Fran Lebowitz talks cowboy boots, generations ahead of Lubbock event
Now more than ever, anyone can put their opinion out there. The strength of social media has given the average person the power to make their voice heard. But what does it take to make your voice memorable?
Fran Lebowitz is a person of many titles, including public speaker, author, humorist and social commentator. She joins us today in preparation for her event with Texas Tech University’s Presidential Lecture & Performance Series.
Tickets are still available for An Evening with Fran Lebowitz on Friday at 7 p.m. in the Allen Theater.
This interview has been lightly edited for conciseness and clarity.
Julia Sewing: I want to start by saying Welcome to West Texas. Obviously, New York is worlds away from Lubbock. So as a New Yorker, what is intriguing to you about Lubbock? And have you ever been to this part of the country before?
Fran Lebowitz: Well, I was equally surprised here that I was going to Lubbock, Texas. I have been to Texas numerous times. But I have never been to Lubbock, Texas. And as you may or may not know, it's really hard to get there.
JS: Yeah, even if you're in Dallas or New Mexico, it still feels impossible to get here. It's a boring drive, I will warn you ahead of time. I've made it plenty of times myself.
FL: I mean, you have to fly to Dallas and drive five hours, or there might be some other horrible way. Or when I say drive, obviously, I mean, I'm gonna sit in the back of a car.
JS: So I know an integral element to your look is a pair of cowboy boots. We here in Texas completely agree with you on that one. And I have read that the style choice was more so influenced by a medical reason. But is there anything about cowboy boots you've just grown to love?
FL: Well, initially, yeah. It's really a long time ago now that I don't remember how long ago but I would say minimum 35 years ago, I used to wear penny loafers. And then I got this thing called a heel spur. And it was very, very painful to walk and they can't do anything about it. So the doctor said, “The only thing to really do about it is just take the weight off your heel. You should wear high heels.” My mind instantly went to well cowboy boots, they're high. And so then I started wearing them. And, actually, that thing stopped hurting me like a year later. But I got kind of addicted to them. Partially because I'm 5-foot-4, and then with the cowboy boots, I'm like 5-foot-5. I felt like now I'm towering over people. I just got used to wearing them. I find them very comfortable. I have them made. They just became something I wore.
But it wasn't initially because I thought I should wear cowboy boots. Cowboy boots were very fashionable in New York in the early 70s. And I actually made fun of people who wore them. I said, “Are you a cowboy?” Of course, they disappeared. But like every other thing, they appear they disappear, they appear they disappear. There are certain things, especially shoes, that are on, like, this merry-go-round of nostalgia.
JS: It's interesting you say that. They did kind of go out of style for a bit, but I definitely think they're back in and I think you'll see plenty of them here in Lubbock, specifically funky-colored ones and some fashionable ones. I see those kind of making the comeback.
FL: I've seen cowboy boots that I'm certain cost about the same amount as a car. So I mean, mine are not quite at that level of insanity.
JS: I, too, am originally from the East Coast, although I have been in Lubbock for quite some time now. And I have to say, growing up, I found a lot of similarities between you and my Jewish grandmother, which to preface, I mean in a personality way and not an age way. But she, too, is known for being quite blunt. I think there are few people who grow up with someone who isn't afraid to speak their mind to absolutely anyone and everyone who will listen. But something I've experienced is that in the south, speaking your opinions is sometimes looked down upon whereas in New England that bluntness and straightforwardness are definitely appreciated. Is that something you've experienced throughout your life and your travels?
FL: Someone actually posed to me as a debate question recently: Is Texas the south or the west? But there is certainly something southern about Texas, whether you think it's the west or the south. And this is a southern thing, you know, this kind of elliptical conversation, this way of never saying.
JS: I understand that. My grandmother has definitely inspired me through many of my own personal endeavors. Is there someone in your life who has inspired you to be your most authentic self?
FL: No, I hate to say, no. There was no one in my family. All my grandparents were immigrants, except actually my mother's mother, and that was only because she was one of the younger of 3,000 children, but the family was from Russia. So she happened to be born here.
That generation, my grandparents’ generation, the women, they work like. My father's mother worked literally in a sweatshop on Green Street. But those women, they worked their heads off. They weren't careers, they were survival. There's a big difference between those two things.
I was a child in the 50s, and middle-class, white women, very rarely worked outside the house. It was really uncommon. I don't think I know anyone who did, when I was a kid. It was a sign of not having to work. That was one aspect of it, there were other worse aspects of it. And so no, there was no one really like that. I never heard of a woman doctor, when I was child, or a lawyer. I mean, this stuff happened relatively recently, all movements toward progress. It keeps getting pushed back.
