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Ezra Furman on being a gender nonconforming, bisexual Jew in Donald Trump’s nihilistic world

Nina Lecourt January 16, 2020
Ezra Furman

Ezra Furman performs in concert during the Festival Internacional de Benicassim on July 21, 2019 in Benicassim, Spain. (Photo by Xavi Torrent/Redferns/Getty Images)

Ezra Furman released his fifth album Twelve Nudes in the summer of last year. And since then, we haven’t been able to stop listening to it. This is why. 

First, it is a hymn to humankind. Secondly, and quite, paradoxically, it is also a cry for help and a roar against what this same humankind has done to the world they live in.

This album could not have a better name as Furman literally gets naked through the use of words, angry words even, in order to expose his point of view on the refugee crisis, Climate Change, religion and politics. 

Unlike his former albums, Furman composed it faster, and it shows when you listen to it. For him, Twelve Nudes is more of a body than a mind. 

He confirmed this idea and said: “It comes from my intelligent mind, but most of it comes from a visceral, emotional and physical feeling of need.”

The artist told PinkNews: “You could get the message of this record even if you didn’t speak English at all. The brutality and rawness of the music is so central. It’s like an anger, an anxiety, and an energy that’s being talked about. I felt this in my body as much as in my mind.”

These twelve cries for help are angrier than the rest of his work so far. The “Love Me So Bad” singer told PinkNews that his latest album in a way that he’s “trying to take seriously how it feels to look at society today”. 

He remembers that Transangelic Exodus, was “an angry and fearful and pent-up reaction to events too”.

Ezra adds: “But it was a carefully written and recorded version; we took a lot of time with edits and overdubs. I knew I wanted I make this album quickly and not spend time thinking how to play the songs.

“Right now it feels so bad, I feel on the age of despair and I think I am to take seriously the impulse in me that says something is wrong here, you know?

“You can’t change anything, everything’s fucked. I feel that impulse.

“If you feel these feelings towards the world then maybe they can act as an alarm. It wakes you up. If you let yourself feel that then, we have to respond to these emergencies, he added.”

He came back to his earlier albums and compared it to his latest release. 

“What I’m attempting here is that I know this type of music, punk garage, and it’s pretty simple music and I could just tell, quickly, when I’m onto something. With other albums I’ve made, I was never sure what kind of album I wanted it to be. It was not musically unique.” 

However, when he talked about Twelve Nudes, he concluded: “I don’t know any other record that sounds like this one.”

Being a religious Jew in a nihilistic world.

Ezra Furman is a religious Jew who never performs or works during the Shabbat, which means either Friday or Saturday. The bisexual artist even considered becoming a rabbi. 

When he opened up about his faith and how he includes it in his own work, he explains to PinkNews: “I sometimes sense that I have something to contribute to Jewish thoughts and Jewish culture but I feel like I would like to see more of a bridge in my culture and tone between the Jewish world and general secular Jewish culture.

“I see Judaism as a protest.”

“I kind of think that it’s important for ordinary people who are now officially involved like Jewish professionals, they have a sense of Jewish values and a connection to them.

“And that’s part of what made me NOT want to be a rabbi. But at other times I want to go deeper, I want to learn more, develop what I may have to say about Judaism.”

Who am I?

However, we cannot ignore the fact that nihilism is growing in our society and Furman feels like “it shrinks the imagination”. 

“It’s scary, I’ve always been against being nihilistic because I guess I understand the impulse to nihilism. I heard that if you are a nihilist then the powerful wins,” he added.

He finished saying: “I know it could happen to me, I get overwhelmed and I stop being intentional about my life. Who am I?”

Ezra Furman: ‘I’m kind of both woman and man.’

Ezra Furman is not the kind of artist who hides behind a stage name or a persona to protect himself.

On the contrary, he puts it all out. He is true to himself and to the rest of the world, might you like it, or not.

He explains it in his song “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend”, when he tells the listener: “All my friends are writing their resumes/My responsible friends are applying for jobs/But me, I was considering ditching Ezra and going by Esme/Baby, would you find that so odd?”

