October 1, 2007

Madison and New York/young and old.

Last semester, as I drove my car to and from work every day, nearly every time, I listened to the album "Poses," by Rufus Wainwright. The ride is short, usually the length of one song. Sometimes I played the satellite radio, but when I did, I had to switch to the CD player a few seconds after I entered the underground garage and the car lost contact with the satellite. My Rufus Wainwright addiction began when I happened to hear the song "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk":
Cigarettes and chocolate milk
These are just a couple of my cravings
Everything it seems I likes a little bit stronger
A little bit thicker, a little bit harmful for me
It's a song about addiction, and I got addicted to the song. Over the course of the semester, I became strangely bonded to the entire album. Strangely, because I hadn't gotten attached to a new artist or a sequence of songs in many years. Funnily, one song on the album is "Grey Gardens," based on the movie, "Grey Gardens," which has always been on the short list of favorite movies in my profile and which I often rewatch for inspiration.

I felt very close to Rufus Wainwright from January to August in Madison, Wisconsin.

Yesterday, my sister and I were traipsing through the Village and Soho. She wanted earrings and mementos. I balked at going into one store that had big sales signs in the window and -- I took one step up toward the doorway -- looked completely chaotic inside. I'd linger in the place next door until she was done with the chaos. The place that suited me was called Theory. I prefer Theory to chaos. She rummaged through the chaotic sale store and bought nothing. Not meaning to buy anything, I found two ideal black sweaters at Theory. I resist chaos but am a pushover for a rational pullover and a Cartesian cardigan.

It's a warm day in SoHo, and I'm weighed down by a bag with two heavy sweaters that will make so much sense back in Madison in January. A few stores later, I'm hitting the wall, and I need respite, so let's find our way back to that restaurant, Provence, that looked so pretty with the tables sticking halfway out the wall of doorways. A perfect choice for someone who almost loves the idea of a sidewalk café.

But now, the restaurant has crowded up, so we can't sit in one of the doorways. But I'm happy to get a seat by a pillar, even with another table -- a big table -- crammed right up to the other side of the pillar, and, of course, I let my sister, my guest, have the seat that looks out toward the doors. I'm recomposing myself with the beautiful French press coffee, and they seat six men and one woman at the big table at my elbow.

Diagonally across from me is a man who looks like Rufus Wainwright or is Rufus Wainwright. I glance at him now and then and try to eavesdrop over the restaurant din. I hear him refer to his mother and to Lorna Luft. I could imagine Rufus Wainwright talking about his mother -- is the woman at the table his mother? -- and Lorna Luft. He talks about a party where people talk about rehab, and then seems Rufus-y. Then someone calls him Rufus. So, it's Rufus, then.

I keep trying to eavesdrop -- it's nearly impossible -- there's some talk of religion -- and to converse with my sister. Dell is looking over to the big table more than I am. It's not that she's interested in Rufus Wainwright. As I suspect, and I learn for sure later, she's never heard of him. She's interested in what they are eating. What are those powdered sugar things with the little turd-like berries? Beignets. What's that metal stand? They're getting oysters.

I think about whether I'm excited to sit for so long so near a person whose music I have so much feeling for. But no, I feel normal, as usual. I remember the time, more than 30 years ago, when I sat in a restaurant at a table next to John Lennon. The feeling was overwhelming. I am so much older now, but is it that I fell in love with Rufus's music as an older person or that I'm sitting near him as an older person? I could find out if some day I'm sitting in a restaurant and, at the next table, it's Ray Davies. Maybe Bob Dylan. But no. I think it's a theory that can only be tested on Ray Davies.


Bob said...

Now that you know one of his hangouts, you can keep the liner notes from your Rufus CD in your purse for him to autograph, if you see him again. Of course, having named one of his favored NY haunts to a fairly large audience, he may be hesitant at returning, depending on how much he values his privacy.

Gedaliya said...

I've been a fan of Rufus' father Loudon Wainwright III for years.

Ann Althouse said...

Bob, I've never asked anyone for an autograph and never would. And I'd never go up to a person I didn't know in a restaurant and intrude on them. I didn't intrude on John and Yoko, which was the test of a lifetime, and so it's quite apparent to me that I'll never intrude on anyone. I wasn't even the slightest bit close to imposing on John and Yoko. But if I had, I would have just said that I loved his music and tried to get something memorable to be said. An autograph is just an ordinary thing. A quote said just to you. That would be something.

Ann Althouse said...

gedaliya: We used to go see Loudon Wainwright back at The Ark in Ann Arbor -- before he even had an album out.

Gedaliya said...

Ann...here is a picture of Rufus' mom Kate McGarrigle (with her sister Anne).

