Song of the Day #298: ‘Foolish Love’ – Rufus Wainwright

rufusOK, folks… it’s time for all my faithful readers to run screaming. I hope this week’s blog entries reach beyond my usual audience, because I’ve found that I am very much alone in my love of Rufus Wainwright.

Alone in my circle of family and friends, that is. Out there on the interwebs, of course, there are legions of people just like me, people who swoon at the romanticism and theatricality of a man who’s a little Cole Porter, a little Puccini, a little Michael Stipe… and all Rufus.

And yes, I’m secure enough in my sexuality to admit to swooning over a flamboyantly gay man. What of it?

I first discovered Wainwright a little while after his eponymous debut album was released. I had seen it on a bunch of top ten lists and it was the talk of the Elvis Costello bulletin board I frequented, so when I saw it in the $5 bin at my company’s holiday auction it was quite the coup.

I didn’t know what to expect when I popped it into my CD player. But halfway through the first song, ‘Foolish Love,’ I knew I was in for something extraordinary.

As in many of his songs, Wainwright opens the tune with an introductory verse… a technique that hearkens back to songwriters in the 40s by whom he’s clearly inspired. Then the main body of the song swings in, just bursting with attitude. He sings about going to the “poshest places” and “flow[ing] through the veins of town” and looks to “the day Noah’s ark floats down Park.” I fell in love, and remain in love, with all of these extravagant flourishes. It’s all so New York, so Manhattan.

Five albums later, Wainwright has tried all sorts of things, usually with great success, but this song will always symbolize for me how special a talent he is.

I don’t want to hold you and feel so helpless
I don’t want to smell you and lose my senses
And smile in slow motion with eyes in love

I twist like a corkscrew, the sweetness rising
I drink from the bottle, weeping
Why won’t you last?
Why can’t you last?

So I will walk without care,
Beat my snare
Look like a man who means business
Go to all the poshest places
With their familiar faces
Terminate all signs of weakness

Oh, all for the sake, all for the sake
Of a foolish love

I will take my coffee black, never snack
Hang with the wolves who are sheepish
Flow through the veins of town, always frown
Me and my mistress the princess

Oh, all for the sake, all for the sake
Of a foolish love

So the day Noah’s ark floats down Park
My eyes will be simply glazed over
Or better yet
I’ll wear shades on sunless days
And when the sun’s out
I’ll stay and slumber

Oh, all for the sake, all for the sake
Of a foolish love

Cause I don’t want to hold you and feel so helpless
I don’t want to smell you and lose my senses
And smile in slow motion with eyes in love

26 thoughts on “Song of the Day #298: ‘Foolish Love’ – Rufus Wainwright

  1. Dana says:

    On a Monday morning? Sheesh!!!

  2. Amy says:

    That was me. Dana would never be up and posting at 6:13 in the morning.

  3. Dana says:

    Well, I’m up and posting at 7:21… I am not among your family members who hates Rufus. I truly do apprecaite the man’s obvious songwriting talent, I just don’t like his voice, and, time and time again, wish I could hear his songs done by someone else.

  4. Clay says:

    The authorship of the first comment was betrayed not by the time it was posted but by its insensitivity. 😉

    Dana, I’ve heard the same thing said about Bob Dylan (like the songs, just wish I could hear them sung by somebody else) and I find it just as blasphemous in both cases. As much as I appreciate good covers, I like to hear great songwriters interpret their own songs.

    Of course I like both of their voices, so I guess that makes it easy for me. I’d probably lean more to your thinking if we were talking about, say, Neil Young or Joni MItchell.

  5. pegclifton says:

    I like the music and the words, but not too crazy about the voice. A little Puccini?? not sure I get that unless there’s some proof of that in his other work.

  6. Dana says:

    As we have previously discussed, I’m not big on whiny voices, nor am I big on lavish singers. Rufus somehow manages to be both, so that’s a double strike for me.

    I’m fine with Dylan’s voice, although it has become so limited of late that even you seemed to agree that covers of To Make You Feel My Love by Adele and Garth Brooks compete with Dylan’s interpretation.

    I’m also okay with Neil Young’s voice, though I could see where the nasal quality could get to you. Mitchell took some getting used to for me, and, I admit, it isn’t my favorite of voices, but, most of the time, the songwriting and style is so great that I’m fine with her voice.

    And I agree that I like to hear songwriters interpret their own songs. Can you honestly say that Newman does better justice to When She Loved Me than does Sarah McLaughlin? As much as I love Newman, I have to give the nod to McLaughlin in interpreting that song and giving it depth and range that Newman could only hint at voacally. Similarly, while I like Newman’s Mamma Told Me Not To Come, I think Three Dog Night’s is arguably better. Ditto for Cocker’s version of You Can Leave Your Hat On.

    Speaking of Mitchell, which do you like better: her version of Woodstock or the CSN&Y version?

    My guess is that if you are annoyed by the voice of the songwriter, or, as in some cases, the songwriter simply doesn’t have the range and power to deliver the goods, then you would prefer the cover.

