One of the perks of having a musician for a parent is that, if you're an especially cute or inspirational kid, you might get your own song. Sean Lennon got "Beautiful Boy." Nona Gaye got "I Want to Be Where You Are." Aisha Morris, Stevie Wonder's daughter, got "Isn't She Lovely." Harper Simon got "St. Judy's Comet," of which he says, "I'm generally opposed to rock songs about your children. But that's a sweet one."
Rufus Wainwright got two songs — one, "Rufus Is a Tit Man," from his dad, and another, "First Born Son," from his mom. "I loved 'Rufus Is a Tit Man,'" says Rufus, who is gay. "It's about me breast-feeding. I would be five or six years old in the audience, screaming out, 'Sing "Rufus Is a Tit Man!"' And 'First Born Son' is amazing. It's an unabashed song about how the firstborn is the one who'll break everyone's heart. It's almost a benediction. Like, it's OK if I take over the show."
Growing up in Canada, Rufus rebelled against the purist folk scene of his parents by becoming a self-described "fourteen-year-old opera queen." "That kind of horrified them for a while," he says. "For one thing, it was so unobservant of the modern age. And also, it was unabashedly gay. They liked the pure, simple line, and I decided to go for baroque. My confidence was appalling. My father just wanted me to mow the lawn: "Why don't you relax and stop trying to write requiems?'"
Rufus' parents broke up when he was three, and Loudon Wainwright III spent much of his son's childhood on the road, so their relationship had always been a rocky one. The potential conflicts of ego only became trickier to avoid as Rufus' star began to rise, while folk music was increasingly marginalized in the culture at large.
"My own fame was extremely difficult for my father," says Rufus, who, at thirty-one, has released four critically acclaimed albums. "We had a horrible relationship for about six months when my first record came out – where, on the one hand, I didn't know how to deal with the press and be respectful of his feelings and, on the other hand, he came down very heavy-handed on me for certain things I'd say in my ignorance. We were ready to kill each other. I said he abandoned me as a child and that yes, I would be way more famous than he ever was, and that I was cooler and more in touch with the kids."
The breaking point came during a photo shoot for a Rolling Stone father-and-sons photo essay five years ago. Near the end of the session, the photographer was forced to suggest, "Could you guys maybe touch each other?" "My father was feeling very uncomfortable and I was feeling very brazen," Rufus says. "You could see it in the picture." After the shoot, the Wainwrights went out to dinner. Rufus had a few drinks and told his father that, thanks to him, he'd finally made it back into Rolling Stone. "He never quite forgave me for that comment," Rufus says. "A lot of patching up had to be done after that."
The Western World Headquarters of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness is located on a quiet residential street just off Venice Boulevard in Los Angeles. Along with a white-columned temple, a bookstore and a vegetarian restaurant called Govinda's, the society owns a number of the bungalows lining the street, where men in pumpkin-colored dhotis stroll by with groceries and prayer books.
On an overcast January afternoon, Elijah Blue Allman sits at an umbrellacovered table on Govinda's brick patio, looking exactly the way his publicist described him the night before. ("He's got dirty blond hair. He usually wears a black Kangol cap, but forward. And he'll probably be wearing a puffy vest, the kind that Michael J. Fox wore in Back to the Future.") The middle button of Elijah's vest is buttoned, and a C-clamp key ring hangs from the pocket of his Army green sweatpants.
Elijah's parents are Gregg Allman, the singer and keyboardist of the Allman Brothers Band, and Cher. The pair married on June soth, 1975, four days after Cher's divorce from Sonny Bono. This may have proved rash, as by July 9th, they had separated. Now twenty-eight, Elijah — a teen guitar prodigy who auditioned for Nine Inch Nails when he was seventeen and came close to getting the gig — is primarily focused on his industrial-metal band, Deadsy. The group's second album, Commencement, was released by DreamWorks in 2002, with a video directed by Fred Durst. Elijah was also a big L.A. scenemaker, romantically linked to the actress Heather Graham and fellow rock kids Nicole Richie (she wears a Deadsy T-shirt in an episode of The Simple Life) and Bijou Phillips; his cell-phone numberwas recently posted on the Internet when Paris Hilton's Sidekick was hacked.
