Rufus Wainwright: ‘I have always been an old soul’

The musician, 46, on coping with grief, becoming a parent and why he loves being a pop star

I’ve realised I like being a pop star. There’s something eternally youthful about it. It’s not that I’m especially interested in being young forever but, at 46, I’d like to not get any older!

Nothing eviscerates the ego like becoming a parent. For a pop star, that’s not the easiest thing. But it’s led to a complete realignment of priorities for me. Now what happens to my daughter is far more important than what happens to me. And these days it’s not even just my child who is more important than me – it’s all children.

I’ve always been an old soul. I started drinking when I was very young. I got into opera when I was 13. I sought out older musicians. It’s as if I have always been trying to accelerate my life. It’s not that I found people my own age unstimulating. There was just something about always being the youngest kid in the room when I was growing up.

My best friend was my mother [Canadian folk singer Kate McGarrigle]. We were like a couple, even when I met my husband. He was keenly aware, during the years she was alive, that she came first and that he was a very close second.

I think my mother engendered a sort of hetero attitude in me to having a child. When I first floated the idea, it was on her suggestion. I think her reasons were twofold. One, she was definitely excited about the idea of a Cohen/Wainwright creation [Lorca Cohen, Leonard’s daughter, is the mother of Rufus’s child]. And two, I think she knew she was dying and that I was going to need someone. I see so much of my mother in my daughter. The feelings I had for her definitely transferred over.

Grief is unexplainable. My mother has now been dead for 10 years. I only put my grief for her on the shelf when about five years had gone by. I felt as if I’d passed my exams. I had grieved enough, it was time to live again. And it felt like that for the next five years. But this Christmas I got the worst whiplash. It all came back out. I’m doing better now, but it was horrific. Leonard Cohen warned me it would be hard. He told me that, despite his mother having passed away many years previously, in his late 70s she was almost more present than ever.

My relationship with my father [folk musician Loudon Wainwright III] is full of fire and brimstone. It’s pretty good at the moment, actually – we’ve reigned the rottweilers in. I think we’ve often felt threatened by each other, but I now understand more about why my dad annoys me, or why he has the selfish attitude he has. It’s really what he needs in order to stay alive.

Rufus Wainwright’s new album, Unfollow the Rules, will be released on 10 July


James McMahon

The GuardianTramp

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