A Coupla Jewish Writers Talk Theater, Drinking and Escaping the Midwest

Joshua Furst Throws Some Back With Brooke Berman

By Joshua Furst

Published March 09, 2014, issue of March 14, 2014.
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It’s more than disingenuous. There’s something hypocritical and self-serving.

Thank you. You said it, I didn’t. It’s not like David Byrne is moving to Detroit. Actually, it’s not a very easy place to live.

This is what’s interesting to me: You grew up in the Midwest, and I grew up in the Midwest, and —

Where’d you grow up?

Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. I actually grew up in a town called Rosendale. It’s like an hour and a half drive north of Milwaukee.

I lived in Detroit until I was 10, and then right when I turned 11, we moved to Libertyville, Ill. And then we moved into the North Shore suburbs where John Hughes is from. And then I moved to New York when I was 18.

I moved to New York when I was 16. But when I think of you and your sensibility, I think there’s something indelibly Midwestern about you and also something indelibly Jewish.

Can you talk more about that?

Your relationship to the idea of success is not really New Yorky. The New York sensibility to me is very tribal. Everybody has their own tribe and they know the social codes and the rules of that tribe and they’re always conscious of when they’re talking to their tribe and when they’re talking to another tribe.

Give me an example.

The hasidic Jews and West Indians in Crown Heights where I live.

I would argue that, for people like us, the notion of tribes has to do with artists. My life changed the summer I was 16. My mom sent me away to the Bennington College summer arts program. And it was the first time I was in the presence of people who were of my tribe. Sure, they were probably affluent, privileged, but they were asking questions and writing and painting and dancing and seeking the kinds of things I was seeking. Prior to that summer I felt like the crazy misfit trying to fit in.

That to me is a very Midwestern thing. New Yorkers I know who have become artists, they still see their tribe as being the neighborhood.

Sure. For white middle class people in New York, there’s an idea that you can be an artist and be successful. For Midwesterners, often, that idea is inaccessible.

It’s beyond inaccessible. It’s a mark of Cain.

I came from an artist family, sort of. My mom was a classical pianist who’d played with the symphony as a child and then she didn’t pursue it. I think she was really bitten in the ass by the feminine mystique. She felt she could either be a pianist or she could be Doris Day in “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies.” And then she found herself as a divorcée in the ’70s having to support herself. And later, before she died, she spoke quite eloquently about the loss of her music, that music was the most important thing to her, and she’d lost that. The point I’m trying to make is that there was a precedent of sorts for me to become an artist. And coming to New York to me felt like coming home. I always felt like an outsider in the Midwest.

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