Monday, June 30, 2014

Why didn't Roy Rogers and John Wayne serve in World War II?


Milwaukee Journal, March 14, 1945

Why didn't singing cowboy Roy Rogers serve in World War 2? Or John Wayne, for that matter?

Rogers and Wayne "are forever tainted with the stigma of opting out[,] unlike so many of their contemporaries from the Hollywood community who put country first before family [and] career," Bruce Hickey wrote. Seventy years later, people still have heated opinions about it. Wayne's lack of service has been written about more extensively than Rogers', but both are perennial topics of speculation, justification, and scorn.

A notable contemporary among the actors who enlisted was Gene Autry, who—like Rogers and Wayne—was a Western star under contact to Republic Pictures. Autry was four years older than Rogers and the same age as Wayne.

Autry in the service, still singing

Autry, in a WWII-era interview that is quoted in Charles K. Wolfe and James E. Akenson's book Country Music Goes to War, said:
I think the He-men in the movies belong in the Army, Marine, Navy or Air Corps.  All of these He-men in the movies realize that right now is the time to get into the service. Every movie cowboy ought to devote time to the Army winning, or to helping win, until the war is over—the same as with any other American Citizen. The Army needs all the young men it can get, and if I can set a good example for the young men, I'll be mighty proud.
Roy Rogers, the book says, "received a deferment because of his children," and John Wayne received a deferment thanks to Republic Pictures' efforts, which were driven in part by the studio's unhappiness over losing Autry to the service. 

Roy Rogers

Robert W. Phillips' book Roy Rogers: A Biography... tells a slightly different story. It says that Rogers was classified 1-A, which made him eligible for the draft, but his classification soon changed to 3-A because of his age.

The change in the maximum age limit is also mentioned by Adam Lounsbery, who wrote:
A lot of men were drafted during World War II. Roy Rogers was one of them. With a 1-A classification, he expected to be shipped out in the spring of 1945. Consequently, screenwriter John K. Butler (working from a story by Leon Abrams) came up with a script to showcase Rogers’s leading lady, Dale Evans. When V-E Day rolled around, however, the draft board exempted men over the age of 30 who had children, so Rogers never had to serve. Director Frank McDonald’s Sunset in El Dorado ended up starring both 'The King of the Cowboys' and 'The Queen of the West'....
And yet another story appears in Raymond E. White's book King of the Cowboys, Queen of the West: Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. White writes:
Rogers carried a 1-A draft classification, but he never entered the service. Carlton Stowers, who helped Rogers with his autobiography, says that at the point of Roy's induction, the Selective Service lowered the maximum age limit for men being drafted. On the other hand, the Los Angeles Times indicates that the star's draft was deferred so that he could 'make a previously scheduled tour of military hospitals.'
(The Los Angeles Times article that White refers to is from March 21, 1945, one week after the Milwaukee Journal article that can be seen in the image at the top of this page.)

Just to recap, the reasons we've heard so far for Rogers' deferment have been children, age, age plus children, and so that he could continue his movie star activities.
John Wayne
According to the draft classifications as they were during World War 2, Roger's change to 3-A—a deferment for "Men with dependents, not engaged in work essential to national defense"—was granted because of his kids, not because of his age. It's unclear whether Republic helped to wrangle the deferment, but in John Wayne's case, the studio appears to have intervened repeatedly. 

Scott Eyman, in John Wayne: The Life and Legend, says that Wayne was reclassified from 3-A to 2-A after "a deferment claim was filed by a third party—undoubtedly Herbert Yates and Republic. The 2-A classification meant that the registrant had a talent or skill not replaceable by another person." (Rogers was never classified 2-A.) Wayne continued to be the subject of third-party deferment claims until the end of the war, at which point he was classified 4-A, which was an age-related deferment.

Eyman points out that Wayne didn't entirely avoid service—he applied for the Office of Strategic Services in 1943, because he wanted to serve in a photo unit with director John Ford. Nevertheless, Wayne caught some flak even during the war years for his choice not to serve. Garry Wills' book John Wayne's America says that John Ford needled Wayne about it during the filming of They Were Expendable in 1945, resulting in Wayne storming off the set. 

