Posted by: facetothewind | August 18, 2009

Meeting my muse at the porta potty


Have you ever watched a small tugboat pushing on a giant ship to move it out of its moorings? It takes a few minutes of the tugboat’s insistent power pressing on the beam of the ship with lots of churned up water and then finally, the vessel starts to move. I’ve always thought of that as metaphor for applying constant pressure to achieve the things you desire most in life.

Since I fell in love with Rufus Wainwright’s music several years ago, I have been trying to make contact with the composer…not out of any obsession with his admittedly good looks, as most people seem to think. Actually Rufus isn’t my type. My desire to make contact is more about the music — to meet the man behind the lilting lyrics and sounds that so profoundly rock my inner world.

How could someone so uncannily express the melancholy of my heart? I have felt the desire to tell him and thank him for his music. And so for the past several years I made him a personal video passed on to him at the Metropolitan Opera through my friend Lisa who interviewed him on NPR. I lined up to get him to sign a CD in San Francisco and was pushed through abruptly by his handlers. I have thrown brooches (with my email address included) to him on stage in Portland, passed my book to him through his clothes designer at the Hollywood Bowl. In fact, I stood about 10 feet away from him at a party backstage at the Bowl, but chickened out and opted to talk to his sister and mother instead.

And so my attempts at contact have never resulted in anything more than a very unsatisfying, “Oh I shoulda…” I never got to express to him my sincere appreciation. And part of me has always wondered if he would in fact be an asshole and I would be mortally wounded if he said anything unkind to a most admiring fan. Still I have continued my attempts at contact him like Ellie Arroway in the film Contact hoping to receive a message from another planet. I never received any word that he got my book or the brooch or the video. No contact for all my efforts.

All this changed last Friday in Lyons, Colorado at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival. The little tugboat that could, did. A couple months ago, my friend Linda Bush who knows of my fondness for Rufus, invited me to come and hear him at this folk music event in August. My mind raced thinking, “What on earth would Rufus do at a folk festival? His music is really unsuited for that crowd.” He’s more of a pop / classical musician with a serious undercoat of show tune-age. I looked up the venue on line, watched some videos from past concerts and decided that Rufus was a complete misfit at this venue.

I called Linda back and said, “I’m coming!” My reasoning was this: at a concert where he is one of many in a lineup and playing to the Keen sandal and tie-dye-wearing crowd, there will be no competition for his post-concert attention. I could probably show up at an unattended tent CD signing and hang out with him while everyone else was waiting to see Don MacLean or lined up to get their chicken drumsticks.

The evening of the performance, I managed to take a nap in the tent so that I would be rested and clear-headed should I get the chance to meet him. About a half hour before his show time, I put on my most dandy striped velour pants and my suede and fake fur jacket figuring that if I did encounter him, he’d admire my getup. And maybe I’d even give him my pants if he admired them enough.

As I walked toward to the blanket to settle in for his show, I noticed someone in a black and white striped sports jacket off to the side of the stage at ground level, just behind a picket fence watching the jazz singer who was currently occupying the stage. I was certain there could only be 2 people in this entire festival wearing stripes: Rufus and me. His back was to me and so I wasn’t sure if it was indeed him. Then I saw the signature sideburns. Holy shit – a genuine Rufus spotting. Like at the Hollywood Bowl, he was once again about 10 feet away from me. I could have just yelled, “Yo Rufus!” and he would have certainly heard me. But I became self-conscious that I was positioned in front of the crowd, blocking people’s view of the stage. I looked over to Linda and pointed and nodded my head in Rufus’ direction, pointing him out. I mouthed the words “RUFUS OH MY GOD!” to her. She got it and saw him.

I squatted down to dig out my camera and was pretending not to be staring and then when I looked back in his direction, he was gone…just like at the Hollywood Bowl where I went digging in my backpack for a book to give him he walked out of the room and I missed my chance for a direct handoff. Again, I had missed my chance.

During his performance to a lukewarm reception, a good half of my brain was occupied kicking myself for letting him walk away. The other half was devoted to strategizing how to meet him afterward.

The backstage of the festival was enormous. In fact it was like an entire village that was cordoned off with access to their reception tent only if I had the proper backstage bracelet. I didn’t. I had the lowly green camper bracelet affixed to my right wrist. So I stood with Linda at the gate to the backstage area in the dark and cold, hoping he would come out. I chatted with the gate attendants who seemed sympathetic to my cause – something they could afford to do. I was as predicted: the only fan who came to see him. Linda just came along to support me.