JS: Kind of on the same page, a common word I see when reading about you is that you are outspoken. And to be honest, I find that women are the ones being labeled as such, there are few men in the world, I believe, who are universally deemed outspoken. How do you think your identity has impacted your career thus far?
FL: The thing is that whenever people say things to me, or I know they say this to everyone, they say, “Well, if you were a man would you do this? If you were Black, would you do this? You know, if you were 62, would you do this?” And I always say: “I wouldn't be me.”
You are all these things. A lot of times people say to me, “Well, if you were young now, would you do this?” I would be a completely different person if I was young now. Nothing actually informs you more than your own era. People always discount this. No one ever says, “What generation are you in?” Because with people of your own era, you're going to have a tremendous amount in common. No matter what your gender is, or your race, or your religion or anything like that, you're gonna have a tremendous amount in common because you have the same context. That makes a very big difference, although no one ever discusses that. I guess because it's not as contentious. We also live in an era where people just love to fight. People think I love to fight, but I hate to fight. I would much prefer if everyone would just agree with me because I am right.
JS: Well, that quote is on the record, I promise. Shifting gears and thinking a bit about the journalism world. I know you aren't on social media, but something we deal with a lot in the journalism world is the spread of fake news through social media platforms. Your writing career began at a time when those platforms didn't exist. From when you began writing to now, what are some of the biggest changes you've witnessed in the journalism world?
FL: Well, I would say it was certainly the internet. And, certainly, the idea that it should be free. I know that people put up what they call paywalls, I guess. But I mean, truthfully, the idea that journalism should be free. Has it not been proven to people that no, it's very expensive?
The end of newspapers is probably the biggest thing. I know, there are some newspapers. But the million, zillion newspapers, there were in this country – the end of local journalism. That's so dangerous to democracy because it makes people not pay attention to their local politics where a lot of very important decisions are made. So that's a big difference. And also the fact that everyone now feels not just that they're entitled to their opinion, but that you're entitled to their opinion. Also, the idea that every opinion has equal worth. That is just simply not true – and it never has been.
JS: I think the people of Lubbock are excited to learn from you. And honestly, the bare minimum, you'll see a lot of prairie dogs, if not.
FL: No, I don't wanna hear about these. There's not an animal I'm not afraid of. I assume at least these animals stay outside. Animals that are outside – fine, OK. It's animals inside that I don’t like to see. People don't have these as pets, I assume?
JS: So they aren't typical household pets here. But I do know of someone who has a few prairie dogs that he rehabbed back to health and since they couldn't go back into the wild, they're his pets now. There is a place in Lubbock called Prairie Dog Town where you could go and see them at, but I honestly think I'm one of the only people in Lubbock who goes to see them frequently.
FL: I'm relieved to hear.
JS: Lastly, I know you've given some advice to people in their 20s in previous interviews, and I also know how important reading is to you. So, I'd selfishly like a book recommendation for someone like me in their mid-20s, who still has a lot to learn. Do any ideas come to mind?
FL: Here's the thing – I do not think books should be read by age. There's a whole category of books now – it's been maybe 25 years, I don't know how long – called young adult novels. So young adults are supposed to be adults – read a real book! I normally get slammed, because people love these books. I know that this is a huge industry, this young adult book writing, but I've never read them. They didn't have them when I was a young adult, when I read adult books.
I love to read. I frequently buy books by so-called new writers, writers in their 20s. If I don't like the book that everyone else likes, people always say, “Well, it's probably a generational thing.” And I think that may be true, and that shows it’s a bad book. Because books shouldn't be written directly like that to people of a certain age, unless you're four. If you're a little kid, you have to think, how many words do they know? But in your 20s, you should know as many words as you're going to know in your 60s.
Someone complained to me the other night that she had bought some books by Edith Wharton, because she read how much I liked Edith Wharton, and she really didn't like reading them because that vocabulary was too bizarre or something. The style of writing, of course, is an 18th-century style. But it's very clear. That's one thing that makes her a great writer. And I said, “I don't know what you're talking about.” She said, “The vocabulary. It was so foreign to me.” This was an American woman. I said, “In my opinion, that is just your fault.” If you haven't read her yet, I highly recommend her.
JS: I will add her to the list. I am so looking forward to hearing your talk. And I hope Lubbock has become a tad more intriguing to you despite it being a little far from home.
FL: I initially said, “Well, how do you get there?” You go to Dallas. I said, “Oh, so it's near Dallas.” Then there's, like, dead silence.
JS: It's a trek, but I promise it'll be worth it.
FL: Alright, well, I hope I actually get there. And I hope I see you when I do.