As other Hollywood actors enlisted, Rogers and Wayne both benefited from the shrinking number of leading men who were available to star in motion pictures. Bruce Hickey, writing about John Wayne, said:
The fact that so many leading men were in the service [and] Wayne free to make movies greatly enhanced his career. It is doubtful if he would have gained the notoriety to the extent he enjoyed as a movie star had he gone into the services for 3-4 years.
And Rogers, with Autry out of the picture, quickly rose to become the leading Western actor at the box office. Dubbed the "King of the Cowboys," he starred in 50 films during World War 2. Autry, in contrast, made no films between Bells of Capistrano in 1942 and Sioux City Sue in 1946.

Bottom line: Rogers and Wayne could have served if they'd wanted to, but they weren't required to serve, so they didn't. Both were under pressure from Republic to keep making movies, and deferments were pursued more aggressively in Wayne's case than in Rogers'. It's not clear to me that Rogers' deferments were specifically applied for, but the eleventh-hour deferment just as he was about to report for duty is a bit of a coincidence. In any case, both actors took advantage of their deferments while many older actors, such as Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, and Henry Fonda, chose to serve. 

Some of Rogers' wartime activities benefited the war effort. He sold war bonds (reportedly more than any other Hollywood star) and spent a lot of time entertaining troops at USO shows and generally keeping up American morale. 

Someone recently argued that Wayne contributed to the war effort by "extolling military virtues." Some of the military movies in which he appeared served as wartime propaganda.  His third wife, Pilar, wrote in her biography of Wayne, John Wayne: My Life with the Duke, that he became "a 'superpatriot' for the rest of his life trying to atone for staying home." 

Despite any lingering resentment the public had over Roger's and Wayne's decisions to opt out of military service, both actors enjoyed robust careers in the postwar decades—in part because of the visibility they enjoyed onscreen from not having served. By not serving, they were both vilified and rewarded.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Faulty Chromosome: An interview and retrospective


A Faulty Chromosome. Eric on the right, Mike second from left.


Do we value originality in music or not?

I ask because I sense that A Faulty Chromosome never got the respect they really deserved, even though they were true originals.

Living here in Indiana, I'm not especially plugged into the psychology of the masses, so I'm basing my impression that A Faulty Chromosome didn't get its due on a single experience: I saw the band at NYC Popfest in 2009, and they got a pretty lukewarm reception.

They took too long to set up, with their hanging lights and all the blankets over their amps that made them look and sound like they were underwater. And they weren't twee, so it probably wasn't the best audience for them. The crowd grew impatient and then didn't get what it expected, which is not a recipe for success. The chick from Afternoon Naps even got onstage and played a song with them to try to energize the crowd. That was only moderately effective.

Nevertheless, A Faulty Chromosome was a super-interesting band. Their hallmarks were novel, lo-fi soundscapes with everything-including-the-kitchen-sink instrumentation, elaborate stream-of-consciousness lyrics, mutant dance grooves, and left-field pop hooks.

On their now-deleted Facebook page, their list of influences included Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, Arthur Russell, Half Japanese, and Sun Ra. That kind of sums it up.

Music Weird talked to Eric and Mike from A Faulty Chromosome on June 17, 2014. 


The band is defunct, I take it?

Eric: Well, the band is super dead. I murdered it myself. I bathed in its blood and hosed it off down the sewer.

But defunct? "No longer existing or functioning"? Can music ever be defunct, really? I mean, it keeps going so long as people care. Even if I wanted it to die—which I do, because I purposely murder it each day I wake up and say, "No, I will not sink more money into this doomhole"—other people—like you, for example, and sometimes-bandmember Mike, who keeps reminding me, "Hey, one more human said something good about the band on this website! See, you're not a total failure"—keep it existing and functioning to some degree. 

Mike: But still, yes, even so, the band’s pretty much defunct. I mean, the band was Eric, and Eric was the band—inextricably linked! His head porridge, his heart salsa!—and Eric’s not defunct. But as a physical entity? The band’s dead. Persists only in web echoes and vinyl pressings. And this makes me sad. Because I miss standing five feet from Eric’s mouth sounds and finger thrum. The songs were just plain fun to play. 

Eric: I tried to find a pinch of joy in a slopbucket of misery. I didn't kill myself, so I guess that was a miniature success.


But you met your Kickstarter goal for the last album. What happened? 

