When Rufus Met Jeff Buckley

image from livepict

In November 1996 Penny Arcade asked Rufus to play a special solo show in New York. Though still ensconced in LA recording demos for his debut album DreamWorks were happy to send him first class wherever he wanted to go. “Quentin Crisp had asked me for dispensation from his promise to live to be 100 years old,” recalls Arcade. “I created a live funeral for Quentin called The Last Will and Testament of Quentin Crisp. It was held at KGB Theatre where we wired three floors with sound and video.”

Arcade had asked Rufus to perform alongside the comedian Steve Ben Israel, poet and playwright Edgar Oliver and her friend Jeff Buckley, who by this point was showing all the signs of becoming a global superstar.

“When I announced to Quentin that Rufus was going to sing he was faux annoyed. Saying ‘I hate music. Music is the most amount of noise conveying the least amount of information’”. Arcade remembers the audience taking great delight in Crisp’s comment, jeering at Rufus and leaving him somewhat nonplussed, “Rufus stepped up to Quentin and told him that he was a hero to him and that he was honoured to sing for him. But Quentin sort of turned away.

The audience were there for Quentin but were mostly new to the actual experience of his personality and they read this as a need to defend him and some started shouting that they were just there to hear Quentin speak.”

Arcade had to step in to quieten the crowd and explain it was a tribute night to Quentin. “I told them, as I told several audiences when I had introduced him, that after you hear Rufus sing you will be telling everyone for the rest of your life that you heard him first.”

With the audience hubbub temporarily quelled, Rufus began singing and the crowd started listening. Suddenly the entire PA system broke down and Rufus was left without a working amp or microphone. More jeers. Jeff Buckley crawled from the back of the stage with a guitar amp into which he’d plugged a mic and he held the mic up for Rufus to sing while he cradled the amp in his arms. By the end of the song the audience erupted, partly for Rufus and partly for the impromptu appearance from Buckley who had ultimately decided not to perform at the event himself.

Afterwards Arcade introduced the two musicians. “As they were both song repositories they started asking each other if they knew this song or that song and they started singing together,” recalls Arcade. “At the end of the night I came downstairs to Rufus, Jeff and the violinist and songwriter Stephan Smith and they serenaded me. Then the three of us went down to my neighbourhood to Sin-e which had just opened up and was empty and we sat there drinking and talking and we ended the night sitting on the kerb of Clinton Street talking until dawn. Looking down on Rufus, and Jeff, who I was close to then, I had an overwhelming out-of-body experience. In this perfect moment was this dark moment and I thought to myself, ‘One of these boys won’t be here again.”

Excerpted from There Will Be Rainbows: A Biography of Rufus Wainwright- and the Story of Loudon Wainwright and Kate McGarrigle, by Kirk Lake published by Orion. Kirk is a writer and filmmaker. Information at www.kirklake.net

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