The outlaw perspective in gay art has gone largely by the wayside in our modern age, but there was a time when it was the lingua franca of our pioneers. From the novelist John Rechy’s City of Night and The Sexual Outlaw to the gritty indie filmmaking of Gregg Araki circa The Living End, there was an unapologetic exploration of our status as human outliers that was as illuminating as it was novel and bracing. While the gay experience is encroaching closer to the mainstream in films and music (which is, in itself, a sign of progress), it’s heartening to see the outlaw perspective taken up by transgender and gender-fluid communities.
That may be a long way to get to the new Ezra Furman album — the songwriter’s seventh release, Transangelic Exodus — but, to my ears at least, it’s apt.
Though Furman did once call himself gender-fluid, he has since reconsidered. “I called myself that once and it is the whole tag now,” he has said. “I think it is a discrete identity that involves being sometimes male, sometimes female and sometimes neither, but I am just a male. I’m not transsexual because that would mean I’m not male. I guess I just do being a man different than some.”
Which is also the way he approaches his take on rock music — a conflux of doo-wop and The Velvet Underground and Dylan and the entire alternative movement. He refuses to be pinned down.
He’s called this new Ezra Furman album a “queer outlaw saga,” and the record itself is subtitled “A Fictionalized Memoir by Ezra Furman and the Visions.” Whatever it is, it’s alive and on the move in Trump’s America, dodging and feinting at every turn.
He’s outrunning neo-Nazis in the video for “Driving Down to L.A.,” waxing nostalgic over his first crush in “Love You So Bad,” professing solidarity in “The Great Unknown” — and all of this to a backdrop of impassioned rock ‘n’ roll that’s as vibrant as the maraschino red dress that he buys in “Maraschino Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill.”
Lovers on the lam is a concept as old as rock itself. For proof of why it’s stood the test of time, this new Ezra Furman album Transangelic Exodus is Exhibit A, though I doubt we’ve seen or heard this before: one of the lovers is a queer man in a thrift shop dress and bright red lipstick who refuses to sit still long enough to be pigeonholed by antiquated labels.