Soundtrack Of My Life: Rufus Wainwright

The first song I remember hearing

Peter Gabriel – ‘Games Without Frontiers’

“I was visiting my dad and he was listening to that record [1980 self-titled album], so that song really struck me very early on. It just made me excited to live life. I think Peter Gabriel really accomplished what he set out to do – which is write a great song about the life of a child.”

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The first album I bought


Men Without Hats – ‘Rhythm Of Youth’

“They’re from Montreal, so it was very exciting to me that something that was so big in the charts like ‘The Safety Dance’ was also coming from my hometown, so I felt like buying that record was like becoming part of the bigger world. I have sung it before, and a version of it does exist.”

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The first gig I went to

Cyndi Lauper – Forum de Montréal, Montreal, Canada, 1984

“Aside from my parents gigs [Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle], it was Cyndi Lauper. I remember dancing on top of my chair and singing ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’ full throttle, and just being completely blissfully unaware of any kind of issue with that whatsoever. It was certainly a more innocent time.”

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The song that reminds me of home


Kate McGarrigle – ‘On My Way To Town’

“I have to go with my mother’s music for this. It’s a great song, and it’s beautiful because there are two versions of it – the English version and the French version, ‘Cheminant A La Ville’. It reminds me a lot of Quebec, which is bilingual.”

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The song I wish I had written

Cole Porter – ‘Begin The Beguine’

“Last night, I was obsessed with Cole Porter’s ‘Begin The Beguine’. It was playing over and over in my head in my dream. I might have read some of these questions before I went to sleep, and somehow this song came to me. I was singing it in my dream in marvel of the song itself. I was I’d written that.

“I remember hearing from someone, some kind of yogic meditation master, that if you listen to a song seven times in a row then it brings you closer to enlightenment. I totally believe it with this song.”

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The song I sing at karaoke

Bruce Springsteen – ‘Born In The USA’

“My very good friend Melissa Auf Der Maur, who used to play in Hole and later Smashing Pumpkins, once did ‘Born In The USA’ by Bruce Springsteen – which to this day blows my mind as a great karaoke song. In America it’s considered such an anthemic piece, but when you actually listen to the lyrics it’s incredibly critical of the United States. If you’re singing it badly then you end up listening to the words and saying, ‘God, this song is not great about America!’”

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The song I can’t get out of my head

Aqua – ‘Barbie Girl’

“This has come with a vengeance. It’s not a bad track to be haunted by, but it certainly reverberates these days. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but when I think of the movie this comes to me.”

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The song I can no longer listen to

Frank Sinatra – ‘My Way’

“Sadly I have to say ‘My Way’. The vision of Trump dancing with Ivanka when he won the presidency just destroyed that song for me.”

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The song that makes me cry

Randy Newman – ‘I’ll Be Home’

“Oh boy. I was very graciously compared to Randy Newman when I started my career, as well as Harry Nilsson as I was coming into that tradition… I didn’t know about Randy Newman’s music that much, but in the last few years I’ve really done a deep dive and I’ve become a total obsessive fan of his work.

“It started one night when I was driving on tour and heard the song ‘I’ll Be Home’. I was missing my family, my bed and my neighbourhood, so every time I hear that song I shed a tear.”

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The song that makes me want to dance

Blondie – ‘Heart Of Glass’

“This was an early favourite of mine when I was growing up. I have such a memory of singing that song in the back of the car with my dad looking in the rearview mirror, kind of nervously, as I was shimmying in the backseat and trying to imitate Blondie‘s Debbie Harry. He was like, ‘Oh my, we have a live one here!’ That’s deeply embedded.”

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The song I wanted played at my funeral

Renata Scotto – ‘Vissi D’Arte’

“I’m a big opera fan so I’m going to bring opera into this. We recently lost a great opera singer and her name was Renata Scotto. It would be her singing ‘Vissi D’Arte’, from Tosca by Giacomo Puccini. It’s a great aria, and the whole idea is the question ‘Do you live for art, or do you live for love?’ That’s a question that I’ve always struggled with.”

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Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Folkocracy’ is out now. He performs his classic albums ‘Want One’ and ‘Want Two’ with the BBC Concert Orchestra as part of the 2023 Proms at London’s Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday September 5.