Tiny Desk

Rufus Wainwright

Download Audio

15 min 26 sec

We'd never tried to squeeze a piano behind the Tiny Desk, but when I saw a chance to have Rufus Wainwright play here, I wouldn't — and he probably wouldn't — have had it any other way. Somehow, we managed to fit a glossy black Yamaha upright against my full bookshelves. Then we tuned it and waited for some glorious moments.

Wainwright was touring behind his new album, Out of the Game, and had scheduled a more formal appearance at Wolf Trap in Virginia that evening. Here, sporting a T-shirt and shorts, he performed three songs. By the middle of his closer, "Montauk," few dry eyes remained among the NPR employees and guests.

"Montauk" is Wainwright at his best. The piano lines flow with forward motion in a Philip Glass way, and there's also a hauntingly beautiful story. Wainwright sings to his daughter Viva, whom he raises with his husband and whose biological mother is Lorca Cohen. Cohen is Leonard Cohen's daughter; Wainwright is the son of Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III. As if there weren't enough family ties already, the song imagines Viva grown up and visiting her two fathers in Montauk, a small community on the eastern tip of Long Island.

Wainwright plaintively sings:

One day you will come to Montauk

And you will see your dad wearing a kimono

And see your other dad pruning roses

Hope you won't turn around and go

"Montauk" is the story of a modern family filled with old family worries, an emotional range familiar to the singer-songwriter.

Set List:
  • "The Art Teacher"
  • "Respectable Dive"
  • "Montauk"

Producer and Editor: Bob Boilen; Videographers: Michael Katzif, Bob Boilen and Nick Michael; Audio Engineer: Neil Tevault; photo by Claire O'Neill/NPR

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Tiny Desk Concert with Youth Lagoon Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR

Tiny Desk

Youth Lagoon

Trevor Powers' new songs are expansive and self-assured, a transition reflected in this performance.

Tiny Desk Concert with The Wild Reeds Julia Reihs/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Julia Reihs/NPR

Tiny Desk

The Wild Reeds

Great singers aren't easy to come by, so finding three in one band is something special.

Tiny Desk Concert with Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats Julia Reihs/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Julia Reihs/NPR

Tiny Desk

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

At the Tiny Desk, Rateliff's body-shaking Southern-style soul takes on a more laid-back sound.

Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR

Tiny Desk

Rahim AlHaj

The oud player's wordless music tells powerful stories about life's blessedness and fragility.

Tiny Desk Concert with Aurora Hadas /NPR hide caption

toggle caption Hadas /NPR

Tiny Desk


At 19 and on the cusp of her first album, the Norwegian singer performs with a sense of discovery.

Tiny Desk Concert with My Bubba Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR

Tiny Desk

My Bubba

My Bubba is a duo of women whose quirky, delicate, sweetly sung folk songs are a delight.

Tiny Desk Concert with Chris and Morgane Stapleton Lani Milton/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Lani Milton/NPR

Tiny Desk

Chris Stapleton

With his wife Morgane, the country singer-songwriter sings patient, detailed songs of devotion.

Tiny Desk Concert with Diane Coffee. Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

Diane Coffee

Conjuring David Bowie, Diane Coffee's Shaun Fleming swaggered and shimmied behind the Tiny Desk.

Tiny Desk Concert with The Suffers NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Tiny Desk

The Suffers

The 10-piece band can barely fit all its horns, guitars, percussion and energy behind one desk.

Tiny Desk Concert with Beauty Pill Julia Reihs/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Julia Reihs/NPR

Tiny Desk

Beauty Pill

In Beauty Pill, life whirs with plunderphonic glee and riffs are funky from the inside out.

Back To Top

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor