Pansy Division founder Jon Ginoli returns to Dallas with a new book,
a new CD … and the old punk spirit
On Thursday, Ginoli makes an author appearance at Borders Books & Music in the West Village, 3600 McKinney Ave. May 13 at 7 p.m. 214-219-0512
Jon Ginoli is driving to perhaps the most religiously conservative state (Utah) in a proudly fundamentalist nation to be as unapologetically gay as he can be for a few hours. He’s done it many times before here in Bush Country, as well. But the thought of confronting (or being confronted by) blatant homophobia doesn’t dissuade him. It has, in fact, been the hallmark of his career.
"People are very grateful that you come through [their towns]. I expect there will be a really good crowd," he says, then pauses. "But maybe you should call me tomorrow."
As one of the two co-founders of Pansy Division, Ginoli was foraging around in punk-rock alleys before anyone thought it was fashionable to be a gay hardcore rocker. The group’s name — a co-opting of a schoolyard taunt — predated even "queer" as an embraced sobriquet of gay culture. You couldn’t so much say the name of Ginoli’s band and not peg yourself as a fruity fairy who’s light in the loafers.
Ginoli organized Pansy Division in 1991. The group took off in 1994 when the gods of contemporary pop-punk, Green Day, plucked the San Francisco combo from relative obscurity and invited them to be the opening act on their national tour.
"They came from an underground that nurtured them and they wanted to be true to that," Ginoli explains. "Having Pansy Division on the bill was a statement they made about who they were. And they liked our music, which was compatible with theirs."
Not that the tour didn’t have its ups-and-downs — at least on stage. On any given night, they might be flipped off as much as cheered. They were often booed and some Green Day fans even hurled things at them, shouting anti-gay slurs. But many more didn’t, which was always the point.
"People in the audience were forced to choose and take sides," he says. "Some people will take sides for you because they like the music and don’t focus on the music too much. We got lots of great mail from teens who were straight-talking about what was going on in their high schools. We reached the gay kids we hoped we would, but also created a better environment overall for the straight people."
Ginoli’s original intent for Pansy Division was always to create a cult band. At best, the idea of mainstream success was a pipe dream.
"In my [prior] band, I had been out but didn’t feel I could sing about it in an open way. I was the only gay member," he recalls.
Ginoli then moved to San Francisco where it was easier to be open — although he still found it difficult to find out-and-proud role models.
"All the gay people can’t be in dance music," he remembers thinking. "If no one else is going to do it, I’m going to do it. I’ll start a cult band."
Choosing punk as his medium didn’t immediately endear him to many gays or fellow punks — at first.
"We’re not for everyone, even in the gay world," Ginoli admits.
But it also didn’t deter them. And he chalks up much of the band’s success to luck.
"We came along at the right time," he says. "If we had come along five years earlier, I can’t say we would have lasted. We were part of a movement that happened at that time, and we moved along the discussion about gay issues among a certain group of people. We had good timing — you can’t predict that."
During the past decade, Pansy Division has recorded only two albums, but once again, timing is everything: The release of the album, called "That’s So Gay," coincides with both the publication of Ginoli’s autobiography, "Deflowered," and the DVD release of a documentary about Pansy Division, "Life in a Gay Rock Band."
This summer, Pansy Division will tour, but not to Texas. And the only opportunity to hear a live acoustic version is to attend Ginoli’s Thursday appearance at Borders.
"My book tour has gone pretty well, but I have been in a few mall bookstores and those have been the worst. I was in Memphis, so behind enemy lines. And only three people showed up — but all were teenagers, which was nice," he says.
Reaching the younger generation is sustaining for Ginoli — and the thought that the most rebellious of music genres, punk, would emerge from a gray Baby Boomer does not escape him.
"I would have never guessed I would be doing this at this age," says Ginoli, who turns 50 this year.
But that doesn’t mean he’s willing to call it quits. One song on the new album that has to do with getting older contains the lyric, "I’ve had 20 years of cock and I’m never gonna stop… / When I’m old in my rocking chair/I’ll have a grandfather clock and some grandfather cock."
Punk lives on … no matter how old it gets.
On Monday, Katy Perry plays House of Blues, a sold-out gig that was rescheduled from March 21. Last summer, she scored a worldwide hit with the ultimate Anne Heche anthem: "I Kissed a Girl." She also had minor success with "Ur So Gay," the first single from her "One of the Boys" album. Some have wondered if her tone about same-sex attraction supports the "gay is a choice" argument.
Before "One of the Boys," Perry was tagged as a Christian artist who, in 2001, recorded an album under her birth name, Kate Hudson. But last month, she headlined the Palm Springs lesbian music fest The Dinah 2009.
So does Perry agree with the Bible — that same-sex love is immoral?
"My dad is from Memphis, so he’s got a Pentecostal flair, and he’s hilarious. I was raised non-denominational Christian, but it was more evangelical, I guess — like a lot of that stuff you see on television," Perry told Dallas Voice in January.
"I was raised with certain ideas. I can mention what the Bible does say. But as an adult — and in a whole new world, a world that I didn’t even know existed — I definitely have different perspectives. I’m not a poster child for anything perfect or organized or cookie-cutter. I have my own relationship and my own beliefs. And I’m continually on an upward search with all that," she continued. "I really don’t know the answers, nor do I like to impress them on anybody else."
— Daniel A. Kusner
House of Blues Dallas, 2200 N Lamar St. May 11, 8 p.m. 214-373-8000.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 8, 2009.