"Pretty things, so what if I like pretty things?" — Rufus Wainwright

I'm thinking about beauty today.

I just painted my nails dark blue ("Opening Night" — Don't you love nail polish colors?) while listening to the new Rufus Wainwright album. It's called All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu, and it's his sixth studio album. This one is stripped to just his voice and piano, nine new songs and three adaptations of Shakespeare's sonnets — 10, 20, and 43.

And it's beautiful.

There are only two musicians whom I have fallen in deeply, passionately in love with on a first listen. Rufus is one of them. I'm always nervous to talk about music here, because music lovers tend to have STRONG OPINIONS on what is good and bad. (I am guilty of this myself, but I'm working on it!) Which is silly, right? Who is to say what one person likes — or loves — is wrong?

Anyway. Even though music is tricky ground, this afternoon made it hard for me to resist talking about Rufus again.

I believe in the power of music to change how we think and act. I use it on a regular basis to influence my work. When I've decided on the tone of the scene I'm writing, I seek out music that reflects that tone, and I listen to those songs for hours, days, weeks on end. This process has taught me that music has the ability to change me. Actually change me. It can make me melancholy or wistful or furious or hopelessly in love. And the best thing about this is that the right music — and "the right music" is different for everyone — contains the power to heal us.

Rufus is one of those musicians whose voice, for whatever unknown mysterious sublimely magical reason, has the power to heal me. I feel it physically enter underneath my skin. It does something to me.

Do you know what I'm talking about? Has this ever happened to you? Where the music is no longer an external experience, but a startlingly internal one?

Rufus is also the only musician who has ever moved me to tears in concert. His lyrics are brilliant and heartbreaking and witty, his voice is classically trained, and — if you've been paying even the slightest bit of attention to the photographs! — you'll have noticed that he's physically beautiful. There's really no one quite like him.

As I was listening to his new album, it struck me that Rufus possesses the kind of beautiful nature that Oscar Wilde would have worshiped.

If you're curious what the song was that made me instantly fall in love with him — love at first listen? — it was "Oh What A World" from Want One. I'm hesitant to post the following video, because it's a live recording that shows him at his campiest (and only gets campier as it goes along!) . . . which could be distracting if it's your first taste. But I truly love this song, and I truly love him. I hope some of you might, too.

If not, please follow the basic rules of politeness. Don't tell me! Ha!

[Warning: When the video switches to him on the streets of San Francisco at the end, a naughty joke is about to occur. So if you're easily offended — or have a young child at your feet — turn it off! But the joke, by the way, is funny.]

And here's a video of what is — on most days — my favorite of his songs, "The Art Teacher." This is classic Rufus, lyrics and voice-wise. (Oh, the heartache.) And this is a much more typical performance!

In other beautiful news, I've just discovered that one of my favorite authors, Francesca Lia Block, has a blog. And it's filled with gorgeous, magical things, just like her novels.

She also linked to a blog called The Unicorn Diaries, which I also find quite lovely.

And whenever I think of beautiful things online, I think of my internet friend (hopefully, some day, real-life friend!) Lilie Green's website. Lilie travels the world, creates romantic jewelry, and has excellent taste in literature.


"Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy." — Anne Frank

"Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music — the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself." — Henry Miller

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness." — John Keats

"Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart." — Kahlil Gibran

"What you do, the way you think, makes you beautiful." — Scott Westerfeld

"Beauty is an ecstasy; it is as simple as hunger. There is really nothing to be said about it. It is like the perfume of a rose: you can smell it and that is all." — William Somerset Maugham

"What do I care if you are good? Be beautiful! And be sad!" — Charles Baudelaire

When I visited Baudelaire's memorial, someone had left their own sad poem.

That last one = not the best advice, but I must admit, I love it anyway. Ha ha!

So please tell me in the comments: What is beautiful in your life right now? And what music do you find beautiful? No judging!


  1. I love this post, Steph.

    Lately I've been listening to Ingrid Michaelson. She has such an interesting voice, and even though most of her songs sound upbeat, there's this underlying sadness to them, so much so that I think of her albums as songs about depression--even though they sound like songs about love and relationships.

    I'm babbling. But I've always been drawn to sad things as beautiful in music--the only songs I ever practiced on the piano were in minor keys, my favorite love songs are probably more about loss than they are about happiness.