Furman has nothing to hide about who Esme might be and his answer is: “I’m kind of both woman and man, if you ask me.”

But to get there, to know and understand who he really is, wasn’t easy. 

“I’ve wondered for a long time, would I rather be just one? And I think that, no. It’s not really that for me. But I first thought, if I was a woman, what would my name be?”

He continued saying: “The thing about Esme is that I’ve always loved a story by JD Salinger called For Esmé – With Love and Squalor. So, Esme sounds a bit like my name and in my head I thought it was a beautiful name.”

According to Furman, “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” is a “Earth Angel for the queers”. 

He explains: “A 50s very classic, a happy ballad for the queers. I like that kind of song. I like the romantic yearning and I wanted to make a queer one.”

“It is the yearning of a trans person wanting to be seen as real.”

And that aligns with the fact that, in 2011, the artist changed the way he looked on stage and started wearing dresses and putting lipstick on. He nevertheless confirmed that it is not “just an on stage thing”. 

“I started looking feminine through the next year, in 2012,” he added.

Following this, Furman tells PinkNews that: “There’s no general reaction.”

The artist recently started using both he/him and she/her pronouns which, for him, is a “vulnerable process”.

[People] try to be nice and they’re really just like treating me with disrespect.

“Well, a lot of people were like: isn’t this crazy? This person is a religious Jew and he wears dresses, what a crazy character! In a way, it’s very often, sort of, sensationalised.

“Other people will say: ‘Oh you look great,’ because I often look pretty good,” he adds, laughing.

“And then, a lot of people would be like: ‘What the f**k is this thing in front of me? And people will think terrible things, just being mean and tell me not to wear dresses.”

“Some people are very outright dismissiveness and a subtle: ‘Let me give you an advice on how to dress.'” He adds: “They try to be nice and they’re really just like treating me with disrespect.”

Ezra Furman doesn’t need to be labelled.

The “Trauma” artist is open about his identity. He told PinkNews: “It’s correct to say that I’m gender non-conforming.”

“I think that I’m transgender.” He emphasises: “I think.” he emphasises.

“But sometimes it’s kind of confusing because people think that just means assigned male at birth and to become female, which is not quite my story. I’m kind of both.”

“It’s funny, you know, I don’t feel I’m supposed to choose the words, but I guess I have to.”

“If you look at the definition of transgender in a dictionary, normally, the definition will include me. I don’t want to like, make it up. I want it to be true. So I feel a bit funny about choosing.”

LONDON, ENGLAND – JUNE 02: Ezra Furman performs during the All Points East Festival at Victoria Park on June 02, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Matthew Baker/Getty Images)

He added: “I said gender fluid at some point, but I think I didn’t totally get what that meant, I don’t think my gender changes day to day. It’s a little bit confusing.”

Queer rights, Donald Trump, Twelve Nudes

In 2019, Donald Trump decided to take to parliament a rule that would allow gay and transgender people to be fired over their identity and sexual preferences.

His government took it to the Supreme Court in October.

On that subject, Furman started with a calm:I heard about that. All my songs kind of apply to that.” 

He continued saying: “I mean, the record is a queer against the world.

“That feeling is like: ‘Most of the whole world is against me, or hates me, or doesn’t take me in my safety and dignity seriously.'”

…and the rest of the world.

Ezra Furman doesn’t limit his fears to Trump and his government. It goes further than that, it concerns the world itself. And he uses his music to express his thoughts. 

“I think I could have written these same songs in 2012-2013 about emergencies that have been emergencies for years. It’s all scarier, I’ve reached a breaking point about how afraid I am about climate change or the refugee crisis, this is just stuff that’s been here for years. 

Ezra Furman performs on stage at The Roundhouse on October 31, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Gus Stewart/Redferns)

Trump is a talking wound.

He continues talking about his song “Trauma” and its chorus: “Years roll on and we still have not dealt with our trauma.”

