UCLA Seminar: The Music of Rufus Wainwright #8

March 14, 2006

Our final discussion session had two songs on the agenda: “Damned Ladies,” and “Oh What a World.”

I started the class by playing Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero.” “Bolero” is quoted toward the end of “Oh What a World.” I explained how the piece works, and identified the overall shape. I speculated that the opening tune “men reading fashion magazine” was likely improvised over “Bolero” but that source is not revealed until the end of the song.

This song opened Rufus’s debut with the LA Philharmonic at the 2004 Hollywood Bowl. His rather icky behavior was unfortunate. Rufus was a bit pissed that the orchestra didn’t seem to be miked, but he sure was. (I’ll leave this issue, “damage control,” to another posting.)

A student summed up the meaning of the song in a few sentences. The class burst into an instant discussion of “metrosexual” and everyone seemed to have their in-cement definition of the term. For those of you who don’t, it kind of means a guy who isn’t gay, but pays attention to facial products, clothes, hair product, and y’know, kinda looks gay, but isn’t.

I was embarassed to have not gotten the source of the title, which is from the scene where the wicked old witch is melting. Hey, learn something new every day!

The cyclical nature of the lyrics is reflected in the cyclical bolero rhythm that is omnipresent.


“Damned Ladies” was described instantly as a song where all the opera heroines are ones that are about to die. Rufus wants to save them from their fate, but alas. I played the opening oscillating minor 9th and asked what this music foreshadowed.

“Death.” “Doom.” “Bad.”

I asked whether the music “sounded Classical.” The answer was surprisingly and overwhelmingly no. I was puzzled as this is some of Wainwright’s most harmonically daring moves.

Time ran out as a student said that this song was likely a diary for Rufus’s anti-social I-only-wanna-listen-to-opera phase.

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