilitate the search for an interim director to serve for the remainder of the year and ensure that there is “a stable transition of power.” CAMP Rehoboth last week announced it has named Lisa Evans to the interim director role.

Chris Beagle, whose term as president of CAMP Rehoboth preceded Combs’s own, noted that the experience of participating in a search committee with the organization will “better enable him to lead the process this time.”

Before completing his term, Beagle helped prepare Combs for the new role, noting that the “combination of his professional background, his executive leadership (and) his passion for the organization” make Combs a strong president. Regarding the results of the election, “I was extremely confident, and I remain extremely confident,” Beagle said.

Bob Witeck, a pioneer in LGBTQ marketing and communications, has known Combs for nearly four decades. The two founded a public relations firm together in 1993 and went on to work together for 20 years, with clients ranging from major businesses like Ford Motor Company to celebrities including Chaz Bono and Christopher Reeve. According to Witeck, Combs’s work in the firm is a testament to his commitment to LGBTQ advocacy.

“Our firm was the first founded primarily to work on issues specific to LGBTQ identities, because we wanted to counsel corporations about their marketing and media strategies and working in the LGBTQ market,” he explained. By helping develop communications strategies inclusive of those with LGBTQ identities, Combs established a background of LGBTQ advocacy that truly “made a mark,” Witeck said.

Witeck emphasized that, in his new position, Combs brings both business experience and a renewed focus on historically underrepresented in LGBTQ advocacy — including people with disabilities, trans people and people of color.

Looking to the rest of the year, CAMP Rehoboth hopes to host a larger-scale event during Labor Day weekend. In addition, the organization will revisit its strategic plan — first developed in 2019 but delayed due to the pandemic — and ensure it still meets the needs of the local community, Combs said. He added that he intends to reexamine the plan and other programming to ensure inclusivity for trans community members.

“CAMP Rehoboth continues to be a vital resource in the community,” he said. “The focus for the next two years is to make sure we’re doing and delivering services that meet the needs of everyone in our community.”

Wesley Combs, gay news, Washington Blade
Wesley Combs (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)
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