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In Character with Andy Furgeson

A conversation with an interesting Portlander
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Andy

North Portland's Andy Furgeson has a full-time job coordinating an after-school program for kids, plays multiple instruments simultaneously in two bands, puts on puppet performances for kids, builds his own puppets, and, he just happens to mention, is "trying to maintain a marriage and buy a house."

Don't feel sorry for Furgeson. Stretched too thin is exactly how he likes to be.

Portland Tribune: Where are you from?

Andy Furgeson: Austin, Texas, another town where ambition goes to die.

Tribune: What instruments do you play?

Furgeson: Primarily guitar but all sorts of string instruments: banjo, mandolin, fiddle. And I play drums with my feet whenever I can.

Tribune: Does that ever get you in trouble?

Furgeson: All the time. I'm always banging on something. It gets me in trouble with the neighbors in our downstairs apartment.

Tribune: What's the weirdest thing you've ever banged on?

Furgeson: I found a Samsonite suitcase on the side of the road and turned it into my kick drum. But I also carried all my gear in it, so it was multipurpose.

Tribune: Multipurpose seems to be a theme with you. One-man band, one-man puppet shows. How many puppets can you operate at one time?

Furgeson: Right now two is my max, but I'm getting more ambitious. The real trick I've been trying to figure out is how to play guitar and drums and operate two puppets at once.

I just have a hard time choosing one thing, and my creative visions are way loftier than anything I could ever pull off. If I could pay a crew of 10 people to be in my band and to be in my puppet troupe that would be great. At this point, I can barely pay one guy, and that's me.

Tribune: Do you ever lose track of what you're doing?

Furgeson: A few weeks ago I had two library shows on a Saturday and I was sick. I took video of the first show and realized for most of the show I kind of forgot about the puppet. I wasn't remembering to make its mouth move at the right time. It seemed like the puppet kept dying in my hand and I kept bringing him back to life.

Tribune: You don't have kids, right?

Furgeson: Not yet.

Tribune: And you think you're multi-tasking now? What is it like around your house?

Furgeson: Usually around the house I'm scrambling from one room to another making one mess at a time. In the back room I've got my puppet studio. In my bedroom I've got my music studio. Both of those bleed into the living room.

Tribune: What about your wife? Stuck in a closet somewhere?

Furgeson: She's a middle school teacher so she's at the kitchen table trying to plan her lessons. I'm always trying to convince her to be in the puppet band, but she's officially quit the puppet band three or four times.

Tribune: You have a story to show us how much fun she might be missing?

Furgeson: I've got this raccoon puppet and the little vest that I tailormade for him doesn't really fit and he's always dancing and flopping around so he's shimmying out of his vest. His puppet dances turn into these little stripteases and the kids get a huge kick out of it and the parents wonder why I'm making my puppets strip onstage.

Many years ago my wife and I had a kid's band together and we were playing an old song that uses the expression "boob tube" in it. So we were at a 7-year-old's birthday party and my wife asks the kids, "Who knows what a boob is?" And, of course, all the kids' hands shot up. The birthday girl said, "I know what a boob is."

Tribune: So what did your wife do to get out of that situation?

Furgeson: We just started playing the song. That may be around the time my wife decided she didn't want to be in my puppet band anymore.

Tribune: Last question. Why did you switch the U and the E in your last name?

Furgeson: It wasn't me. It was probably some dyslexic great grandparent.