He admits that, “that’s a big part of the idea of the album.”

Some are trying to ignore [these problems] and it gets worse, because we won’t look at it. Trump is a symptom of some of these emergencies. I just heard someone comparing him to a ‘talking wound’, I think it’s Marc Maron in his podcast. He’s like a wound, an open wound in the American society that started to talk.”

In the same song, one of the lyrics goes: “She sees the world she imagines as a girl, As a lottery ticket for a phone jackpot.” 

“I was trying to write about people who have been traumatised by being under the hyper-capitalist system where the poor works the hardest and get the least and the rich get as rich as they can without caring.

“It’s sort of like this girl, it sort of hits her. Imagine she’s at work, and she starts vandalising everything, starts a fire because she witnesses the brokenness of American capitalism, I suppose.”

Ezra Furman is a queer artist and activist who tells how he feels about the world in strong and truthful songs. (Jessica Lehrmann)

On November 14, while on stage, Furman gave the audience permission to “blame the rich and the major corporations” just before performing his hit “Trauma”.

Then, at the end of the road, at the end of these Twelve Nudes he wrote, one might think he might feel better with the world we live in, that having put words on paper about the truth we, humans, have to deal with, he might feel better because he spoke his truth.

But it is not the way Ezra Furman sees his work. 

“It doesn’t me feel better to make these songs.”

“It makes me feel worse really, because now I spend time on it, I travel with them, I need to memorise them, keep them close to my lips everyday.” 

He continues: “I have played very dark music before and played it for years, it changes your life to live so close to these feelings. It makes me feel like something horrible is happening that I refuse to look at. And if you look right at it, it feels bad.”

However, there is a good side in writing about the truth: “It’s satisfying when you feel like you got it right but it doesn’t solve the problem. These songs are like diagnoses of problems.:

That is when he compares it to a situation every human being fears: “Do you feel better when your doctor tells you you’re sick? No. But you need him to tell you so you know what to do next.”

For Ezra Furman, Brexit and the refugee crisis go hand in hand.

While on the subject of world crisis, Ezra Furman talks to PinkNews about Brexit and how it could affect the rest of the world.

He was honest, though, and after being asked the question, he said: “I’m not super qualified but I guess, one thing that I know is happening is that there’s a worldwide refugee crisis.”

“There are more refugees now than ever, I believe,” he added.

“Some people feel afraid of these refugees and they want to close borders more and I think that the root of that is racism. It seems really pathetic and sad to me.”

He added about the refugees: “These people are fleeing violence, they are the least likely people in the world to cause chaos because they just want to stability.

“I don’t know which is sadder: the people who don’t see that, that’s the same kind of stuff that made Nazi Germany happen or those who don’t care.

“I don’t know what’s gonna happen but I do hate fascism and it’s what I intend to communicate with some of this music,” he concluded. 

He also mentions that he wants his fans to become activists for a “cause they believe in”.

“We need all hands on deck for Climate Change. You gotta stick it to multinational corporations.”

He also admitted that “being a political person, being politically aware, proactive in some degree, it makes me feel better.”

Sex Education: ‘I have not really seen young people and their sex lives represented in a healthy and positive way.’

For those who have seen Netflix’s Sex Education, Ezra Furman is also quite familiar to the show as he recorded its soundtrack.

He tells PinkNews about the way it happened.

“They used both old songs and new songs that we recorded for the soundtrack,” he confesses.

“I recorded about nine songs for them, which they used most of.”

And wait for it, Ezra Furman confirmed he was composing the soundtrack for this new chapter of the series. 

“I’m proud of the show, because I have not really seen young people and their sex lives represented in a healthy and positive way, until this show. So I’m really glad it exists.”

“It also makes my life a lot more affordable to live,” he laughed.

“I don’t have to become a rabbi,” he concluded.

Season 2 of Sex Education is coming out January 17 on Netflix. 

More: bisexual, Donald Trump, Ezra Furman, gender, Judaism, sex education

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