True confessions V: Falling out of love with Rufus

March 16, 2006

Tomb of Rufus

Now that I’ve finished my Rufus seminar, I must confess: over the last 4 months I fell out of love with Rufus.

When I get to know the music of a particular composer or songwriter, I read everything I can about them, I listen to EVERYTHING they have done, I become completely obsessed. This fanaticism pays off in that I am able to learn a lot in a short amount of time. And then after I’ve devoured it all, I ask “is that all there is?” I encourage students to do this with their research: fall in love with what you do, and you’ll get A’s.

I wrote about half of my book under this obsessed whirlwind. And then, when I found out that Cherry Lane Publishing would “not allow” me to print my transcriptions of Rufus’s songs in my book, the wind went out of my sails. I thought I was offering something to a group of people who are dying for his sheet music. Standing back, I realized that this is Rufus’s job, not mine. Many of us are puzzled as to the delay of releasing his songs as sheet music. Is it really Rufus who doesn’t want it out there? Is it that only he wants himself to play his music?

Teaching the Rufus seminar at UCLA was an interesting challenge, as I had fallen out of love with Rufus and yet had to teach a course on his music with the same passion I had when I was obsessed. This is the side of teaching that is most like the acting career: one has to “sell” something to students as if your life depends on it. I “sell” composing in the 12-tone technique as though it were a lost commandment.

I stopped listening to Rufus’s music and put aside working on the book for three months while I taught the course. It was just what the doctor ordered. That respite put some distance between me and my subject, and the time away feels good.

I can now come back to the project with a bit less testosterone and a bit more Tai Chi.

I am once again in love with the music of Rufus Wainwright.

Happy face stamp

Celebrated here in a 1999 stamp, the Happy Face symbol was created 33 years earlier by Seattle ad executive David Stern.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Hugo March 16, 2006 at 1:15 pm

I challenge Cherry Lane Publishing to come up with someone who can actually transcribe Rufus’s music. There’s a reason why Rufus tablature and sheet music is hard to find even on the world wide web, and it’s that nobody’s up to the job.

I’ve never come across any Rufus music on the internet which is even remotely correct. Yours are the only good transcriptions I’ve ever encountered (not just good, of course, but perfect!), and it’s a mixture of musical talent and genuine love for what you’re doing. Therefore I find it frustrating and sad that you’re not being allowed to share them even in a published form. Music is supposed to be for everyone, after all.

citrus March 16, 2006 at 9:53 am

On your falling out of love with rufus… I don’t get it. In the 70’s I wrote a hymn to a beatles tune and asked their publisher if I could use it and under what terms. Turned me down flat! I wasn’t amused, but didn’t stop loving some Beatles music because their publishers were being publishers.

Roger Bourland March 16, 2006 at 9:58 am

That was one layer of it, I’ll post another tomorrow called “Damage Control” where I’ll answer your question.

As far as the publishing thing, I was doing HIIM a favor by notating the stuff. As I said, I got over it.

citrus March 16, 2006 at 10:10 am

Interesting thought, separating the person from the music. Very interesting. You should develop that.

JoeGreen March 17, 2006 at 8:12 am

Roger, glad to hear you’re back, and on a different, more balanced level. That’s no bad thing for your objectivity as you pursue this very worthwhile project.

Having overdosed on many great composers in my time I certainly understand. Rufus’s output still a small body of work at this stage, so I’m sure I’ll find myself taking a break from him at some point soon. Those incredibly sophisticated and subtle melodies are what will ensure my return.

Hope you enjoy your sabbatical. I’m assuming it’s not a break from this blog also!

Roger Bourland March 17, 2006 at 9:40 am

Joe: Thanks for your remarks. No, I’ll not take a vacation from the blog, although as Debussy pointed out many years ago — music is a jealous mistress.

Hugo: if I decide to test fair use copyright to its fullest implications, and the Rufus songbook is not out, I may go ahead and print the scores at the end of each chapter, albeit marked up with analytic indications so as to be primarily an analysis of the music, and not just a piano vocal score.

Rosa March 20, 2006 at 2:00 pm

I cannot confess that Rufus is a great artist. He is an incredible talent and a great entertainer. All genius is still reserved for men and women of the arts.

Rosa March 29, 2006 at 1:34 pm

Maybe I don’t need to be so upset. No one, Roger included, ever put this question of “great” to us. So, Rufus, if you are out there, thanks for the great songs and the unique style. And for breaking boundariesfor gay men (I think) in popular culture.

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