We'd never tried to squeeze a piano behind the Tiny Desk, but when I saw a chance to have Rufus Wainwright play here, I wouldn't — and he probably wouldn't — have had it any other way. Somehow, we managed to fit a glossy black Yamaha upright against my full bookshelves. Then we tuned it and waited for some glorious moments.
Wainwright was touring behind his new album, Out of the Game, and had scheduled a more formal appearance at Wolf Trap in Virginia that evening. Here, sporting a T-shirt and shorts, he performed three songs. By the middle of his closer, "Montauk," few dry eyes remained among the NPR employees and guests.
"Montauk" is Wainwright at his best. The piano lines flow with forward motion in a Philip Glass way, and there's also a hauntingly beautiful story. Wainwright sings to his daughter Viva, whom he raises with his husband and whose biological mother is Lorca Cohen. Cohen is Leonard Cohen's daughter; Wainwright is the son of Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III. As if there weren't enough family ties already, the song imagines Viva grown up and visiting her two fathers in Montauk, a small community on the eastern tip of Long Island.
Wainwright plaintively sings:
One day you will come to Montauk
And you will see your dad wearing a kimono
And see your other dad pruning roses
Hope you won't turn around and go
"Montauk" is the story of a modern family filled with old family worries, an emotional range familiar to the singer-songwriter.
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Producer and Editor: Bob Boilen; Videographers: Michael Katzif, Bob Boilen and Nick Michael; Audio Engineer: Neil Tevault; photo by Claire O'Neill/NPR