  7. Clay says:

    Peggy, he’s a big opera fan and is actually writing an opera right now that was going to be staged at the Met. The influence doesn’t show up in this song but it does in others.

  8. Clay says:

    I’m not too familiar with ‘Woodstock’ but I just listened to clips of both versions and I’d pick CS&N by a mile.

    I agree Sarah McLachlan does a superb job on ‘When She Loved Me’ — can’t really imagine anybody doing it better. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard Newman sing it. To use another example, I prefer Newman’s version of ‘Feels Like Home’ to Chantal Kreviazuk’s.

    The Dylan example is interesting, because ‘To Make You Feel My Love’ is not the kind of song I want to hear Dylan sing. It feels weird coming from him, as much because of his persona as his voice. That’s why I wasn’t crazy about it on the original album but I’m quite fond of the covers.

    On the flip side, I wouldn’t want to hear anybody but Dylan sing most of his new material… it’s so infused with his attitude and style.

  9. Dana says:

    Clearly, the test for you is NOT Dylan songs, since you like his voice (as do I). The true test best comes with Mitchell and Young, both highly critically acclaimed artists whose voices you don’t like. So, here is the test for you:

    Which version do you prefer?

    Both Sides Now– Mitchell or Judy Collins
    Big Yellow Taxi — Mitchell or Counting Crows
    Help Me — Mitchell or Mandi Moore (or KD Lang)
    Heart of Gold — Young or Dave Matthews (or Matchbox 20)
    Old Man by Young or Dylan (now THAT’s an interesting test, no?)
    Hey, Hey, My, My by Young or DMB
    The Needle and the Damage Done by Young or The Pretenders
    Helpless by Young or KD Lang

  10. pegclifton says:

    wow, that’s impressive–the met! would love to know more about that. thanks.

  11. Clay says:

    ‘Both Sides Now’ – Collins’ studio version is nice. I could only find live versions by Mitchell, but an early one on The Johnny Cash Show was fine. Probably a draw.

    ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ – Counting Crows, no question.

    ‘Help Me’ – k.d. lang… she sounds great singing anything. This is a song I’ve always liked but Mitchell’s voice is particularly annoying on it.

    ‘Heart of Gold’ – Dave Matthews does an ok job of it… I’d rather hear somebody else do a studio version. Not crazy about Young’s vocals on this one.

    ‘Old Man’ – Don’t like either (Young’s original version or the live Dylan version I found)

    ‘Hey Hey My My’ – Prefer the covers.

    ‘The Needle and the Damage Done’ – As much as I dislike his voice, I do find Young’s version of this song effective.

    ‘Helpless’ – k.d. lang

  12. Dana says:

    Well, I think your preferences generally support my point. You prefer to hear the songwriters’ version, unless you are annoyed by his or her voice. So, back off those of us who just really don’t like Rufus’ voice.:)

  13. Clay says:

    Well, I did agree with you in my first comment when I said I’d lean toward your thinking in the case of Joni Mitchell or Neil Young!

    I can appreciate somebody not liking Rufus’ voice, even if I disagree.

  14. Amy says:

    Do you people ever have to do any work at all?!

  15. Amy says:

    She asks, insensitively.

  16. Dana says:

    I believe that we are being insulted! Yes, I’m quite sure we are being insulted:)

  17. Amy says:

    Not as insulted as poor Joni Mitchell has been over these past hours.

    Adam Duritz would smack you for choosing his cover 🙂

  18. Clay says:

    Another potentially off-putting voice that I love (Duritz, that is, not Mitchell).

  19. Amy says:

    Off-putting how? Is simply investing a song with emotion now considered off-putting? I don’t see what about his voice could possibly be deemed annoying.

  20. Clay says:

    Hey, I love his voice but I can see why others wouldn’t (just like Rufus). It’s very warbly, if that’s a word.

  21. Dana says:

    Duritz could be accused of being a bit whiny too I suppose, but in a far more gravelly tone that I personally love.

    Not sure that live video for Joni does her recorded version justice.

  22. Amy says:

    I’m finally actually listening to today’s song, and I can’t decide if it’s that his voice is whiny (which I do find it) or that I don’t like the song + his voice. As I do very much like one song by him –

    “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk,” I tend to think it’s the combination of voice + words + music that I either do like or don’t like. In fact, once this song kicks it up a notch (around the 2:30 mark), I like it much better. So… I don’t know that I hate Rufus, as much as I often want to slap him. Is that better?

  23. Dana says:

    Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk is, indeed, a fine song.

  24. Clay says:

    You’re very violent today… lots of slapping and smacking!

  25. Dana says:

    You have no idea! These last few weeks of school are always crazy for her, and she is tense beyond belief. NOT a good week to pull out the Rufus theme. ABORT! ABORT! Change to up tempo 80’s music STAT!

  26. Amy says:

    🙂 The man has a point. I may get increasingly violent as the days pass. Too much Rufus could cause me to vitrtually smack, slap, beat, punch, kick and pummel whatever gets in my way.

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