Eric: Being in a band was a miserable experience for me. I tried my best to have fun, but there's so much business and planning and marketing and advertising and other things that I don't enjoy and am not good at. I mean, I'm horrible at it.

I lost a lot of money to try to get other people to listen to it, too, sending hundreds of albums out only to have them mostly thrown in the garbage by bloggers, record labels, booking agencies, college radio DJs, et cetera. I'm still paying off that debt and will be for another year. The Kickstarter only paid for the pressing of the albums. The nice guy who gave the most money just really liked our music and started a record label [Yelping Hill Records] to put it out, even though he didn't know anything about running a record label. So, together, we had a lot of heart but little know-how and zero connections. I should have asked for more to tour and promote it, I guess. But it costs approximately $1,000 a month to pay some kid to harass people via e-mail and telephone until they listen to or review your record. I'd rather just play, and if the music is good enough, word of mouth will keep it alive and passed around.

I mean, I never wanted to be arena-rock rich. I never wanted to be a Kurt Cobain "King of the Losers" messiah. I just wanted to support myself, but I couldn't, so I stopped. At the time— 2007-ish—"making it" was having your song on a compilation that's played in Urban Outfitters stores or featured on Pitchfork, then playing a hipster party at SXSW, then getting asked to open on a tour with whatever mentally unbalanced band was currently temporarily popular. It was like trying to fit in with a rich high-school clique that we didn't even want to fit in with. Our fans tend to be very nice, slightly nerdy, shy-at-first-but-dying-to-talk types. [Greg's note: This describes me.] It's too messy for normals to mindlessly dance to. But it's dance music! I wanted dancing. Like robots malfunctioning and collapsing on the floor! I still want this. I hope at least bedrooms and used cards are bouncing. 

Mike: Eric was never much comfortable with the self-promotional side of things. Of the idea of “growing” the band, none of us were. Who wants to shill? It’s gross and low. But maybe, just maybe, we were dignity snobs? Were a little too—um—suspicious of inauthenticity, which I don’t even know what that means anymore. I mean, we were never going to have a street team—a real cute buncha kids, swoop-haired and tight-jeaned, all out there with the stickers and the stencils—but we maybe could have/should have done more? To push ourselves? Still—it’s not like Eric didn’t try. He rang up a lot of debt getting somebody—anybody—to listen. And looking back, the rest of us in the band weren’t really “pulling weight.”



What does the discography of A Faulty Chromosome look like? 

Eric: Two proper albums, a few tour-only B-sides and demos mishmashes, and a bunch of covers, including the Magnetic Fields' House of Tomorrow EP in its entirety. I wish All Music Guide would let me edit my own band's page. I wish someone would just put it all on YouTube. I have it on a hard drive somewhere still, I think. Some hard copies are in an old lady's garage in New York. Some is in a suitcase doubling as a cat scratch post. I have no real interest in preserving such memories. If it makes others happy, that's nice. But I don't want the job of archiving. It's like saving love letters from exes you don't even like.


What were your experiences with touring and with NYC Popfest? 

Eric: I've found that the Popfest crowd tends to be "collector" types. The people I know personally still have hundreds of 7-inches that they never listen to but like to brag about having to show that they heard it first. It rubs me the wrong way. I just didn't really feel like we fit in or were welcomed. Guuhhh. I was hoping Popfest would help me feel happy and hopeful and young and childlike, but it just made me more depressed because it failed so miserably. It's like wanting, really wanting, to have religion work, but then, before you even get inside the church, you just start laughing at the whole notion of the thing, and you walk back home empty. 

Mike: Nice people everywhere. And head nods. We’d get head nods every once in awhile. 

Eric: Yeah, head nods help. You and I, Greg, met at Popfest. I guess, as a musician, I always hope that people will be blown away by the sound, as though they had never heard anything so moving or different or expressive or sincere at the same time. Ideally, their heads would explode like Riki-Oh so I'd know for sure it got to them. Or buying the album helps too. I can never tell if people like us. They always looked confused.

I dunno…. I played music because it was the only thing I could do to convince myself to not to want to die. At the time, it wasn't fun. It was exorcising demons. I guess that's not necessarily what Popfests are for.

I hoped people heard it and sang back...or hugged me...or fixed me. I don't know? Like wild animals howling. Singing like a kid, in hopes that it would get me out of the hopelessness of being 20-something I was feeling. It helped a little, I think? Not twee, though.




How did you guys fit into the Austin scene? What kind of reception did you get in your hometown? 

Eric: Austin smells like barbecue, beer, and cedar. It was great to come back to after being away. It was a lot of fun in that it was living "the Ultimate College Experience," like it was an amusement park ride. We were invited to "keggers," "potlucks."

You've got to understand, I'm not the partying type. Parties have always depressed me, because when I'd go, I'd wanna have deep conversations, but other people just wanted to escape and dance and fuck. So I tried that this time, but it didn't work. But it wasn't our hometown. I have no home, and have been in nomadic limbo since 2000. We moved to Austin because kids at the college radio station played it a lot, and living in L.A. is a horrible place to be in a band because no one will let you play at their club unless you're friends with their friends.

In Austin, I feel like we had maybe 7 or 8 fans. Or at least kids who genuinely liked it because it meant something to them, and not just "supporting your friends." I dunno. Austin was sooooo relaxing and comforting because everything moves much slower, and the people are just: "Y'all...." 

Mike: Austin was a lovely experience. An exhalation after the five-year inhale of L.A.

Which, by the way, L.A. can be grand. But, ugh, what crummy, clueless club owners. "No, sir, we cannot guarantee a 30-ticket pre-sale, but perhaps if you promoted your shitty venal velvety little venue a bit better we wouldn’t have to." Squid pro quo!

But yes—and this inevitably makes me sound like a bitter A-hole—I’d have to agree with Eric about the multiplicity of “art” bands. Of “art” in general. Sometimes there’s such a thing as too much output, too much creativity for creativity’s sake. It can get oppressive. And enervating. Again, probably a personal issue. But c’mon, must every idea be not only executed but then shared with the wider world? Keep that collage in the ol’ skull—the calcium vault—and just sit in silence a spell beneath an old gum tree. It’ll do your interior world wonders. At least let’s have a moratorium on Tumblr sketchbook sharing for five years. Be an artist, fine—but the self-marketing is icky. Oh God, shut up, Mike.




What were the best experiences of A Faulty Chromosome? 

Mike: Best experience: dancing to Eric’s songs. Equally best experience: singing along, in real time, to Eric’s songs. 

Eric: Ummm.... Uhhh.... Best was having kids high on mushrooms and MDMA tell me that they lay on the floor and cry when they listen to my music. I also really enjoyed the kindness of strangers, and exploring cities, and sleeping in haunted mansions and crack houses, and seeing all the different conditions in which humans apparently live in. I'm quite surprised we survived. Honestly. It got pretty dark sometimes. A lot of blood stains and wads of hair and new odors. I am very surprised we survived. 


Your lyrics always impressed me because of their stream-of-consciousness quality and their sheer quantity! How much work was it to write all of those lyrics? Did they flow out of you or did you agonize over them?

Mike: Aren’t they sooooo good? The way they do what they do over the sounds they do it to? And he did. He did agonize. I seen it! 

Eric: Guhhhh... Yeah, and yeah. They flowed out for sure, but often in no apparent order. I agonized over everything.

I usually start to write by singing gibberish so that the melodies would appear, then I'd turn the mumbles into semi-coherent lyrics. That was all easy. But I just like language a lot. I like reading the dictionary and tracing the etymology of a word, and I like the feel of sounds smashed together, and sounds that used to be in dead languages that disappeared that our mouths can make. I love a good hip-hop MC flow, but didn't want to fake like I was from the ghetto. It's hard to sing without affecting something artificial. But I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote until it felt like it fit together.

I just tried to find a flow that made sense to me. I couldn't just sing a song about being confused and frustrated and then sing like monotone Jesus and Mary Chain with tons of reverb on the vocals. I wanted it to sound as frantic as the voices in my brain sound. I wanted to scream, but wouldn't let myself because it was a greater challenge to articulate the feelings. And I tried my best not to leave open-ended questions or generic platitudes, as those drive me nuts in songs. Each song started with a question or a problem with my life, and I genuinely tried to write a song that gave me some kind of resolution to it.