    Which is super weird, because the most beautiful things in my life are my kids and my husband, and I think I'm a pretty happy person, but there's nothing quite so touching and lovely as sorrow.

    Except when it's your own; then it just sucks.

    Blah, blah, blah. I should go back to cleaning. Which is not beautiful, by the way. But you are : )

  2. The blue I'm wearing right now?

    Shower Together :)

    hehe I am such a fan of beautiful nails... because they look good right when you wake up, you don't have to do ANYTHING to them!

  3. I've really enjoyed growing things lately. There is something stunningly beautiful about a plant newly emerged from the ground. I've loved watching them grow.

    Also, I have amazing beautiful friends—inside and out. I've had to rely on them so much lately, and I'm so grateful for their beauty and presence in my life.

  4. Oh gawd I love Rufus. Excellent post, Steph. You always seem to be good at using words to describe things you love... I'm somehow always incapacitated and ineloquent.

  5. Probably a bad sign that even after reading your totally amazing and thoughtful post all I can think is "I KNOW, RIGHT?" I love that man. LOVE him. I spent my last year of college listening to Want One and Two on endless repeat to keep me awake on all-nighters, despite the fact doing so always made the all-nighters more all-nightery because without fail I'd get distracted listening to that voice and totally lose track of whatever work I was supposed to be doing.

    I was about to say what my favorite Rufus song is but who am I kidding, it's basically all of them. Oh What a World (and the campy video!), Go Or Go Ahead, April Fool's...ugh. Love love love.

    Okay, this turned into a long, kinda creepy comment...you weren't kidding about music lovers having strong opinions! (but seriously--great post!!)

  6. hmmm - gosh this coul be a looooog comment. I love music!

    today its probably:

    paramore (all i wanted)
    oasis (stop crying your heart out)
    rachel yamagata (reason why)
    the pierces (three wishes)

    oh yeah and "cant touch this" by mc hammer ;)

    go ahead - judge! ;)

  7. Kiersten — Thank you. And I've never heard Ingrid Michaelson! I'll look her up. I've always been drawn to sad romantic songs, too. (Have you heard Regina Spektor's "Us"? It's been on several of my playlists lately.) And I love that you mentioned minor keys. YES. And you, my lovely, are always beautiful.

    Jamie — Heavens. That's a PERFECT nail polish name!

    Natalie — Growing things, yes! I'm growing strawberries for the first time, and they're already fat and beautiful and ruby red. And every day I think about how lucky I am for my friends. I know I'm not the easiest person to be friends with, and I am so grateful for their (your) patience with me.

    Mariah — Thank you. That is so, so kind of you to say. And I am quite positive that you are NOT incapacitated NOR ineloquent.

    Mary — Picture me with a HUGE GRIN on my face. Yes, yes, yes. To all of that, to all of those songs. (And thank you!)

    Shelli — I've never heard of those last two! (Pre-Hammer. Snort.) I'll look them up. :)

  8. I love dark blue nail polish! I think it's sooo pretty, you should post some pics of your nails hehe.

    To be honest I've never heard of Rufus Wainwright, but from the videos you posted he sounds like a pretty good singer. =)

    And I'm like that too...with almost every piece of writing I work on, I have a sort of "playlist" for each that gets me in the mood for the type of tone and voice I want for that piece of work.

    Big fan of quotes! Love them. :)

    Honestly, I enjoy all music except for opera. Of course, there's always some exceptions. But I do think all music is beautiful in some form. It's art, after all.

    To be able to live in the moment right now and everyday is beautiful!!!

    Have a great day. :D



  9. Gosh, it's like you knew I needed something to cheer me up this week -- being mentioned in the context of beautiful things will definitely do it :)
    Um, heck yes to being IRL friends someday -- I foresee eating lots of decadent yummy things and having highbrow conversations about the HBM of Austen's oevre.

    As for music... I don't know, it affects me almost too much, so I tend to avoid the beautifully melancholic in favor of the exuberantly cheerful and pop-py (it is hard to get your gloom on when the Glee soundtrack is blasting in your headphones).
    But Rufus is brand-new to me, so I will have to have a listen -- he certainly is pretty to look at!

  10. I love Rufus! Today I found out that he went to see Marina Abramovic at MoMA. Have you read about this art installation?

    His photo.