Is this the woman you saw with Rufus?

peter hoh said...

With age comes tempered expectation.

Ann Althouse said...

Gedaliya, my post links to that page. I looked at that picture when I was writing the post, but I just don't know. It could have been.

Ron said...

I've only ever asked for an autograph after a concert, I don't think I could in a restaurant, it's just too much of an intrusion for me.

MadisonMan said...

Wainwright Schmainwright. What if it had been Brett Favre???? The man is King!

ricpic said...

I make French press coffee every day. Does that make me one of the beautiful people?

Gedaliya said...


Yes, I'm sorry for not seeing the link.

I, like you, would never disturb someone having dinner at a restaurant unless I already knew them. It would be far too gauche.

I've never asked anyone for their autograph.

AJ Lynch said...

Re autographs- I saw Wilt the Stilt at his Boca sports bar a few years before he died. He was signing autographs and b-balls (he sold those in the bar). Like you Ann, I have never asked and never will ask for an auograph. So I ate my dinner and left him alone. After he died, I wished I had said hello to him.

Beth said...

Who puts berries in beignets???

bill said...

Check out Martha Wainwright. Better than her brother.

bill said...

I say that as a fan of all the Wainwrights.

Ann Althouse said...

Beth: I know. They did't look like New Orleans beignets. They looked heavier and seemed to have maybe currants in them. Must be Provence-style.

bill said...

John Wesley Harding meets Ray Davies:

A Fan Speaks
I met Ray Davies in a Danish airport
Turned out to be a real nice guy
He said "Keep writing your songs, man
As long as you can"
And I think that was good advice
But actually he didn't quite say that
I added that word "man"
I'm just following his good words
But of course I'm a very big fan
And I was just trying to make this thing scan

I met many a famous person
I'm not gonna drop any names
Sure, I did mention Ray
When I started to play
But that's cos he is a credit to fame
Unlike a few I could mention
Who actually quite freaked me out
They treated me like I was one of those guys
Who carries a small gun about

So congratulations to those of you
Who feel the need to congratulate your heroes
It may be tense for both of you
But I'm sure they appreciate the gesture
But commiserations to souls that are lost
Who feel that murder is a way to get their love across
Great god above keep the people we love
From those merely seeking attention

Yes, I know what it's like to be bothered
And I know what it's like to be tired
But you gotta hide
In some kinda disguise
To be famous and yet be walked by
So, stars, watch your manners around me
You don't have to talk to me long
I may not pull a gun out on you
But I might write you into this song

So, congratulations to those of you
Who feel the need to congratulate your heroes
If someone means a lot to you
It surely rates a mention
But commiserations to souls that are lost
Who feel that killing is a way to get their love across
Great God above, keep the stars that we love
From those merely seeking attention

bill said...

I also recommend the McGarrigle Christmas Hour; with appearances by Rufus, Martha, and Emmylou Harris.

Trooper York said...


cyrus pinkerton said...

And I'd never go up to a person I didn't know in a restaurant and intrude on them.

Oh, of course, that would be rude. It's much more respectful to stick with eavesdropping...

rsb said...

Great song and album. Ann, I really don't like lawyers but somehow I like you.

Trooper York said...

I once hung out in an after hours on 12th Avenue with Darryl Strawberry, Andy Capasso and Traci Lords. They weren’t together, well at least at the beginning of the night.

Beth said...

Ann, I'm a purist, but I have enjoyed some savory variations. By the way, my first job as a teenager, beginning in 1976, was waiting tables at Cafe du Monde. Along with a few other girls and a couple of older women, we were the first females to do so since WWII.

knoxwhirled said...

Admittedly, it would be almost impossible for me not to talk to someone in a situation like that. I'd never ask for an autograph, but I would have to at least babble something about "I love your work!" But I would wait until either they or I was about to leave.

My sister and I saw Greg Brady on the metro once when I was in college and we were pretty excited and tried to talk to him. He was a total grumpy tool. We were like, dude, you're not a big enough celeb to be all haughty. And just be glad 2 young girls recognized you and wanted to talk to you!

Darkbloom said...

Rufus is great; "Poses" is an excellent album. I've seen him perform a number of times, and he never disppoints. If you haven't obtained "Release the Stars" yet, I highly recommend it.

A friend who is a huge Rufus fan accepted an invitation from an acquaintance to dinner, and upon arriving at the restaurant discovered a large table with over a dozen people, including Rufus. (He had no idea that the acquaintance could be connected to a circle in which Rufus might also reside.) My friend was seated just far enough away that to attempt conversation would have required awkward and obvious overtures, and so the evening passed with only one or two words exchanged. Is that a missed opportunity to be regretted, or a blessing in disguise? Perhaps it's best to keep artistic appreciation shielded from the potential of unsuccessful casual interactions.