At the time of being in the band, I was dating a girl who hated to analyze human emotions, and opted for the traditional Chinese way of ignoring them until you die, for the greater good! Hence, a lot of songs with a lot of words. But now, I have a partner to talk to, so no real need for music. Funny how that works.


Are you doing anything musically now? 

Eric: I'm working on a short animation right now and doing all the scores, music, and sound effects for that. I also have this mess of a mixtape I add to whenever I have a few minutes to spare that's kind of a weird mess of vocal harmonies, old doo-wop loops, and hitting things to make beats. But I will always make noises. I wish one day I could get paid to do it enough so I wouldn't have to drive forklifts overnight in a furniture warehouse. Actually, it's a ton of fun, and sexual harassment is alive and well!

I'm in L.A. now, so playing a show is pretty much not an option, as they all want 50 people minimum. I miss making songs, though; I do. I'm just not in the mood yet. 

Mike: Make more songs, Eric.

 

Discography

 As an Ex-Anorexic's Six Sick Ex It (No label, 2007)
  • Them Pleasures of the Flesh / Anomie's the Enemy / What? / Jackie O / A Frozen Lake / Bad Thing / This Is Far from a Belle Epoque / Eyes, Foreign Eyes / The loneliness of the Short-Distance Walker / I'll Stop Swimming When I Drown



Free Sample Inside (No label, 2009)
  • Tippy-Toes / Bad Thing / Either You Don't Love Me, Or... / Anomie's the Enemy / Our Poor, Boorish Head / Love Goes Home to Paris / Pleasures of the Flesh / Short-Distance Walkers
     




Craving to Be Coddled so We Feel Fake-Safe (Yelping Hill, 2010)

  •  Growing Children Need Food / Scoffers vs. Beasts / Dancing on the Ceiling (Flailing on the Floor) / Tippy-Toes / U Stoopid / Our Poor Boorish Head / Little Miracles / Picayune / Warmish Piles / Incubate'r / Exorcise! / Groaning Like a Grown-Up / What We're Made Of

 





Saturday, June 14, 2014

Music Weird interviews Theoretical Girl



A few years ago, Theoretical Girl was touring with Calvin Harris and Robyn and seemed to be on the verge of breaking through as a mainstream pop artist. If you read the lists of new album releases every week, like I do, then she seemed to disappear after that, because she hasn't released a record since 2009.

She hasn't disappeared, though. Otherwise known as Amy Turnnidge of Southend-on-Sea, Theoretical Girl has been steadily gigging and releasing recordings in her Advent Calendar series and has a new EP coming out this year. 

Theoretical Girl's 2009 debut album, Divided, is filled with gorgeous pop songs like "The Boy I Left Behind" and "I Should Have Loved You More." It's indiepop, but Turnnidge has a great traditional pop voice and sensibility, so her music is often rich with strings and melodies. 

Jason Derulo said that Lady Gaga is one of the hardest-working people in show business, but has he checked in on Theoretical Girl? He should, because Turnnidge must spend a lot of time recording.

Music Weird interviewed Theoretical Girl on June 9, 2014.


Your new EP is coming out this year?

I've been writing on and off since my album came out, way back in 2009. However, none of the songs really seemed to work together—they were all so different in feel and content. I was trying desperately to put an album together, becoming more and more frustrated that they didn't fit, until I decided to free myself, stop worrying about songs working as a group of songs, and just release a series of EPs. I am embracing their differences! 


The first EP has a lead track recorded in a lovely analog studio with a fine producer and is a sparse drum-machine-and-synth-led tune. The second track was recorded in a friend of a friend's flat by another fine producer using traditional baroque stringed instruments and is purely strings and vocals. And the third track was recorded by myself at home using whatever I could lay my hands on—an Omnichord, an old Roland CompuRhythm drum machine, and some shakers!—in a much more lo-fi way. None of the tracks are finished as yet, so it could all still change!



It's been years since Divided came out. Why the long wait?

A friend once gave me a really valuable piece of advice: never stop writing. Well, I didn't listen. I got caught up in touring and promoting what I had already written, and by the time that had all calmed down, I was sick of writing and wanted a bit of a break. Then, before I knew it, months and months had passed. I started to get into writing again, but it was almost as if I had never written a song before—I had to start all over again. 


