A Queer Art Canon: Stewart Legere & Rufus Wainwright’s Want One

Let’s make a canon! And let’s fill it with queer art, or queer-ish art, or art that has no idea how queer it is. Queer art is often secret art: black-market, whispered-about, read-between-the-lines art. And since secret art can be hard to find, let’s shine a light on a few of our favourite things so all our friends can see them.

We’ll call it a canon, because it sounds Weighty and Important and Serious, but we also won’t be too serious about it. We won’t make The Canon, just a canon. Each month, we’ll chat with a different queer-about-town and ask them to submit something to the canon. And they’ll tell us what that book or play or movie or TV episode or sculpture or poem or dance piece or opera or photograph or painting or performance art piece or anything else means to them and why they think it deserves a spot in our illustrious canon. 

This month, we talked to theatre artist and musician Stewart Legere about Rufus Wainwright’s Want One & Want Two.

What do you wanna talk about?

So, I was racking my brains to try to think of something that was obscure or kinda highbrow, but the thing that my brain kept coming back to was the Want anthology: Rufus’s Want One and Want Two. But, more specifically Want One, and more specifically “I Don’t Know What It Is.”

Cool! Let’s do it! Tell me about it.

Do you know it?

Not particularly.

Really? Oh, Johnnie. Johnnie!

I know; I feel like I’ve never dived that deep into Rufus.

Do you know what it might be? Some of the ways that I like about the way that you speak and the way that your brain works I feel is similar to the way that Rufus’s brain works. So, maybe you have some kind of mystical aversion to him because you know he’s a lot like you or something.

Do you know what? I have this story that is totally embarrassing and always gets queers mad at me. Many, many years ago, I went to a concert in Toronto and it was Ben Folds opening for Rufus Wainwright. But I was really going for Ben Folds…

That’s understandable!

And about halfway through Rufus’s set, I was like “I’ve had enough,” and I left. I think he probably was just too gay for me at the time. And I was not out. I knew some of his songs, but I don’t even know, going into that concert, that Rufus Wainwright was gay, to be honest. I was just like “Oh, he’s that Canadian piano-guy.” And then he just slinks on stage in this Jean-Paul Gaultier-style sailor outfit, and the whole time he’s sorta “Oh, honey, lemme tell you about when I wrote this one…” And I was just like “Can’t handle it! Not ready for this!”

I understand that. I remember one of my early crushes when I was in high school was a very close friend of mine, and he gave me Rufus’s first self-titled album. And me being in the closet at the time—he was such a sissy. He was such a dandy, and he just pranced around and his voice is, you know, slightly irritating to some people, but it struck a chord with me, it was so powerful, and it was just unabashedly his own voice. You hear Rufus sing and it could be no one else. There’s no question. This is such a theatre school story, I almost cringe to tell it, but it was like first-year university, I was just coming out of the closet, I was living in downtown Halifax, and I was going to a dance class at Dal. And I knew that Rufus’s Want One was coming out that morning. So I ran to the HMV, like, so afraid that they would be sold out. Just desperate. And I bust in the doors, they just opened up, I’m sweating, like “Do you have Rufus’s Want One?” And it’s still in the box, like not even on the shelf, not even unpacked yet. I’m sure I went back months later and they still had copies! But at the time, I was so afraid that it was going to be gone.

I did the exact same thing for a Matthew Good Band album in high school. And it’s crazy!

It’s crazy!

“If I don’t get there right when the store opens, this mob of other people that are like me will take it!”

Exactly! Like, this twenty-something, probably 19-year-old sissy busting into the record store just so afraid that someone else will take his Rufus album. What is it, Black Friday? But that album? And “I Don’t Know What It Is,” that song? The more that I’ve delved into making records, the more I realize how intricate that song is; there’s hundreds of layers, orchestral and vocal. It’s so dramatic and it’s so thick and beautiful. It’s so gay! It’s loaded with references to pop culture and little winks. But this is even gayer than busting into the HMV: we have this class where the first class of every day, the lights in the dance studio were off and everyone picked different music, and we would dance in the dark. And it was this thing about letting go of your inhibitions and not being so self-conscious and letting your body move, which is such an interesting thing thinking about theatre school, but it’s also a really interesting thing thinking about queer club culture. So, when it came time for me to do it, I brought in Rufus to dance to. Everyone else is bringing in actual club music. And I blasted “I Don’t Know What It Is.” And I remember dancing in the studio and bawling my eyes out. Like, in the pitch-black. And I think back to that now, and like, that was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. But also, holy shit, what a homo! Right?

You were That Homo.

I was That Homo! I don’t regret it. I’m still That Homo!

Johnnie Walker

Johnnie Walker is a writer of many plays, a hoster of many burlesques, and a maker of many jokes. Follow him on twitter @handsomejohnnie

Read all posts by Johnnie Walker

1 Responses to A Queer Art Canon: Stewart Legere & Rufus Wainwright’s Want One

  1. Mike says:

    Is this an opportunity to talk about how this album affected me? Well it did. No one writes like this. The chords, the melodies, the lyrics. Go or Go Ahead takes you on a musical journey that is so wonderful. Dinner at Eight is song-writing perfection. 14th Street could have easily been a top 40 hit had it the right machine behind it, as is Beautiful Child. Yes, put this in your canon. Such a wonder work of art.

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