COCK ROCK REDEFINED: In a country where the President still panders to the reactionary religious right by firing the Surgeon General for talking about something as universal and normal as masturbation, it's refreshing to hear Pansy Division sing about the joys of sex.
I know plenty of otherwise intelligent people who will be turned off, even disgusted, by this San Francisco band because they sing about the joys of gay sex. Men loving, fucking and sucking other men. See? Some of you are already composing letters to the editor because I wrote that. Well, fire away, because that's just what the boys in Pansy Division do.
"If it's something you don't appreciate or understand or get or it offends you, we really don't care," lead singer/guitarist Jon Ginoli said in a recent phone interview. "We grew up in a society that's always telling you that if you're gay that what you're doing is wrong and that there's something sinful and evil about it. If people can't get past that, then I don't care if they're offended. But we don't go out of our way to offend people, we just do what we do. If it offends people, then that's the breaks."
"I want to get him off/ And feel his silky jizz," Ginoli sings in "Beer Can Boy." "I want to pop his top/ And see him spurt and fizz."
No, their punk-pop songs aren't love letters written in the sand; rather, they're cum-bombs exploding expectations of what's seemly and suitable in a prudish culture obsessed with titillation but afraid of confrontation with reality.
"There are other bands with interesting lyrics, but if the lyrics don't work with the music it doesn't connect," Ginoli says. "It's not just the music, it's not just the lyrics, it's the combination of the two that has gotten us as far as we have."
Last year Pansy Division went out on tour three times to open for punk revisionists and MTV staples Green Day, facing crowds mostly unprepared for an-out-of-the-closet-and-in-your-face band. Ginoli says most audiences reacted positively, some seemed stunned and only one--in Detroit--was openly hostile.
If you're feeling a little unfriendly toward these three musicians, take a listen to Deflowered (last year's release on Lookout!). The mix of late-'70s style punk-pop is reminiscent of The Ramones and Buzzcocks without retreading those waters.
"If we didn't have strong music, once people got past the initial flurry of interest or the initial shock or whatever it is people first hear whenever they stumble across our music, then we would fade out pretty quickly," Ginoli says. "Our first record (Undressed) came out two years ago and we're still ascending, so I think it's working out."
Although Deflowered revels in carnal pleasures in "Groovy Underwear" (with a Jan-and-Dean "ooh-ooh" chorus) and "James Bondage," it also explores undercurrents of gay life in "Denny" (a sad, unsentimental look at an HIV-positive man), "Negative Queen" ("he thinks he's Oscar Wilde, but he's Paul Lynde") and "A Song Of Remembrance (For Old Boyfriends)."
Some may want to dismiss Pansy Division as a novelty act, but Ginoli doesn't buy that categorization.
"I think that would be true if the songs were more rhetorical. If the point of the song was just to make this political message--it didn't really work as a song, but it worked as propaganda. We sing about things in a gay context, but other things are a little more general."
He points to "Reciprocate," a song about inequality between sexual partners, as an example of their humor working on more than the obvious level.
"That's the kind of thing that's usually hidden behind vague talk. If a couple gets divorced or they're having marital problems, people may address the fact that they didn't get along in bed. Well, what does that mean?"
"At the dinner table you were vegetarian/ But you smiled and said that you became a carnivore in bed/ But the evidence I've seen does nothing to support that claim/ All the effort is so one-sided/ And that's totally lame/ 'Cause if you want to be serviced with a smile/ You've gotta reciprocate more than once in awhile."
"I think someone just skimming the surface of that song might not get the whole thing," Ginoli says. "You can't make people listen, so some people will think we're a novelty act, but not very many."
Pansy Division plays the Downtown Performance Center on Saturday, January 21, with Molten Leather, Spiral Fix and Pitch 46. Admission is $5.
If you have trouble finding Pansy Division's music in stores, you can write them at P.O. Box 460885, San Francisco, CA 94146; or fax them at 415-206-0854 for more information.
LAST NOTES: We do have the hip-shaking definition of a novelty act in town this week--El Vez. This impostor of an Elvis impersonator is at Club Congress on Sunday, January 22. Friends Of Dean Martin open the show with a set of lounge music for your slow-grooving pleasure. Advance tickets are $5.
Toby Twining Music is an a cappella quartet reinterpreting classical music, jazz, and African yodeling--all with Tibetan overtones and a mosaic of other influences.
They'll be in Pima Community College's West Campus Center for the Arts on Saturday, January 21, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12; $14 for reserved seats. Pima students can get advance tickets for $10. (If the show isn't sold out, there will be "student rush" tickets for $5 each available 10 minutes before the concert starts.) Call 884-6458 for more information.
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