Pansy power

  • by David Lamble
  • Tuesday May 18, 2010
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Pansy power

"I'm getting older, I'm getting bolder./ Yeah, I'm aging, but I'm still raging./ I've had 20 years of cock! I'm never going to stop!" – gay punk rock band Pansy Division.

Michael Carmona performs a singular service in Pansy Division: Life in a Gay Rock Band, his astute examination of a successful queer beachhead launched in the commercially and erotically challenging precincts of punk rock by a plucky and still vastly underrated San Francisco band. Combining intimate, witty interviews with band members past and present, Carmona gets a unique 15-year perspective on a moment when queer musicians were able to engage the rock establishment on their terms, producing a singular body of work that stands up to comparison with that of earlier straight-boy punkers like The Ramones.

Carmona's access to the band's archives demonstrates how, as their lyrics got saucier and bolder, the band managed to make an evolution in their musicianship, stage-showmanship that allowed them to be one of the few queer music groups to make the leap from underground audacity to acceptance within the ranks of punk rock's upper echelon. As Carmona demonstrates, Pansy Division's great breakthrough occurred when they were selected to open on a mid-90s tour for the legendary band Green Day. As band founder Jon Ginoli and longtime bassist Chris Freeman tell it, Green Day proved their own faithfulness to the punk credo by refusing to bump Pansy Division from their tour, even after pressure from uptight macho promoters.

A highlight of the film comes in excerpts from fabled shows where the lanky Freeman takes on some of the band's straight male hecklers. Carmona describes the irony of how Pansy Division's increasing visibility in the rock world, including MTV airplay for their videos, led to a slight downtick in the band's queer fan-base. A marvelous and very funny subplot charts the search for that elusive gay or gay-friendly competent drummer. This film combines edgy, defiant music, a perceptive look behind the corporate music machine, and a penetrating examination of the long journey to mainstream acceptance by the homo-core generation.

Features include a bonus DVD of live performance footage.