THEY NEVER PROMISED YOU A ROSE GARDENTHE MEN OF PANSY DIVISION PLAY GAY ROCK WITH BALLS
Just when you thought there was no possible musical configuration left after grunge-goth-speed-death-metal-neo-punk-post-New Wave-bubblegum-pop-etc., along comes homo-core.
Specifically, along comes Pansy Division.
Jon Ginoli, Chris Freeman and Danny Panic are the self-proclaimed Pansies, three San Franciscans whose music is from the late-Seventies, early-Eighties melodic punk school and whose lyrics celebrate, well, man's love for his fellow man. Consider this verse from Division's song "Beercan Boy."
Size don't matter/Well, that's usually true
More important/Is who it's attached to
But to find a larger tool/Can sometimes be so thrilling
It goes down smooth/Definitely more filling.
"Our songs come off as being playful," explains guitarist and main songwriter Ginoli from his apartment in the City by the Bay. "They might be kind of explicit, but they're also funny; they're not splat out there against a wall saying, 'Here, look at this!' I know a lot of our songs are not playable on the radio, but that's all right. Our goal is to make the music we want, and people talk about us in a way that makes up for the fact that we don't get much radio play."
If you haven't guessed by now, Pansy Division's music embraces in no uncertain terms homosexual relationships with the same fervor that macho heteros have employed in songs about the ladies for decades. Love, broken hearts, making out, fantasy dates, and, of course, doing the sacred bone dance itself. But despite what the titles may imply--"James Bondage," "Groovy Underwear," "Fluffy City," "Negative Queen"--the Division is quite militant about the music being up to snuff with the attention-getting lyrics. The fear of falling into the realm of novelty act is no joke.
"That was a concern of ours from the beginning," admits Ginoli. "When we started out, we really didn't think there was going to be an audience for what we were doing; we thought we'd be doing it for our friends in San Francisco. We thought if we were really going to be a good band, take it seriously on some level, the music would have to be as good as the lyrics. A lot of our stuff may be funny, but there's sincerity that came out of something that really happened, either to us or people we know. Once you get past the joke, there's still an essence of something real behind the songs."
Denny's dramatic, Denny's dark
He ain't nothing like the restaurant
He's got HIV+ tattooed in black
In 6-inch letters on his back
He said, "I want them to see what they've done to me"
Ginoli, who is in his late 20s and has been closet-free for 13 years, started the band in 1991 through sheer frustration. Though he'd been in groups doing straight material for years, his desire to hear a gay punk band--no Village People, thank you--led him to take action.
"The only [gay rock] precedent I was really influenced by was the Tom Robinson Band," the Illinois native says. "But unlike so much [punk] stuff from the late-Seventies period, it really didn't date very well." Ginoli found Robinson's serious, gay-oriented material tired and heavy-handed; just plain no fun. "I wanted to do something that expressed the fact that I was glad to be gay, but I didn't want to do morose, angst-ridden songs. If I'm up onstage, I want to do something that I enjoy and that the audience really enjoys. I don't mean just some fluff they can cheer to, but something that'll make them feel good about themselves in a certain way."
So. How good and in what certain way can a young, predominantly male rock audience feel about itself listening to songs centered on red-hot queer love?
"We have a tremendous number of high school and college-age fans because the subject matter is genuinely liberating," Ginoli says. "And the fact that they can mosh to it at shows helps a lot, too. A lot of people who are rock fans think, 'I don't know any people who are gay,' or, 'None of the people that I listen to are gay--gay people do dance music.' So I feel like we're infiltrating a domain that normally gets characterized as heterosexual."
A lot of this newfound fan base is because of Pansy Division's recent touring with Green Day, something that has afforded the band national attention on a grand scale. But not every audience has welcomed the Pansies with open arms. "Detroit. In the three years we've been around, I think there was only one show where I feel like the audience was really against us, and that was in Detroit," Ginoli sneers. "It's an armpit, anyway, and I come from Peoria, Illinois, so I know from armpits; it's just a really narrow-minded town."
Considering the Motor City's unemployment rate, the crowd reacted in a rather strange manner. "They threw coins at us. We picked 'em up after the show; it came to about 30 bucks' worth of change. They really didn't like us." He thinks he's Oscar Wilde, but he's Paul Lynde
Can't say anything good about anything
He flips his cigarette with disdain
You've failed to live up to his standards again
He's a negative queen, he's a negative queen.
Though resistance from straight circles might be expected, Ginoli (who characterizes himself as someone who "can't stomach what passes for gay culture") admits that there are elements of confusion from his own camp. "Besides the rock audience, the other equation is the gay audience that isn't used to seeing something like a gay rock band. The reaction is that what we're doing is sort of strange, and I think that a lot of people who are gay who hear about us just don't listen, they don't care."
But then there are those who do care. "I think there's more and more diversity in gay life now, especially in the big cities," says Ginoli, who estimates only one-third of the band's ever-increasing fan mail comes from gays. "I get mail from almost every state in the country saying, 'We're really glad you're doing what you're doing, me and my lover live in this little town, we're happy here, but there's nothing like you around here and we're glad you exist.'"
Pansy Division is not the only band of its type out there. Though Ginoli reluctantly acknowledges the "godfathers of homo-core" mantle the press has pinned on his band, he's quick to give a nod to others. "There's an interesting record that just came out on a San Francisco label," he says. "A compilation of new, queer punk bands called Out Punk Dance Party. It kind of documents what's going on in the fringes right now. . . . There's Fifth Column from Toronto, there's Team Dresh from Portland, and Tribe 8--who have been around as long as us--from San Francisco. They're a really fierce dike band. There are a lot of places we can play now where there're gay bands to open up for us."
The band has a compilation of its singles to be released next month titled Pile Up, and an album of all-new material in the works; this is, after all, a rock band, not a group of activists. "As far as politics go, I think it's politics with a small 'p.' Just us being here, doing what we're doing, has a political meaning and a political effect, even though our songs are not a list of issues," says Ginoli, proving that the size of the "p" doesn't matter.
Even in politics.
Pansy Division is scheduled to perform on Friday, January 20, at Nile Theater in Mesa, with Jimmy Eat World, Carrier, and Son Huevos Borrachos. Showtime is 8 p.m.
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