My Pride Anthems: Rufus Wainwright

Rufus sings the praises of Nina Simone, Pet Shop Boys and "patron saint" Kate Bush, and explains the notable absence of Judy Garland from his list.
HuffPost UK

The coronavirus pandemic has changed everything, and that includes how we’re all celebrating Pride in 2020.

With huge public gatherings out of the question, we’re asking a range of LGBTQ celebrities and allies for their personal Pride anthems, to help us all get into the Pride spirit from lockdown.

We’re coming towards the end of our My Pride Anthems series, but rest assured, with two interviews left, we’re definitely going out with a bang.

Kicking things off is one of the most influential and revered LGBTQ artists making music right now, Rufus Wainwright.

You might notice there’s a distinct absence of Judy Garland – who Rufus once named as the ultimate gay icon – from his list of Pride anthems, but as he puts it: “I will admit that I still worship Judy Garland and will always admire her, but that period was earlier in my career.

“When I initially took on that mantle [of his Judy Garland-inspired live shows] it was a kind of exorcism that I was performing, I had been haunted by Judy for many, many years, and felt the need to express my passion for her as a way of kind of moving on.”

Instead, here’s the list of songs that Rufus did include on his Pride playlist, including Blondie and Pet Shop Boys.

Culture Club – Karma Chameleon

“I think I was around 10 or 12 when this came out, and how Boy George and Culture Club presented themselves was so riveting. I’m always flabbergasted at the fact I didn’t realise, but even adults at that time didn’t realise that he was gay. It just didn’t really cross your mind, even though it was right there in front of you. This song, I don’t know, it felt like there was a message, but it was also, at the time, an anthem, and just a piece of witty genius, and that’s why I chose it as a Pride anthem.

“And Boy George is a friend of mine, we’ve worked together a few times, and certainly I think he’s one of the great figures of gay kind of survival. He’s really been through the ringer, as they say, and come out a better person at the end. And he managed to really face so many of his demons, concerning his gay life and also his struggle with addiction. He’s a real important figure, for sure.”

Nina Simone – My Baby Just Cares For Me

“That song has a literal gay reference in it, when she talks about her baby not ‘caring for Liberace’s hair’, which I think at the time, when the song came out in the late 50s, that was pretty daring, a 100% gay reference in a song.

“And, of course, when I fell in love with this track, I was also falling in love with my first love, who was, you know, some kid, some young straight guy that I was acquainted with. So I often relate it to my early gay love, but the song itself is also very important because it has a direct gay reference in the lyrics.”

Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill

“Kate Bush is almost more of a patron saint for a lot of gay people – especially gay men of a certain age... my age, that is. She was really, kind of, I don’t know, a force for good and a force for motion and... transcendence. And that’s what a lot of gay men – and I’m only speaking for gay men, because I am one, so I feel like I can – but that is the process that all gay men have to really embark on, and I think Kate Bush is an incredible vehicle for that process, and Running Up That Hill, is just the engine.

“I saw her show in London in 2014, and I can’t say this about every show, even when I think they’re fantastic when I see them, but that show has really stayed with me. It’s really remained in my mind and in my psyche, and that’s the sign of a true classic pop show. When something repeats again and again.”

Pet Shop Boys – It’s A Sin

“I’m very good friends with Neil Tennant, he’s one of my closest buddies actually, and so I love him as a person. But this song, and that music, was really a very important part of my early gay life, when I would go to nightclubs – often alone, because I was kind of sneaking around, when I was very young.

“I didn’t relate to the kind of celebratory sensibilities that a lot of gay clubs had, during the AIDS crisis there was a real dichotomy between death and life, and I always felt very confused. But then when the Pet Shop Boys came on, I would suddenly feel an acceptance and almost an acknowledgement of the dark side of that period, because it was very dark. But it was also still fun and celebratory and exciting.”

Blondie – Heart Of Glass

“I was very young when I got into this song. I think I was around five or six. And I had this distinct memory of being in the backseat of the car, and my father was in the front driving me around, and that song was playing, and I was just so enraptured, and singing along and getting really carried away by Blondie and Debbie Harry’s vocals.

“And I remember him looking back at me very nervously, kind of realising what he had on his hands here. I could sort of tell that he was, you know, having trouble coming to terms with the reality of the situation, that he had a gay son, which took him some time to get used to.

“It’s a happy memory, but it’s also one of the first memories where… I don’t think I even knew I was gay at that point, but I knew that there was something different between me and my father. I was of another tribe, I guess. And that song was kind of leading me in that direction, to the direction of my tribe.

“And I still love Blondie. I’ve had the chance to work with Debbie Harry a couple of times and I pinch myself every time she’s in the room. I still think of her from the perspective of that five-year-old gay boy, looking for his way.”

Rufus Wainwright’s upcoming album Unfollow The Rules will be released on 10 July. Watch the lyric video for You Ain’t Big below:

We’ll be adding each celebrity’s song choices to our bumper My Pride Anthems playlist each day. Take a listen below:


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