After about 15 minutes, Linda opted to head back to her tent and so I stood there alone for about 5 more minutes peering into the backstage area but no sighting of Rufus. There was a certain sadness to this scene — me alone in the cold and Rufus with only 1 fan in waiting. Surely if he came out he wouldn’t be able to ignore my dedication.

My bladder was begging for relief and so I made a run for the latrine. When I was done, I threw open the squeaky door of my stinky Port-o-Let, zipping up my dandy pants and who do I see walking by? The man in the striped jacket! Well, shit in my pants — I’m going to meet Rufus Wainwright emerging from a goddam porta potty with unwashed hands. I gasped to myself at the sight of him as the door slammed loudly behind me.

I took a deep breath and knew that this was the moment. “Rufus!” I yelled kind of tentatively like maybe I should call him “Mr. Wainwright.” I didn’t want him to think that this was his fateful John Lennon moment at the Dakota and so I made sure my hands were visible. He stopped and turned back to face me and I launched in as I slowly approached him. “Hi, I just wanted to say hello. I came to the Festival just to see you and just wanted you to know how much I love your music.” A big smile came over his face and he bleated out a laugh as I have heard so many times on stage and in documentaries. He thanked me graciously with a bouncy bow of his head.

He looked kind of greasy and a little wilted, no doubt tired from his performance and travel. His hair was not so light and clean, so I figured he probably was in a hurry and made my intrusion brief. “Do you have a second?” I asked. He hesitated a bit and said, “Sure.” I asked if we could we do a photo. I held out my camera in front of us and he leaned in toward me. A roadie appeared out of the darkness and kindly offered to take the photo. I introduced myself and went to shake his hand but he had a handful of something that looked like brooches. He extended his pinkie finger to me, which I shook.

I said to him more than a few times, “I can’t believe I’m finally getting to meet you.” He kept bleating and smiling and was very attentive making eye contact. He asked where I was from. I told him Tucson and that my German boyfriend had just been to see his opera in Manchester. “Great, great. Well, we’re bringing it to London and then to Toronto.” I said I was eager to see it and the Shakespeare sonnets in San Francisco next April. He knew I was dialed in to his career track by knowing that performance and he seemed to relax a bit. He started toward the parking lot, still completely unattended. I kept wondering where all his advance people were and how when I had tried to say hello in the past, there was always a wall of security surrounding him. Here, there were no throngs of fans to fend off.

So the two of us walked toward his car together just chatting about his various concerts. I said I was at the Hollywood Bowl Judy show. “Great. Great.” I asked him if he had gotten the copy of my book I passed on to him – that I had signed it and dedicated it to him. (In my nervousness I forgot that really I only had acknowledged him in the credits.) He stopped at the SUV and he opened the back to unload whatever was in his hand. “What was the book?” he asked. “Oh, it was my book about building my nightmare dream house in Hawaii.” “Really, you built a house in Hawaii?” he asked seemingly interested. “Yes, and well, I passed the book on to your costumer and hoped that you’d get it.” He seemed sad that it had not made it to him saying, “Well, sometimes those things just don’t make it through. Can I buy the book in bookstores?” I responded, “Well, you can get it on Amazon.” “What’s the name of the book?” he asked. I told him the name and corrected his saying Homesteading to Homo-steading and he laughed at the title.

I could see it was time to leave when the driver or manager approached and got in the car. “Alright, well, I’m just really thrilled I got to meet you.” “It was nice meeting you, too,” he said warmly. “Hope your show in Aspen goes well,” I wished him as he got in the car. “Thank you, b’bye…goodnight!” he said and closed the door.

I don’t think I took a breath that whole 2 minutes I spent with him. When he closed the door, I backed away from the car and began hyperventilating. I noticed I was dripping sweat even though the cold mountain air was bracing my face.

I stood in the glow of a streetlight as his car backed out and he pulled past me. I was in the process of calling Sebastian to share the news with him. Rufus waved goodbye as I left a message, “You won’t believe this, Sebastian but I got to meet him, finally and I’m waving to Rufus Wainwright right now and he’s waving back to me. I wish you were here.”

I made contact with my muse AND I got to keep my dandy pants. What a night!

Here’s a quickie video compilation of his concert:

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