Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

In bloom


Jon Ginoli's new book, Deflowered: My Life in Pansy Division.
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Pansy Division has returned with a new CD, co-founder Jon Ginoli's book, and the DVD release of a 2008 documentary about the pioneering gay band. For Ginoli, telling the story of the seminal queercore band was a long process. With band members now living in San Francisco, Los Angeles and the East Coast, the new CD turned into a cross-continental project.

"This is our first new record in six years," said Ginoli in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "We had all this stuff in the pipeline and thought it would have maximum effect by putting it out all at once."

The music on the new CD, That's So Gay, is what Ginoli calls "a poppier record than some of the ones we've done. It's also got it some punkish moments." Memorable hooks and witty lyrics, each with an out gay perspective, are sprinkled with surprises, like an audio cameo by Dead Kennedys ex-frontman Jello Biafra.

Joel Reader, who's been playing with the band for five years, got his first chance at recording with the band at their East Bay sessions.

Although they've grown and changed over the years, said Ginoli, "Our musical palate is much more colorful, with a flavor of indie pop and other genres."

The idea for the documentary Pansy Division: Life in a Gay Rock Band started when bass player Chris Freeman, who has lived in Los Angeles since 2000, was working at a film school, and started taking classes. A fellow student, Michael Carmona, became the director.

"We supplied tons of footage, and it worked," said Ginoli, who added that the film follows a chronological run through the band's history.

Pansy Division: (L to R) Luis Illades, Jon Ginoli, Joel Reader, Chris Freeman.
photo: Lauren Bilanko

Listen to Pansy Division clips

Watch Pansy Division videos

And what an amazing history that is. The rise and fall of ACT UP, Queer Nation, Boy With Arms Akimbo, and other major gay protests and causes run parallel with Pansy Division's growth and themes since its inception in 1991. Their current line-up (Chris Freeman—bass, vocals; Jon Ginoli—rhythm guitar, vocals; Luis Illades—drums; Joel Reader—lead guitar, vocals) takes the previous decades of music into a more mature incarnation.

As to being the longest-running gay band, Ginoli prefers to share that honor with the women's band Tribe 8. "Their issues were different than ours in some ways." Yet, Pansy Division deserves points for longevity. "We have managed to hold on and persevere and do more new music."

"The book and DVD are traveling for us for now." Said Ginoli, who will be at a March 27 screening of the documentary at ATA Gallery (see info below). The band will tour the East Coast tour in June, with a West Coast tour in August.

How do they rehearse with bicoastal musicians who've taken a few years off? Ginoli explained, "For the east coast tour, Chris and I are flying to New York. Then, the other guys come here. It's difficult, but this is the way things are. The break was good, but it's really been in 2007 everybody started dispersing. That's made it more difficult but it also made us focused more on getting things done."

Jon Ginoli

Tour journals penned by Ginoli became the source material for his book, Deflowered: My Life in Pansy Division (Cleis Press). "It took a long time because I didn't keep up at times," said Ginoli. "The book goes much deeper than the film. It gets into a lot of detail the movie doesn't go for. I talk about different issues, subjects."

But while being "so gay," (to paraphrase the insult the band flips with the CD's title), Pansy Division remains outside what some consider "gay music" by genre category. With smart lyrics, earworm-catchy riffs and a general good-humored nature to even the most dire romantic situations, Pansy Division is miles apart from the sounds heard in most gay bars.

"There's a gay dance music-oriented culture," said Ginoli. "We're not part of that. What most people think of as 'gay music,' we try to change, as a lot of other people have."

True, for while dance music may never go away, dozens of out gay, lesbian and transgender musicians, each developing their own sound, owe Pansy Division a nod for cutting out a new genre of gay rock-derived music.

With so few out gay male musicians in a straight-dominated industry, the Pansys have managed to score indie cred while getting national attention when they toured with Oakland-based Green Day. Even before the stadium gigs gave them a mixed dose of new fandom and mild catcalling, the Pansys and Greens were pals.

"People were sometimes shocked," said Ginoli of Green Day concerts where their provocative lyrics made an impression. "When we were opening the big shows, we would win over the small portion of the audience. More often it was just pockets of support. Then you add the gay factor. But it was Green Day fans. Those people would mosh to anything."

With the film having made the rounds of several film festivals last year, Ginoli will be doing tie-in readings and screenings at select cities in the U.S. that haven't seen it yet.

"It wasn't planned that they would come out the same time, but I thought it would work," said Ginoli, who quit his job of ten years at Amoeba Music on Haight Street, so he can tour for the next several months.

Of both the film and book, "They really are a San Francisco story," said Ginoli. "One of the things that got me starting the band was being in ACT UP and thinking of what cultural activism that would be. It was about finding a balance between artistic and practical needs.

"Back then you could go to A Different Light bookstore and buy homemade zines, the word 'queer' came about the year we started Pansy Division; taking something negative and turning it into something positive. We tried to find the people who needed us. We were trying to bridge an unnecessary gap in our lives."

With the triple-play of book, movie, and new CD, Pansy Division may once again bridge the generation gap between the gay activist culture of its birth, and the continuing expansion of creativity among queers young and old who just like music.

Jon Ginoli, founding member of the acclaimed local gay band Pansy Division, reads from and discusses his memoir, Deflowered: My Life in Pansy Division March 20 at Booksmith. Free. 7:30pm. 1644 Haight St. 863-8688.

Ginoli also reads Thursday, March 26 at Books Inc, 2275 Market St. at Noe. 864-6777.

And, next Friday, March 27, you can get a sneak preview of Pansy Division: Life in a Gay Rock Band, the documentary about the band, at A.T.A. (Artists Television Access). $6. 8pm. 992 Valencia St. at 21st.

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