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right as wain

Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright strikes a pose

Love him or leave him, 28-year-old wunderkind Rufus Wainwright is one of the most distinctive figures in pop music.

From the drunken swagger of his vocals to his dizzying musical arrangements, his songs of love and longing divide listeners into two camps: those who swoon and those who beg for earplugs.

The son of folk legends Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, Wainwright made a splash of his own in 1998 with an album on Dreamworks Records.

'Rufus Wainwright' landed on the top 10 lists of The New Yorker and The New York Times. In addition, Rolling Stone magazine named Wainwright the Best New Artist of 1998.

The openly gay performer has stepped back into the limelight with a new album, 'Poses,' and a North American tour to promote it. 'Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk,' a song about decadent indulgences, is one of the catchiest tracks.

Witty and accessible, Wainwright recently talked about his music, Portland and his future plans.

Trib: You've come to Portland on previous tours. What do you think?

Wainwright: I like Portland. It's a great town. Unlike Seattle and San Francisco, it's funky but sophisticated, too.

I'm friends with the Pink Martini guys. Thomas Lauderdale gives me the insider's tour of the city. He always has a welcome wagon ready for me and my crew.

Trib: Where has he taken you?

Wainwright: The Three Sisters Tavern (laughs).

Trib: What's your permanent address?

Wainwright: Right now I'm touring, so there's no point in spending money on rent. When I'm not traveling, I stay with my mother in Montreal.

Trib: Your parents are both celebrated folk musicians. How much have you been influenced by their music?

Wainwright: As a child I was really involved in their music. They wrote about my life, so I was an integral part of their material. I also sang with my mom when she went on tour. But a turning point for me was when I started to rebel against my parents' music by listening to opera. My father hated opera.

When I started listening to opera, I emulated the composition style. Opera songs are like mountain ranges. I realized that songs didn't have to follow a traditional verse/chorus/verse structure.

Trib: How did you cultivate your boozy style of singing?

Wainwright: It was cultivated by duress (laughs). I'm from Montreal. I did a lot of singing in bars, where I learned to mix business and pleasure and to become a part of the atmosphere. I tried to make my voice fit in.

Trib: You've mentioned in interviews that the poet Blake has influenced your lyric writing. What other writers have made an impact on you?

Wainwright: I don't read a lot, but what I do read I obsess about. I like Evelyn Waugh, Walker Percy and Tennessee Williams. I've also learned a lot as an opera fan. When you get into an opera, you learn about what was popular at the time it took place and about the classic literature it's based on.

Trib: Pop music has several lesbian role models, like k.d. lang and the Indigo Girls. But very few male pop stars have come out of the closet. What's it like to be one of the few openly gay men on the pop scene?

Wainwright: I have no idea why more women musicians have come out than men. I was arguably the first man to come out and be completely honest about it. I'm not necessarily flamboyant, though I can be.

Trib: What's next for you?

Wainwright: I like playing for kids and playing with a rock band. I do want to make another great record, but the music industry is so frustrating. The stuff being nominated for Grammys is so far from what I'm doing.

I've had offers for movies and musicals, and I'm definitely considering them. I'm on the diving board.

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