Since the release of Commencement, though, things haven't been going smoothly. The album didn't sell, DreamWorks fell victim to a record-company merger and the band has yet to be re-signed. Elijah, while touring, became addicted to painkillers, and he's been in and out of rehab ever since. These days, with a slightly rounder face, a thin blond mustache and a scab on his nose, he looks more like his dad than the eyeliner-sporting goth kid brooding on various Deadsy fan sites. Though he speaks quickly, with a gruff-voiced intensity, Elijah also seems quite guarded, at first barely making eye contact.
"I love coming down here — I'm really into Vedic science," Elijah says, taking a forkful of green beans and bulgur rice. He's referring to the Vedas, the sacred texts that serve as the basis of the Krishna sect. He's quick to add that he's not a full Krishna devotee, explaining, "I'm way too fallen, man." As if to stress his unworthiness, he stares intently at a pretty blond girl as she walks by, then shoots me a lascivious grin.
Growing up, Elijah didn't spend much time with either of his parents. From the age of eight on, he attended six different boarding schools on both coasts. During Elijah's formative years, his father was a nonpresence – constantly touring, addicted to heroin and dating the likes of sixteen-year-old future porn star Savannah. His mother, meanwhile, was busy making movies, pursuing a successful solo career and maintaining a flamboyant social life. "I'd always gravitate toward the female dancers on my mom's tours – not in a sexual way but because they were giving me some of that maternal thing I wasn't getting from my mom," Elijah says. "As much as she would try to make life normal for me, it never happened."
It's debatable whether or not "dating Gene Simmons" constitutes a good-faith attempt at normality on Cher's part. Elijah told VHI's Behind the Music that his favorite childhood mom-boyfriend was Val Kilmer: "He gave me a human scalp for my birthday, and from then on, I just loved him." He also cites his older half-sister, Chastity, and friends at boarding school as bigger musical influences than either of his parents, as they turned him on to edgier artists like Gary Numan, Bauhaus and Brian Eno. Time spent at home was often on the surreal side. Robert Downey Jr. and Paul "Pee-wee Herman" Reubens would come by for barbecues. Elijah even earned a mention in The Andy Warhol Diaries – "I forget what day, but it was in 1985" – when, during a visit by Warhol, he ran around the house "destroying something."
By age thirteen, Elijah acknowledges, he was "starting to get a little unruly." He tried to re-connect with his dad, going on tour with the band. "I sought him out," Elijah says. "Not that he was ready to do any fathering at that point." Gregg Allman was one of rock's most legendary substance abusers; Cher reportedly broke up with him after he passed out in a plate of spaghetti. "I started smoking a little pot," Elijah says. "Nothing out of line for backstage at an Allman Brothers show. Some of the crew guys would take me under their wing. Red Dog. Joe Dan. Twigs. I wouldn't stay under any wing for too long."
Shortly thereafter, in an unorthodox attempt at mother-son bonding, Cher decided to add Elijah to her touring band. "I was getting pretty ripping on the guitar, and she was doing so much touring, she thought it would be a way for us to spend more time together," he says. He made his debut at the 1988 MTV Video Music Awards. One might assume that watching your mom straddle an aircraft-carrier cannon while exposing her tattooed buttocks to a group of sailors might stir some level of Oedipal discomfort, but Elijah displays little emotion in his recall.
"I was so programmed to see that kind of stuff from such an early age, it would have been strange for me if she wasn't dressed like that," he says. "But I just toured with her for a little while. Once I got older, I was like, 'This isn't too cool.' People think that you sit there and listen to your parents' music. But who wants to be interested in anything that has to do with your parents when you're a teenager? Nobody I know."
Indeed, with Deadsy, Elijah does not draw on the legacy of either of his parents' music in the slightest way. "It was definitely like acting out," says Elijah, who had to borrow money to record his first demo. "That first band sounded like suicide music. Not the band Suicide. It was music to kill yourself to. Slower than anything. Heavy and evil. Just me and a drummer. I wanted to shock people with something that was so perverse and ill.
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