Q: You've sung in Latin, you've referenced Thomas Mann, and your new album pays tribute to Shakespeare. What's your beef with the 21st century?
A: I am a little slower in my percolations. I like examining what's come before. But that said, I'm addicted to Real Housewives of Orange County and Keeping Up With the Kardashians. I get sideswiped by the boobs, the hair, the butts, the jewels, the cars, the bad boys. And I love, love 50 Cent. I think he's just the sexiest, and a brilliant writer. And I know he's gay.
Q: What makes you so sure?
A: That cute little voice of his. It's okay, 50 Cent. Feel free to call me anytime. My boyfriend and I are experts. You can come over for dinner. And maybe dessert.
Q: You were born in America but raised in Montreal. What's the most Canadian thing about you?
A: My love of maple syrup. I've been known to knock back a can over a couple days: A swig here, a swig there, and next thing you know it's gone. It's a habit I have to stave off. I don't want to lose all my teeth. I stopped doing crystal meth—I don't want to look like an addict.
Q: What's the best part of a crystal-meth high?
A: There's nothing enjoyable about it. It gets its hooks in you. I've done every kind of drug, and each one has something laudable about it, except meth.
Q: How did your parents—the folk musicians Loudon Wainwright III and (the late) Kate McGarrigle—react when you came out in your teens?
A: I love my folks, and they've done a good job coming full circle, but they were terrible: terrified, ill-equipped, confused. They threatened to kick me out of the house. They didn't want to talk about it and just weren't there for me. I mean, it was the mid-eighties and AIDS was pervasive, so I can't blame them totally for their insanity. And they changed a lot over the years.
Q: Musician Stephin Merritt recently advised gay aspiring musicians not to come out. Do you agree?
A: I find that a bit cynical. I don't have the energy or the emotional repression to bottle that stuff up. It's true, it's tougher careerwise if you come out, but this is a human-rights issue, and it's important to keep putting dents in it. It's about two teenagers being beheaded for holding hands in Saudi Arabia. It's bigger than someone's music career.
Q: Do women ever try to "convert" you?
A: Now that I'm with my boyfriend it's less of an issue. There was a period when it happened. I have some funny stories. There's one where a high-end, Fifth Avenue society woman started hitting on me. She was in her thirties, and I was, like, 20. She got really trashed and said, "You know, girls like it up the wazoo, too!"
Q: When you were a baby, your father wrote a song about you breastfeeding called "Rufus Is a Tit Man." Do you like that song?
A: It's great! When I was 5 or 6, I'd be standing on the table at a bar where my dad was playing, screaming, "Play 'Rufus Is a Tit Man'!"
Q: That's funny, since it's really about his Freudian envy of you and your mom.
A: My dad and I have always been somewhat competitive. But we've reached a good place. We've managed to carve out areas of interest that don't intersect. A lot of our reconciliation centered around my mother's death. It was like a King Arthur story when I was growing up: My father was off looking for the Grail, and my mother was at home making potions and raising her demonic children.
Q: Were you afraid when you began cruising bars in Montreal for sex at 14?
A: That was part of the arousal. I kind of sought fear. I was rebelling against parents who were rebellious themselves, which is tough. One could argue it was a bad thing, but on the other hand it's such an iconic image. A 14-year-old kid at the bar—it's pretty wild. Talk about the movie rights!