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Ezra Furman on her latest 'All Of Us Flames'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Ezra Furman believes the apocalypse is coming. She doesn't think that means the world is ending.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOREVER IN SUNSET")

EZRA FURMAN: (Singing) I told you on the phone. I told you I was trouble, man.

SIMON: She largely wrote her new album, "All Of Us Flames," during the early pandemic, a time when, yes, a lot of people thought life as we knew it was over. But her music reminds us that many people, especially those who face persecution and marginalization, have been facing their own apocalypses forever, and they learned to persevere together. Ezra Furman joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

FURMAN: Oh, it's my pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: Tell us about this song we're hearing, "Forever In Sunset."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOREVER IN SUNSET")

FURMAN: (Singing) Do you remember when we thought the world was ending? Seems funny now. The future is a text message sending out, out, out. I live forever in sunset.

SIMON: The narrator says she's living forever in sunset. But what does that mean for her and for us?

FURMAN: Yeah, I guess to me, that phrase has to do with comfort in crisis and not seeing a crisis as the end of the world or, like, being able to react and adapt to things that seem catastrophic. Really catastrophic things have happened to sometimes these, like, minority groups, and they might have something to teach your everyday mainstreamer (ph), I suppose, to paint with a broad brush.

SIMON: I gather this is a first person plural album.

FURMAN: I've called it that, yeah. It's - I use the word we a lot.

SIMON: Well, help us understand how you mean that, if you could.

FURMAN: I suppose I just, like - I really have felt pulled to speak more communally, in a way that is trying to honor a collective. I belong to various collectives, you know, as broad as the human race and as narrow as religious, transgender Jews. I guess I just really wanted to distance myself from an ethic of rugged individualism and to think more about interdependence.

SIMON: I want to ask you about your song, "Ally Sheedy In The Breakfast Club."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALLY SHEEDY IN THE BREAKFAST CLUB")

FURMAN: (Singing) I watch her flicker on my TV, the teenage girl I never got to be. She's burning like a torch out in a field that's all her own.

SIMON: "The Breakfast Club," of course, is John Hughes' - I think we can fairly call it a classic film. What did her character mean to you, that character?

FURMAN: Yeah, I could see some kind of model of, like, how I could be.

SIMON: She has the dyed jet-black hair.

FURMAN: Long scarf.

SIMON: Yeah, a lot of darkness. She plays on a lot of darkness. I think a phrase used to be goth.

FURMAN: Yeah, she's almost goth. I was looking for role models when I was younger and not finding them. And I saw that movie, and I was like, I can't become her. That has a lot to do with gender. And having not been given many usable models, you have to find some sometimes in the trash of pop culture.

SIMON: Can you take us back to those years in your life? What were you like?

FURMAN: In high school, I was - you could tell I was some kind of nonconformist. I was really silent. I couldn't talk to anybody, really, but I would perform. I used to bring a guitar to school and play guitar in the hallways, but I didn't have friends. Performing is sort of like a release valve on all that was pent up in me. That might be true of a lot of performers. The stage is like medicine for me, you know? I couldn't ever say where I was at to a person in conversation, but I found in performance, like, a way to say stuff that you can't say anywhere else.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THRONE")

FURMAN: (Singing) I have come to a foreign shore. Looks familiar - I've been here before.

SIMON: We mentioned you wrote these songs during the early pandemic, and I gather your house was very full at that time, right?

FURMAN: It was a bit full. It was me and my gay wife and our 1-year-old. And then our friend just had a shaky kind of housing situation, and she moved into our living room for months. And then also we had this terrible landlord who lived right upstairs from us who was - well, he was prejudiced, you know? He was not happy that I was transgender when we moved in. So there was a lot of love in our house. And then there was this, like, overhang of transphobia. And when I went off shift as a parent, I got in the car with a notebook and often a guitar and drove somewhere to be alone and worked stuff out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THRONE")

FURMAN: (Singing) We travel in tandem. We blend right in. But we lock eyes when we pass, a small nod of the chin.

SIMON: Tell us about being a mother.

FURMAN: Oh, I love it. It's the most obviously useful I've ever been to anyone. Becoming a parent is a bit of an act of some kind of faith in the future, you know, and it was also an act of faith in myself to claim the word mother and mom. And when I became a parent, I wasn't using those words at first. And I'm still in process, really. There's a lot of gender baggage to parenthood. I had never seen a trans woman as a parent when I became a parent. So I do feel motivated to mention it just for anyone who might not have seen an example of someone being trans and a mom or trans and a parent. Not having seen that example is like - it shuts down possibilities that are actually there, but we are not always able to envision for ourselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOOK OF OUR NAMES")

FURMAN: (Singing) I want there to be a book of our names - none of them missing, none quite the same, none of us ashes, all of us flames.

SIMON: Do you think that the spark between you and your child has been reflected in your music recently?

FURMAN: Well, I didn't consciously feel the influence of parenthood on my writing, but then I take a step back and I notice I wrote lines like, let's organize our lives around love and care.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh.

FURMAN: Songwriting is funny like that. It kind of comes from an unconscious place. It's more like having a dream than writing a story.

SIMON: Do you sing to your child?

FURMAN: Oh, yeah.

SIMON: All the time? Yeah.

FURMAN: Yeah. We just discovered the part in the song "Suffragette City" where David Bowie says, wham, bam, thank you, ma'am. And...

SIMON: Yes.

FURMAN: My little 3-year-old cracks up laughing every time.

SIMON: Oh, that's - may not be a phrase it's good to take out into the outside world, though.

FURMAN: Come on. That's - I think that's kid-friendly.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOOK OF OUR NAMES")

FURMAN: (Singing) And I want us to read it aloud.

SIMON: Ezra Furman, and her new album is "All Of Us Flames." And it's out now. Thanks so much.

FURMAN: Hallelujah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOOK OF OUR NAMES")

FURMAN: (Singing) And our names will be heard through prison walls. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.