Rufus Wainwright and Charles Ives square off

March 5, 2007

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[Rufus turns on his computer, opens his instant messaging program, and BLAMO! Charles Ives’ face appears on his screen.]

CI: Hey Ralph! (Ives puts his nose up against the camera, and then squashes his face against the screen, looking rather silly.) Ain’t this new fangled technology somethin’?

RW: (Laughs in his machine gun giggle.)Yeah, uh huh. Hi Charlie, you surprised me showing up like this.

CI: It’s time for your lesson.

RW: Ok, let me put out my cigarette and get a pencil.

CI: Your non-romantic lyrics are really quite attractive. I knew your grandfather and admired his writing greatly. I am happy to see you have inherited his way with words.

RW: Thanks! “Non-romantic?”
CI: I applaud you for taking on the BLOOM commission and setting texts that were not your own. It brought out a new facet in your writing. I encourage you to set other’s words from time to time for the rest of your life. It invigorates your own lyric writing.

Thoreau was a great musician. The rhythm of his prose, were there nothing else, would determine his value as a composer. He was divinely conscious of the enthusiasm of Nature, the emotion of her rhythms and the harmony of her solitude. In their greatest moments the inspiration of both Beethoven and Thoreau express profound truth and deep sentiment, but the intimate passion of it, the storm and stress of it, affected Beethoven in such a way that he could not but be forever showing it and Thoreau that he could not expose it.

RW: Ok, but I’m not sure what you’re getting at.

CI: Nature dislikes to explain as much as to repeat. It is conceivable that what is unified form to the author, or composer, may of necessity be formless to his audience. Initial coherence today may be dullness tomorrow, probably because formal or outward unity depends so much on repetition, sequences, antitheses, paragraphs with inductions and summaries.

RW: A great song has blood and guts and life experience and that you really have to lay it all down on the line. Music is fun and wonderful and happy, but it also requires pain, and you have to go through the pain in order to feel happy again.

CI: Exactly! But I mean real musical compositions, not just airy fairy songs. Real pieces! Manly pieces! When are you going to compose an instrumental composition Ralph?

RW: I tend to listen to songs as pieces of music. You know the famous story of Bob Dylan and John Lennon listening to either Bob’s or the Beatles’ new record. And Dylan’s going, “Yeah man, just listen to the lyrics,” and Lennon’s going “No, just listen to the sound…” and I’m with John Lennon on that.

CI: The sound, yes, that’s a good way of putting it. That’s what I have always thought about in my music, the sound. [pause] But one of the great disappointments in my life is being able to hear so little of my work. I worked so hard for so many years, er, uh, until 1926.

RW: Wow! You wrote all that music that music in that amount of time? You’re like superhuman.

CI: Why yes, I… (Harmony walks in)

HI: Charlie are you telling those fibs again? Don’t let him tell you he stopped writing in 1926, that’s hogwash. (She spits on the floor.)

CI: Well, he shuffles his papers, I wrote MOST of it before then.

HI: Whatever you say dear.

CI: (Looking back at Rufus) Why are you not having a woman sing your songs?

RW: I don’t understand.

CI: So many of them are about men, so I assume they are to be sung by a woman and you just haven’t found the right voice? or what?

RW: I wrote them for me to sing, I never really think about other people singing them. I mean I do after the fact, but not when I write them.

CI: But the words are about men.

RW: Charlie, I’m gay. Duh, pick up the clue phone dude.

CI: No! [long pause]

RW: Hello? [long pause]

CI: Good luck to ya fella. I’ve gotta go, I hear Harmony calling me for dinner.

RW: If you can’t deal with it, then I think it’s best we discontinue these lessons.

(Charlie’s face turns, shrinks to a point, and disappears.

RW: Scumbag!

This conversation is purely fictional, based upon and inspired by the personalities, interviews with, and the writings of Rufus Wainwright and Charles Ives.

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