    I've been really swept up in beautiful things lately, I think because I'm finally able to use my body again (postsurgery restrictions have all been lifted). I've been riding my bike as much as possible and the other night I went on a late-night ride with 100 other like-minded folks through Central Park. Every time we rode through tunnels, people would ring their bells. There are few sounds more charming than a flurry of bells echoing off stone walls. Also, occasionally I'd crest a hill, slowly, in a serpentine line of pedalers, only to find that all the bikers in front of me were swirling around and around in a circle, like some kind of awesome Parisian roundabout without cars. We did this around Bethesda Fountain, memorably, and with all the blinking red and white lights and reflectors, it was really quite beautiful. To quote a silly part in one of my favorite movies (Singles), I like the way the world looks from a bicycle.

    As for beautiful music, oh man, there is too much! I tend to like louder, more dynamic stuff, so I'm drawn to beautiful/powerful songs like Pink Martini's recording of Ravel's Bolero, or Bjork's "Hyperballad" (which I listen to on repeat, particularly the Brodsky Quartet version). I could also listen to anything Sean Nelson ever sings, ever (he was in Harvey Danger, may they rest in peace). And Storm Large, whose charismatic pipes could lead me out of Ireland. Gads, I want to pepper this comment with links. It's 1:20 in the morning, but maybe I need to make a mixtape...

  11. I bought Poses back in 2001 I also think his cover of Across The Universe is the best Beatles cover EVER. And since I am a huge Judy Garland fan you can only imagine how much I love Rufus Does Judy!

    Travis is my favorite band.
    (the picture of me to the right is me with the lead singer)
    PS Stephanie, your bf Chris Martin said he was a poor man's Fran Healy (the guy in the picture/lead signer of Travis). I love that our rocker boyfriends are friends.

    The Palo Verde trees are in bloom, I love the green & yellow.

  12. It's Autumn down here so all the leaves are turning the most amazing colours. The road to my work is lined with these big, old trees that are currently every shade of red and gold. So beautiful. It makes going to work a little less painful. Only a little though.

    As for music...I've been listening to some Patti Smith records of late which I think is beautiful.

  13. Oh. My. Now I'm even more in love with him and his voice (I've never actually seen a picture of him). You know what song he sings that makes ME fall to pieces? Hallelujah (for the L word series). It is DIVINE!

  14. I'm wearing Absolutely Alice by OPI and it makes me feel beautiful! It's easy to forget, but like Anne Frank's quote reminds us, there is beauty all around us, we just have to look for it.

    What is beautiful to me?
    My husband. My sister. My mother. My brother. The patterns on my cats' soft fur. The 75 degree morning. The mourning doves cooing outside by the bird feeder. The smell of the Mimosa tree in my front yard. The sound of my windchimes (which sound like Pachebel's Canon, the song I walked down the aisle to) on my front porch.

    :) Thanks for reminding me to remember all the beauty in my life.

  15. I fell in love at first listen with Paolo Nutini. *sigh* He has some kind of old quality to his voice that I love. He can do every kind of music out there. Plus he has a wonderful Scottish accent that is to die for....but back to his music. Aahhh....I could (and have) listen for days on end.

  16. My lovely, lovely children who are beautiful, beautiful. Except when they scream. Or smell bad.

    I don't listen to a lot of music (lots of judgments coming my way) but I enjoyed your Rufus. Usually, if I need the peace music gives I sit at the piano and play something classical.

  17. Last year we bought our first home, and when the first spring came around, I bought a hanging plant for the porch to dangle across from the rocking chair.(I had always wanted a rocking chair!)

    A few weeks later, this plant was dead (an odd beauty in itself), but this death was only a transition into something else, a fade into black, because a morning dove had made this basket her nest. I did not disturb her and over the next three months, until fall melted into the air, I watched at least three sets of morning dove babies grow and fly away.

    This year, I bought another hanging plant, and enjoyed its bright pedals for a few weeks until, yet again, the morning doves returned. I wonder if these are the babies, all grown, returning home to start their own families, knowing that my residence has a reputation of safety and security. I like to think so. =)

    Either way, this, to me, is beauty. And it also provides hours of entertainment for my cats curled on the windowsills, tails wagging.

    Great post! It makes me even more excited to read your novel! Awesomeness.

