Ezra Furman Q&A: “I would have enjoyed the hunter-gatherer era”

The musician talks the Beatles, Halakhic Man by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, and the urgency of climate change.

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Ezra Furman was born in Chicago in 1986. He has released eight rock albums since 2006, known for their frank lyrics about sexuality and gender. Earlier this year, he provided the soundtrack for the hit Netflix show “Sex Education”.

What’s your earliest memory?

Crawling down the hall in a carpeted Chicago apartment to my mother sitting at a computer. I was under three years old.

Who are your heroes?

I have cycled through many, especially when I was younger and ravenous for heroes. Nelson Mandela, Johnny Rotten, Jack Kerouac, Andy Kaufman, Henry Miller, all before the age of 17. It was a bankrupt exercise: everyone’s mission is to be themselves on the deepest level.

What book last changed your thinking?

Halakhic Man by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik and his idea that the Jewish view of repentance involves creating an entirely new future, not by leaving the past behind, but by using its flaws as building materials.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, who allowed his spiritual convictions to ferociously animate him.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

I know an embarrassing amount about the Beatles. Not half of what the actual experts know, but I could talk your ear off.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I would have enjoyed the hunter-gatherer era. Go out and see what you can find for a few hours a day, come home and hang out in the cave, draw on the wall, shoot the breeze. Sounds all right to me.

What TV show could you not live without?

I might never have become a musician without VH1’s Behind the Music show.

Who would paint your portrait?

Anselm Kiefer could represent my spirit with a certain kind of accuracy – a grand smouldering mess.

What’s your theme tune?

“Lust for Life” by Girls, a song I’ll never stop loving.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

When I was 19, a member of the band DeVotchKa told me: “Everyone thinks they know what you should do, but only you know what you should do.” I follow that advice with fierce devotion.

What’s currently bugging you?

People who don’t see the urgency of acting to mitigate climate change. We are going to pay either way so we need to make a plan; we could save countless lives.

What single thing would make your life better?

The eradication of transphobia and trans hate.

When were you happiest?

17 December 2017.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I’d be a full-time prose writer and/or working in the Jewish community, maybe as a rabbi, maybe another kind of teacher, maybe an activist, maybe an academic.

Are we all doomed?

No. We’ve figured out how to end the climate crisis. All we need to do is act in accordance with what we know. I think humans have access to free will and mass co-operation. We can determine our destiny. 

“Twelve Nudes” by Ezra Furman is out now on Bella Union

This article appears in the 21 August 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The great university con