UCLA Seminar: The Music of Rufus Wainwright #4

February 8, 2006

(The class happened at breakneck speed today, trying to cover all this material and dip into the text meanings only briefly. This is a brief and hurried report to those who are anxious to know what we covered in the seminar. A polished analysis it is not.)

Per Mark Carlson’s right-on suggestion, we emphasized the music in today’s class. We discussed “The Gay Messiah” and “Old Whore’s Diet.” I cringed in realizing that I would likely show up on the “dirty thirty” list here at UCLA with the range of naughty stuff we discussed today. I was able to skate over some of it concentrating more on the music side.
We highlighted elements in the songs that might be considered “over the top:”

  • The first was Rufus singing “The Gay Messiah”on the cross in his recent tour. He performed the act mostly in Europe (couldn’t remember whether he did it in his New York concerts). I suggested that he might likely be burned at the stake if he did that performance in the US red states (although I hear Broke Back Mountain did really well there). The mass Beatles album burning occurred after John Lennon said that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. This mass hysteria hasn’t happen to Rufus yet, but he’s not really at the same “fame” level as the Beatles were in 1966.
  • The timbre of Antony’s voice in “OWD” was another example of pushing limits. Antony’s ultra-feminine voice made quite a few listeners very nervous.
  • The double image of the beheading of John the Baptist and oral sex was acknowledged and we debated the meaning of tubesocks.

The melodic structure of the song was analyzed alongside the form. Here is what we came up with:

The Gay Messiah

Instrumentation:
guitar, electric guitar, bass, drums, backup singers, synthesizer

Introduction (chords of the verse; instrumental)

Verse 1 A
He will then be reborn (a)
From 1970’s porn (b)
Wearing tubesocks with style (a)
And such an innocent smile (b)
Refrain 1 B
Better pray for your sins (c)
Better pray for your sins (c)
‘Cause the gay messiah’s coming (d)

VERSE 2 A
He will fall from the star (a)
Studio 54 (b)
And appear on the sand (a)
Of Fire Island’s shore (b)
Refrain 2 B
Better pray for your sins (c)
Better pray for your sins (c)
‘Cause the gay messiah’s coming (d)

VERSE 3 A’
No it will not be me (a)
Rufus the Baptist I be (b)
No I won’t be the one (a’)
Baptized in cum (e)

BRIDGE C
What will happen instead (f)
Someone will demand my head (g)
And then I will kneel down (a’)
And give it to them looking down (e’)

VERSE 4 A
(Instrumental)
REFRAIN 3 B
Better pray for your sins
Better pray for your sins
‘Cause the gay messiah’s coming

We identified all of the melodic material (themes a, b, c, d, e, f, g), and discovered that the form is ABABA’CA’B’.

RW across

“Old Whore’s Diet” on the other hand resembles a theme and variations:

THEME — solo

VARIATION 1 — Rufus, Antony, and together

VARIATION 2 — instrumental

VARIATION 3 — Rufus, Antony, and the girls (Martha?)

BRIDGE — Climactic contrasting section; text pacing cut in half

THEME — fragment of opening theme with sparse accpt.

It seemed the class liked spending time with the music this time. slvrlark was right: the music is a huge chunk of my/our attraction to Rufus Wainwright’s music.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Roger Bourland February 9, 2006 at 7:34 am

We listened to OWD last night during dinner (HARDLY a dinner piece BTW), but our friend Jim Kelly pointed out that the bridge, reminded him of Cirque du Soleil. I said “exactly!!” Big long phrases that sound vaguely middle-eastern where you haven’t the faintest idea of what’s being said. So, I think we found another influence.

btflhart February 9, 2006 at 6:02 pm

[The photo you posted was] one of our rutopians’ Berlin photos on your blog. Halfabee’s gift to the Rufus community continues to give!! Very Happy It’s one of the best photos we have of Rufus’ singing Gay Messiah from that last tour.

Roger Bourland February 9, 2006 at 6:03 pm

Thanks BTF: if you could let me know his/her name or how I can contact them, I’d appreciate.

twarner February 11, 2006 at 6:15 pm

So, what did you guys make of the whole beheading/oral sex line? I’ve been pondering it for a while and I can’t seem to quite make it fit into any reading, except for a few dual readings which always make me cringe.

My only view is that it could just be a reminder of homosexuality. A sort of ironic, witty insertion.

John the Baptist was beheaded for his association with Christ. Oral sex can be a form of worship or submission. Is the “him” in “give it to him” suggest that RW would preform oral sex on Christ as a for of worship as was John’s beheading a sign of devotion?

That’s all I can come up with.

You?

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