"Dinner at Eight," about his complicated relationship with his father Loudon, is a phenomenal song.

Pete the Streak said...

Ray Davies?

Hope your 'test' result is the one Not followed by a 'Schoolgirl in Disgrace' post.

Trooper York said...

I once got a haircut at same time as Joe Gallo. Little did I know the resonance at the time. When I got home my father freaked out big time like Robert De Niro in "A Bronx Tale." I was about seven years old at the time.

Richard Dolan said...

I had never heard of Wainwright before Ann's post. I see that he has apparently been commissioned by the Met Opera to work on a new production for 2011-2012 season.

Finding yourself sitting next to a celebrity in a NY restaurant can be a strange experience. Some years ago, my wife and I were dining in a theatre-district place and Richard Gere was seated next to us. Throughout the meal, people kept coming up to his table and leaving notes; they said nothing, however, and he and the woman he was with just let the notes pile up. Watching that little ritual play out was entertaining in a weird NY-y way. I guess it was how some folks satisfied the urge to connect with a celebrity they admire, while trying not to intrude too much on the celeb's privacy.

I don't think it's necessarily rude to introduce oneself to a celebrity in a public place. Celebs (most of them, anyway) must have a love/hate reaction to that sort of thing. (What's the point of fame if everyone treats you like an ordinary Joe?) But putting aside whether it's rude, it's bound to be a bit deflating for anyone but the most awestruck fan. By defintion, you're catching the celeb at his most ordinary, when whatever characteristics or abilities caused you to admire him in the first place will not be on display. And if your intrusion into his privacy catches him at the "hate" end of that love/hate thing, you'd likely receive a memorable response, perhaps even Ann's wish for "a quote said just to you." That doesn't mean you'll like it, though.

Trooper York said...

Two years ago, I was in a pet store in Soho and Richard Gere walked in. Contrary to the stereotype and confounding the rumor, he was simply buying cat food.

titus22 said...

I love Rufus music.

I love his song "Going to a Town" (I am so tired of America).

He talks about Berlin in the song, a town that has already been burned down. It is a cool song. I can relate to the song.

John Stodder said...

Loudon Wainwright III had a song in his 70s heyday about his son. It was called "Rufus is a Tit Man."

Rufus is a tit man
Suckin' on his mamma's gland
Suckin' on the nipple
It's a sweeter than the ripple wine.
Yes its sweeter than the wine.
You can tell by the way the boy burps
that it's gotta taste fine.

Marco Polo craved the spice and silk
And Rufus craves the mamma's milk
No moo-cow no billy-goat
Is gonna get the baby's vote.
Come on mamma,
Come on and open up your shirt
Yeah you've got the goods mamma
Give the little boy a squirt.

For my lungs and my liver
I do definitely fear.
I like to suck on cigarettes
And drink the wine and beer.
The doctor says I'm oral
And I believe it's true.
Ah son you look so satisfied
I envy you.

So put Rufus on the left one
And put me right on the right
And like Romulus and Remus
We'll suck all night.
Come on mamma
Come on and lactate awhile.
Yeah look down on us mamma
And flash us a Madonna smile.

Loudon Wainwright III's latest album is one of his best. It was produced by Joe Henry, and some of its music was written for the unexpectedly good movie "Knocked Up," including this nice one:

every thing she sees she says she wants
every thing she wants i see she gets
thats my daughter in the water
every thing she owns i bought her
every thing she owns
thats my daughter in the water
every thing she knows i taught her
every thing she knows
every thing i say she takes to heart
every thing she takes she takes apart
thats my daughter in the water
every time she fell i caught her
every time she fell
thats my daughter in the water
i lost everytime i fought her
yeah i lost every time
every time she blinks she strikes somebody blind
every time she thinks, it blows her tiny mind
thats my daughter in the water
who'd of ever thought her (who'd of ever thought)
thats my daughter in the water
i lost everytime i fought her
yeah i lost every time

Darkbloom said...

Loudon Wainwright III had a song in his 70s heyday about his son. It was called "Rufus is a Tit Man."

Loudon is a great singer/songwriter, but not such a good prognosticater, as Rufus the adult is definitely not a tit man.

Rufus does a nice cover of his dad's "One Man Guy" on "Poses." In concert, he's done the song as a trio with sister Martha and Teddy Thompson (son of Richard and Linda Thompson).

Peter Palladas said...

Last semester, as I drove my car to and from work every day, nearly every time, I listened to the album "Poses," by Rufus Wainwright. The ride is short, usually the length of one song.

