The past couple of years have been full of life changing ups and downs for singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright. He recently became a father, and he and his male partner are co-parenting his daughter, Viva Katherine Wainwright Cohen, with her mother Lorca Cohen, daughter of Leonard Cohen. And in 2010, his mother, musician Kate McGarrigle, died of cancer. He spoke with Here & Now’s Robin Young about these events and his new album, “Out of the Game.” The interview is excerpted below.It has been a while, but how are you doing after the loss of your mother?
My mother was such a big part of my life and my sister’s life that to not have her involved in our existence is like being on another planet. So you find new joys, and keep the memory in your heart. One aspect that we’re both very lucky to have is the fact that my mother was such an amazing songwriter and recording artist so there’s all this music and lyrics to get lost in and go back in time in and really resurrect her memory.
You have a song called “Montauk,” about the community on the tip of long island. Can you tell us about it?
It’s sort of a rumination on a future where my daughter Viva will come visit Yorn, my partner, and I in Montauk, and we’ll hang out and have a fun time, and then when she’s old enough I’ll tell her about Kate [McGarrigle, his mother].
Your daughter is named in part after your mom?
Yes, Viva Katherine Wainwright Cohen.
She’s part of this big family: The Cohen family on one side, and yours that includes your famous dad, Loudon Wainwright, your sister Martha Wainwright, your other sister, Lucy Wainwright Roche, born to your dad and Susie Roche of the Roches. Do you worry that there are a lot of mantles on that little head?
I have no worries whatsoever about my daughter, Viva. When I held her I immediately felt she’s gonna be fine. She’s a tough kid, she’s really grabbing life by the horns. She’s just completely racing. Much like my mother in a lot of ways. So I’m not worried in the least.
We read the story about your family in the New York Times, and how some of the family drama can play out in lyrics. Any examples of that on this CD?
This album is really more about my own eclipse in a lot of ways into the next period of life. I just turned 39, so I’m still in my 30s.
Yeah, so I’m just about to set out on this whole new adventure, which is bonafide maturity.
There’s a song that strikes us for its simplicity, “Sometimes You Need.”
That is quite an important piece for me especially because I wrote it just before my mother passed away and she was really on her death bed up in Canada, and I wrote this guitar part and it’s quite difficult to play and her and I were sitting by the fire and she was quite weak and I asked her if she could give me some tips on how to pick it properly and she tried, she took the guitar and struggled and really different have the energy to help me out, so I let it go. And Sean Lennon, who is a fantastic guitar player, is playing the part on the album. So I think you just had to be a better guitar player to do it properly. But it was so lovely that it was Sean [continuing] the lesson my mother tried to teach me.
Can I just ask you about being in this second tier firmament, the children of the superstars of the 60s and 70s? You, Sean Lennon, Lorca Cohen, the daughter of Leonard Cohen. You grew up together.
My mother actually made a very conscious decision to steal her children away and retreat to Canada. I think I very much profited from that. I wasn’t quite as jaded as a lot of those kids became because they just had so much at such an early age.
Is there now a sort of secret handshake among the kids?
Yeah, there’s definitely an unspoken camraderie. One of my fondest memories is I was with Sean Lennon and it was his birthday, which was also his father’s birthday, and we were at his mom’s house in the Dakota, and Sean said, “Why don’t we listen to Abbey Road?” And it was of course an aamazing experience, but on the other hand it was a very familiar experience because I would listen to my father’s records and go through the same emotions that he went through on a very personal level.
- Rufus Wainwright, artist