Ezra Furman wants you to know that she has your back

The musician visits Rumba Cafe for a sold-out concert on Tuesday, March 8

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Ezra Furman

In late February, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered state officials to begin child abuse investigations into the families of transgender children who receive gender-affirming care, announcing the move a week before the start of a Republican primary election in which Abbott is charged with not being a staunch enough conservative.

For musician Ezra Furman, this most recent assault on trans rights struck a nerve due to the cynical nature of its timing — “Essentially, this is a campaign of intimidation and an effort to inflame the culture wars and turn out more right-wing-type voters,” she said in an email interview — but more so in terms of the impact the campaign will have on a population repeatedly stripped by politicians of even the most basic human protections.

“The fallout for trans people and our loved ones is devastating,” said Furman, who is helping to raise awareness of this and other trans issues by partnering with organizations such as Equality Texas, a nonprofit dedicated to securing full equality for LGBTQ+ Texans, which she said will have a presence at a forthcoming show in Fort Worth, Texas. “Trans people as a general population are genuinely vulnerable, so I’m heartsick to know that we’re being attacked by state government after state government. It is so hard to get proper trans healthcare in even the most liberal state, like Massachusetts, and I know this from experience. To try to make things even harder for us is horrible.”

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Abbott’s order arrived at the end of a dark two-year stretch in which the pandemic shredded all sense of normalcy for Furman, whose son was just 14 months old when the coronavirus hit Stateside in March 2020. Stripped of childcare, the musician’s COVID days centered on parenting, with Furman taking her son for walks, playing with him and attempting with some success to prevent him from touching anything outside of the home. “It’s a bit of a blur, in retrospect, as is a lot of parenthood,” said Furman, who visits Rumba Cafe for a sold-out concert on Tuesday, March 8. “But it’s a happy blur.”

These fuzzier at-home moments provided a welcome distraction from the surrounding darkness, which Furman envisions she’ll be processing alongside the rest of us for years to come.

“The effects and emotions of the pandemic still feel so very raw and unprocessed. I’m not ready to try to interpret its deeper effects on my life,” she said. “That feels like something we’ll understand better by 2030 or so. ... Mostly I feel that the pandemic has killed people and made life worse. But I’m sure we will see ways that it has pushed us forward, too, God willing.”

In the days prior to the pandemic, Furman wrote the gently cascading song “Point Me Toward the Real,” recently released as a single by her new label, Anti Records. In a press release, Furman said the soul-influenced track centers on a narrator who has just been released from the psychiatric hospital — “which has never happened to me,” she clarified — although the themes are more broadly resonant as we enter into the third year of an ongoing pandemic. 

“Really, it’s a song about what you do right after abuse, imprisonment, a brush with death. Who do you call when it’s supposedly over? Where do you go? How do you know what you want?” she said in the release. “We’ve all recently been going through something terrifying. We’ve all made friends with death in the last two years. When I look to the future, I want to know who has my back? Whose back do I have?”

This last question is one to which Furman has returned repeatedly throughout her life, owing in part to her birth name, Ezra, which translates to “help” in Hebrew. “It’s always seemed like a general challenge, in a good way, for me to live up to such a name,” she said. “The more I live with my name the more it seems to call me to a life of being useful to my community — whatever various communities that might be.”

Since first emerging with Ezra Furman and the Harpoons in 2006, Furman has embraced music as a space for developing this community, penning songs about outsiders and outcasts desperate to find belonging. On occasion, these ideas are conveyed through prayerful tunes that exist as enveloping cocoons, such as “Trans Mantra,” which Furman initially wrote for a play about a trans woman but that ultimately took on more autobiographical tones as the musician relayed her morning routine: practicing her walk, doing her makeup and generally steeling herself to step out into a world in which her safety is never guaranteed.

“It’s always been the same, ever since [I started] looking androgynous or whatever in public,” she said. “You never can predict when someone will say something or attack you or laugh at you or threaten you. … Transphobia is rampant.”

Other times, these ideas are conveyed through comparatively riotous turns such as “Restless Year,” a song that captures the dizzying feel of parsing this chaotic modern existence, Furman painting herself as just another savage navigating the wilderness in a $5 dress.

“When I was 21, I wanted to see ... if I could make music that provided someone with joy and amazement. Now I know that I can do that to some degree,” she said. “What interests me now are the specific qualities of that joy and amazement. Music goes so deep, no one will ever get to the bottom of it. But we can dive down and see what pearls we can bring up. Every time I dive, I find something different.”