"I'M A Queer for life. Outlaw. Outsider!" So declared Ezra Furman on 'I Lost My Innocence', a highlight of his 2018 album, Transangelic Exodus, and a proud statement on just who he is.
Furman is an indie-rock singer-songwriter; an observant Jew who does not play concerts on the Sabbath; he is bi-sexual; he also performs in make-up and clothes traditionally intended for women. As he said in The Guardian: "This behaviour is not just part of an onstage persona, nor is it a gimmick to get people’s attention. Gender-fluidity is very much a part of my life offstage...I am proud to exist in an ambiguous, undecided state.”
That said, he does not like to be described as gender-fluid. Instead his identity "involves being sometimes male, sometimes female, and sometimes neither," as he told The Telegraph. "I am just a male," he said. "I guess I just do being a man different than some."
That need to be free of labels, or perhaps, how labels are inadequate to capture the complexity of the spectrum that is gender, was summed up brilliantly in one of his most powerful songs, 'Body Was Made': "Your body is yours/At the end of the day/And don't let the hateful/Try and take it away/We want to be free/Yeah, we go our own way."
Furman's music draws on elements of Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie, Lou Reed, fifties doo-wop, and country, while the aforementioned Transangelic Exodus pushed the envelope further with ambient/atonal noise; string quartets; and left-field pop, always combined with Furman's melodic abilities and indie-rock instincts.
Unusually, in an increasingly secular age, Furman is also very open about being religious. "I gradually figured out how important it is to my happiness. It's the best part of me," he told The Telegraph. He also does not rule out studying to become a rabbi at some point in the future.
August 30 will see Furman release his next album, Twelve Nudes, via Bella Union. “This is our punk record," he said. "We made it in Oakland, quickly. We drank and smoked. Then we made the loud parts louder. I hurt my voice screaming. This was back in 2018, when things were bad in the world. The songs are naked with nothing to hide. I’m not okay with the current state of human civilization, in which bad men crush us into submission. Once you admit how bad it feels to live in a broken society, you can start to resist it, and imagine a better one.”
Ezra Furman plays the Róisín Dubh on Thursday July 25 at 8pm as part of the Galway International Arts Festival. For tickets see www.giaf.ie