Rufus Wainwright guests on Elton John’s “American Triangle,” a tribute to Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student who was brutally murdered in 1998 because of his sexual orientation.
The song will appear on John’s next album, the Pat Leonard-produced Songs From the West Coast, which is due in October.
The two openly gay singer/pianists never actually met during the recording, as Wainwright was in New York and John was in Los Angeles. But after Wainwright laid down the backing vocals for the chorus, he did receive a phone call from the British pop legend.
“He wanted to let me know that he was honored that I worked on his record and that years ago he had a terrible, terrible crush on my father,” Wainwright says laughing. (The twenty-seven-year-old Wainwright is the son of noted folk musicians Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle.) “He wants to go out for a beer sometime, but more incredible than talking to him was when I was in the studio singing the back-ups, trying to meld with that voice.”
The lyrics to “American Triangle” reportedly include the lines: “I’ve been drinking there on that front porch/Angry kids mean and dumb/Looks like pain in that blue skyline/God hates fags where we come from.”
The song is the second high-profile Shepard tribute; Melissa Etheridge’s “Scarecrow,” from her 1999 album Breakdown graphically accounted his tragic death and her subsequent outrage.
John performed at a benefit for the Matthew Shepard Foundation at the University of Wyoming in 1999.