  18. I would just like to give a HUGE thanks to Stephanie for this post, and all the comments that have pointed me toward artists that I've not previously heard.

    One of my personal favorites is Dave Matthews, Crash Into Me, in particular.

    Corny as it sounds, the two most beautiful things I am privileged enough to see every day are the faces of my children.

  19. Beautiful = My boys when they're sleeping, the lilac polish on my toes, the way my husband writes numbers

    Music = Nina Simone's "Good Bait"

  20. Nope, I change my mind. This is the most beautiful thing I've seen in a long time:


  21. What a wonderful topic... to start us all thinking of beautiful things today.

    I've seen Rufus in concert and yes, he's magical and thank you for reminding me to listen to him. I will check out his new album.

    Things that are beautiful in my life right now:
    - the freckles on my daughter's nose. I keep asking her if she will share them with me and we rub noses together very hard to see if they will wipe off. But alas, they do not.

    - the freshly-tilled dirt in my veggie garden, ready for planting. I realize that dirt is not generally considered a beautiful thing but it's all fluffy and soft when it is freshly tilled. And no weeds. Ahhhhh.

    Thanks Steph for all the great links to beautiful stuff!

  22. Hello!
    I've been reading along for a while but haven't commented before (I'm shy like that), but now I felt compelled to, because I might be able to help with the music video issue.
    In cases where I only want to have a song on my own site, I go to a streaming music site named Grooveshark (which I believe is legal, since they send you to amazon or itunes for downloading needs). They have an option to let you create a widget for the song or playlist you want to embed without you even having to sign up (which I love, because I hate having to sign up for everything).
    I made you a widget for your Rufus Wainwright song here: http://widgets.grooveshark.com/finished?widgetid=21139794 (you'll just have to embed the code on your site. To save it, they'll ask you to sign up, but you can just bookmark the URLs and will be able to return to the code.)
    Unlike the youtube video, they don't seem to be country restricted. I've run into this problem with youtube quite often lately (like in this case).
    I hope I could help out with this.
    Keep writing, I love your posts (especially those containing HBMs, of course)!

  23. omigod i think i love you! thank you thank you thank you. i was listening to his version of Hallelujah yesterday at the gym but didn't know who it was. alas, your post = same muscian = my new fave! *happy jig*
    thanks, again.

  24. Thanks, Steph! I've heard Rufus Wainwright before, but didn't know his name.

    The way my kids look at me sometimes, I can't imagine anything more beautiful. Faces, laughter, music, seeds that I planted turning into flowers or vegetables, my nectarine tree with little nectarines on it - these are beautiful to me.

  25. For me Tom Waits is all kinds of beautiful. :)

    Some other random beauties:

    Ane Brun & Madrugada "Lift Me". Look at them performing on Skavlan (it's on YouTube) if you have the opportunity.

    David Gray "This Years Love". It somehow manages to break and mend my heart at the same time.

  26. And I should add that by Skavlan, I mean Fredrik Skavlan's talk show Forst & Sist. Here's the link:

  27. I've just discovered an artist who's new to me - Regina Spektor. Her voice is beautiful, and she uses her music to tell stories, much like Rufus Wainwright. I also just wanted to say that it was creepy when I checked your blog for a new post I was listening to Rufus on my iPod (Hallelujah). No joke! Stuff like that hardly ever happens to me, so I felt compelled to share. Thanks for the lovely post (and pictures)! :) ~Mary C.

  28. Regina Spektor's The Call is beautiful and magical and everything I want my story to be. I also find all things fall-related lovely--changing leaves, pumpkin bread, cinnamon candles. Lovely post. :)

  29. Egads, I'm rather late to the party here, but as someone who frequently devotes entire playlists to beautifully sad songs, I had to chime in:

    A Fine Frenzy -- "Ashes and Wine," "Almost Lover"
    Death Cab For Cutie -- "Someday You Will Be Loved," "Your Heart Is An Empty Room"
    Sondre Lerche -- "Track You Down"
    Paolo Nutini -- "White Lies"
    The Postal Service -- "Nothing Better"
    Elvis Costello -- "Good Year For The Roses"

    And, of course, Rufus's "Hallelujah." :)

  30. Love this! The Henry Miller quote is one of my favorites.

    I've been into very moody music lately with my new WIP. Florence + the Machine, A Fine Frenzy, Snow Patrol.