Christmas Fights Back:

Rufus and Martha Are Coming to Town

By Ross Altman

WainrightsHave Yourself a Merry Little…Holiday—doesn’t quite sound the same—does it? But according to Fox News self-proclaimed “cultural warrior”* Bill O’ Reilly, there is a War on Christmas—especially in Blue states like California.

When is the last time a cashier at Whole Foods has wished you a Merry Christmas at the checkout stand? God forbid you might be Jewish—or Muslim, or Hindu, or Native American, or O’Reilly’s worst nightmare—a Secular Humanist. So as not to offend anybody therefore—except viewers of The O’Reilly Factor—they wish you the politically correct “Happy Holidays!”

Well, fellow Christian Soldiers, Christmas is fighting back. Apparently UCLA hasn’t heard of this latest Fox News obsession and went and invited Rufus and Martha Wainwright to perform their new show Christmas 101 at Royce Hall—not one, but two nights in a row—next Friday and Saturday December 21st and 22nd at 8:00pm.

If you don’t yet know who they are it would take a Russian novelist to fully explain it, so I’ll give you the short answer sketch of the dramatis personae: they are the prodigal children of two of the most successful folk revivalists of our generation—American Louden Wainwright III (that’s where a Russian novelist would begin his research) and the late great French-Canadian folk artist Kate McGarrigle—who rose to fame with her sister Anna as the McGarrigle Sisters.

If you don’t have time to read Anna Karenina—or see the recently released movie of it—the one that starts out “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” well, suffice to say the Wainwright-McGarrigles were unhappy in their own way—and their brief marriage ended in an ugly divorce with two gifted children as their primary achievements—that would be musicians and pop singer-songwriters Rufus and Martha Wainwright. This is a rare opportunity to see them perform together.

Rufus_Wainwright_-_Out_of_the_GameThey have both carved out extraordinary careers. He as an out gay songwriter. His most recent album even highlights the word in his title song—Out of the Game--who decided what the Hay (as in pioneer gay activist Harry Hay)—if you’re going to come out of the closet you might as well come out all the way—and put together a remarkable show recreating legendary gay icon Judy Garland’s Concert at Carnegie Hall. She as a self-dramatizing pop singer-songwriter who made her desperate and painful affair the entire subject of her best-known album—I Know You Are Married, But I Have Feelings Too—the title of which is embedded (that would be the right word) in the jaunty opener, Bleeding All Over You. If you haven’t seen it, the album cover says it all, revealing Martha splayed (again, the right word) out upside down on a large couch, ready for anything (except perhaps reading Anna Karenina). It’s even more erotic than her follow-up nude album cover for Come Home to Mama

And yet, despite their pop music forays into the dark cesspools of romantic love, both Martha and Rufus have maintained deep connections to their maternal and paternal source of traditional folk music (Louden Wainwright recently did a wonderful tribute album to old-time string band hero Charlie Poole)—for both Kate and Anna McGarrigle loom large in their musical education and vocabulary. Their mother’s last album before her untimely death at 63 of a particularly lethal form of cancer—Sarcoma—was called The McGarrigle Christmas Hour and contained a beautifully balanced selection of both traditional and original Christmas songs—including carols (in both French and English), pop standards, and modern illuminations like Jackson Browne’s Woody Guthrie-like homage to The Rebel Jesus—reminding us (as Woody did in his song Jesus Christ) what he actually stood for, and the painful truths for which he gave his life.

The McGarrigle Sisters' Christmas album is a flat-out masterpiece and Rufus and Martha Wainwright are sure to draw from it in their Royce Hall Christmas 101 concerts.

So if you—as is this Secular Humanist—are rooting for Christmas, now is the time and this is the show. If you are tired of being numbed by the dumbed-down holiday Muzak that emanates through every department store during this shopping season, you owe it to yourselves to get to Royce Hall this weekend and experience what great songs get lost in this merchandising mania—played and sung by two heirs of a great folk family—the Wainwright-McGarrigles. Canada may not be the North Pole, but you can see it from there, so don’t be surprised if you hear some sleigh bells jingle when they enter.

And to sweeten the deal, Rufus and Martha are bringing with them the great guest artists on their Mom’s swan song classic, including Emmylou Harris, Van Dyke Parks, Carrie Fisher and others. So have yourself a merry little Christmas, and don’t miss their Christmas 101 Concert. And if you see him, tell Bill O’Reilly I sent you.

Christmas_101Author’s Note: Christmas 101 with Rufus and Martha Wainwright offers a special VIP package with an Artist Reception afterwards that will include the serious side to their efforts to proudly wear their late mother’s mantle—Kate McGarrigle, in her realization that she was facing overwhelming odds in her battle with Sarcoma founded the Kate McGarrigle Cancer Sarcoma Fund for Medical Research into this deadly disease. Her and her sister’s final concert before she died in 2010 was based on their Christmas Hour album and raised $55,000 to endow the fund. Both Rufus and Martha are dedicated to keeping it going and expanding its research efforts towards a cure. If you wish to become a part of this effort, or even if you simply wish to meet all of the artists in the show, be sure to look into the VIP Reception offer on the UCLA Live web site. This concert is one of those rare opportunities where you can both have a good time and do some good.

And if that isn’t the Christmas Spirit I don’t know what is.

* A phrase which goes back to Pat Buchanan’s famous nominating speech for George H.W. Bush in 1991—and which helped seal Bill Clinton’s victory at the hands of the majority of peasants not quite ready to start throwing pitchforks at the White House in Buchanan’s conservative evocation of the French Revolution.

Ross Altman may be reached at greygoosemusic@aol.com; on Saturday evening, December 22 at The Talking Stick Coffeehouse at 1411 Lincoln Blvd, Venice, CA 90291 310-450-6052 . Ross Altman and finger-style guitarist Jill Fenimore are hosting their own Holiday Variety Show from 7:00 to 10:00pm with Mike McClellan, Dean Donin, Carol Burton and special guests The Billionaires, LA’s favorite musical occupiers who are bringing their own special brand of brass, sass and satirical magic to the stage. It is free and open to the public, no reservations required, and Ross will be holding down the fort with his favorite Christmas and Hanukkah songs and stories—an evening not to be missed. So he definitely recommends that you see Rufus and Martha on Friday evening, and come to the Talking Stick on Saturday for their show.