Wainwright's oeuvre contains several recurring themes: opera, literature, pop culture, politics, and love (often unrequited love). "Foolish Love" and "Danny Boy" are about a crush he once had on a straight guy. Other songs address full-blown love and the consequences of falling out of love ("This Love Affair", "Leaving for Paris", and "Peach Trees").
Wainwright also sings about his family relationships. "Beauty Mark", "Little Sister" and "Martha", and "Dinner at Eight" address, respectively, his experiences with his mother, sisters, and father.
The song "Matinee Idol" was written about River Phoenix. "Memphis Skyline" is a tribute to the late singer Jeff Buckley, whom he met briefly in the 1990s when Wainwright was an up-and-coming act. By this time, Buckley had already released his first album Grace, and was well on his way to stardom. The two met several months prior to Buckley's drowning, during a gig by Wainwright. The song references "Hallelujah", a Leonard Cohen song covered by Buckley (and later by Wainwright). "Nobody's Off the Hook" is written to close friend and fellow musician Teddy Thompson.
Several songs deal with his experiences with addiction ("Go Or Go Ahead" and "I Don't Know What It Is").
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Famous quotes containing the word themes:
“In economics, we borrowed from the Bourbons; in foreign policy, we drew on themes fashioned by the nomad warriors of the Eurasian steppes. In spiritual matters, we emulated the braying intolerance of our archenemies, the Shiite fundamentalists.”
—Barbara Ehrenreich (b. 1941)
“I suppose you think that persons who are as old as your father and myself are always thinking about very grave things, but I know that we are meditating the same old themes that we did when we were ten years old, only we go more gravely about it.”
—Henry David Thoreau (18171862)