...Hmmmm. Let's suppose a four-minute song or thereabouts with an average speed of no more than 20 m.p.h. for morning traffic and stop and start.

That works out less than a mile and a half journey. Could be no more than a mile even.

This then is one Professor seriously not saving the planet!

OK so I drive each night to the local off-licence that is only 300 yards away, but then I've got serious luggage to fetch home and no chance of eye-catching a young dude to carry my books/booze for me.

Walk woman!

Ann Althouse said...

I was at the NYC concert in the 70s where Loudon Wainwright introduced that "Tit Man" song to his fans. No one had heard it before and it got a big, surprised response from the audience. It was quite a moment.

Ann Althouse said...

I used to walk every day, for 15 years, in fact, even when it was 10 below. I still walk, but only once or twice a week, if the weather is good. I would walk more if there were places to stop to eat on the way home. My biggest problem was always dragging myself home at the end of the day when I was hungry.

Finn Kristiansen said...

The one song I have by Rufus is Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk. I heard it on the radio and it reminded me of this fellow I heard on NYC subways once back in the '80's during high school, so I had to download it.

In my years living there, I only encountered a few semi-famous people, and from a distance.

Once at a St.Pat's parade, Mayor Koch looked directly at me and waved (or it seemed like it). At the same parade this fairly well known local reporter Magee Hickey (I think), tried to interview me, but I was too stiff and nervous. Never made the local news.

Then, at my high school, we had Keith Haring visit, along with Natalie Cole. One of the vocal students went on to marry the Knick basketball player Mark Jackson, and I remember a lot of guys liking her and me thinking she was a twit (for no reason since I didn't even know her). Desiree or something like that.

Finally, Cher's daughter was in one of my classes at Music and Art (LaGuardia High School now), and everyone was making a whispered commotion. I took a look, disappointed that Chastity was so not Cher or what one would have imagined a daughter of Cher to look like. She was not very talkative or outgoing.

John Stodder said...

Living in LA, I've bumped into a few celebrities. Mary Tyler Moore's son went to summer camp with me, as did Robert Lansing's. They both visited their kids. MTM seemed very much like the persona in the "love is all around" credits, but this was before her show. Big smoker.

Among the others I've encountered, I recall sitting at an outdoor cafe on Beverly Boulevard. Michael Stipe of REM and Liv Tyler were at the next table with a couple of other people. Stipe is incredibly ugly. Tyler is incredibly beautiful. I don't think they were dating.

Since I worked in politics, the number of big politicians I've run into is pretty long. The most interesting and exciting to me was Daniel Patrick Moynihan. I worked for a great one: Tom Bradley. They filmed movies in his office sometimes, and in that context I met Leslie Neilsen, Patti Lupone and Dana Delaney, who it so happens I also knew as a child in Stamford, Connecticut. We had an awkward reunion. Neilsen entertained the crew (it was one of the Naked Gun movies) by playing practical joke on me involving a whoopie cushion. I was very busy and trying to work around all the movie stuff, but every time I walked past where Neilsen was sitting, apparently he squeezed the whoopie cushion to make a big fart noise. It took me about three trips to realize it. I was relatively humorless that day. Too bad I didn't stop and smell the fart jokes.

Blake said...

Is this heartbreak?
Or is this heartburn?
Have I been played, or do I need a Rolaid?
Gotta learn the difference 'tween "I love ya",
The difference 'tween "I love ya" and the symptoms of Ebola

I saw Rufus sing the cowboy song "Old Paint" with his old man at a club in L.A. when he was on the cusp of fame. He's a marvelous songwriter in the Cole Porter tradition.

Martha's not nearly as strong a songwriter, at least from what I've heard, but her voice breaks my heart every time I hear it.

Blake said...


Yeah, it's celebrity central out here, and I don't even venture much to those sorts of fancy places where they congregate....

downtownlad said...


John said...

I met and jabbered with Mike Matusow in the Full Tilt Poker VIP room before the 2006 Main Event of the World Series of Poker. I told him I'd ask for his autograph except that I had won more money off him than he had won off me playing poker on-line. That's about the most famous person I've met. I was a few feet away from Justice Scalia having coffee and donuts in the basement of church after Latin Mass years ago, but he left before I got the nerve to intrude on the conversation he was having. And I did meet that guy who was the special prosecutor in the Clinton impeachment, but I forget his name.

Steven H. said...

I have had few New York celebrity moments, but one you might appreciate was running into Kristen Schaal (Meg from Flight of the Conchords) in Midtown on my way to lunch. She's sweet, and, like everyone on television, was taller than I imagined.

Maxine Weiss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.