It's taken a long time to feel that I can do it again; I still find it very difficult to know if what I have written is any good. I'm trying not to worry about that at the moment and just get something out there. Otherwise, I fear I may never do it!



I didn't realize until recently that you have been posting tons of free downloads online in your Advent Calendar series. Could you talk about that project? Have you put a lot of time into that?

I started the advent calendar in 2008, I think. During the advent period, I take requests for cover versions and I arrange, record, and post online a different track every day for free download. It was a bit of a mad idea, really, as it is extremely time-consuming. However, I love cover versions. I'm a big fan of the song-swapping that went on in the '60s. If you discover a song that you love from that period, you can guarantee that there will be at least another five versions of it floating around somewhere! I enjoy particularly when people request songs I've never heard, as then it's a real challenge to find it, learn it, figure out the chords and melodies, work out how I want to interpret it, then perform and record it all in one day! 


This is particularly tricky when working full-time. I'd rush home straight from work, and, some days, only just get the song up before midnight! Mostly they turn out a bit shoddy, but I think people appreciate that I've tried! As a result of the project, I may release an album of cover versions at some point this year.

 

You play guitar and keyboards/piano. Do you write songs on both? 

I write songs on almost anything! I play quite a few things, quite badly. A lot of my earlier stuff was written around bass lines. These days it tends to be piano based, and then I'll switch to different instruments and arrangements once the basic song is written. One of my favorite things to do is to create several different versions of the same song; then I'll pick the arrangement that works the best.

 

Your music seems to be getting "prettier." Do you think that melodic music gets less respect than "edgy," dissonant music?

I'm glad you've chosen the word pretty! Some people use the word twee, which I'm not so keen on! It implies that there is somehow less substance to the music. 


My music has, without a doubt, changed. It was never a conscious decision to write differently, though—I just became more interested in melodies than in sounds. I've found that the kind of people who are most concerned with music's edginess and that horrible word cool tend to write for the mainstream music press. I used to worry about being edgy and trying to do something new, but that can sometimes end up being detrimental to the song, and really, by now, what hasn't already been done? I hope to work towards being a good songwriter.

 

You seem like an indiepop artist at heart, but you've played with some mainstream pop artists like Robyn and Calvin Harris. What has that been like?

Really fun! Robyn in particular is a really great pop performer. It's interesting to me to see how other people approach things. I've never had a booking agent, so when I get offered these support slots, it's always really exciting. You tend to play to people who've never heard your music, so it's a good test of how well it works!

 

You have such a great traditional pop voice. People have even described it as "angelic." Does it do everything you want it to do? Do you ever write songs, or want to sing songs, that you feel you can't sing the way you'd like?

I have a very soft voice. It's been difficult battling against drums and guitars at live shows, but mostly it does what I need it to do. It helps that I can write songs within my vocal range. My favorite singers have always been those that don't particularly have power or technique but who have expressive and unique voices. Nick Drake, Neil Young, and Marianne Faithfull for example. As such, I've never really aspired to have a particularly powerful voice. Good thing, really!

 

What are your plans after the EP comes out? Are you going to tour? Start working on your second album?

I like the idea of regularly releasing EPs rather than taking ages to do an album. So, more EPs, probably, perhaps a covers album, definitely another advent calendar. I may do a couple of live shows. Basically, I am undecided about everything!

www.soundcloud.com/theoretical-girl
www.theoreticalgirl.co.uk



Monday, June 2, 2014

Music Weird interviews Jon Ginoli of Pansy Division

Jon Ginoli in yellow. Photo by Lauren Bilanko.



The poet Edmund Miller, who wrote the books The Go-Go Boy Sonnets: Men of the New York Club Scene and Fucking Animals: A Book of Poems, told me that he liked Pansy Division because you could understand their lyrics. I suspect that he also liked what their lyrics were about. 

Pansy Division, like Miller, put themselves out there as openly and defiantly queer artists, whatever the personal and professional risks, at a time when the outcome was unpredictable, to say the least. Miller, an academician, published the homoerotic Fucking Animals in 1973, and Pansy Division debuted with "Fem in a Black Leather Jacket" on Lookout! Records in 1992. 

What the Buzzcocks's Pete Shelley—and, to a lesser extent, Morrissey—had previously suggested in lyrics, Pansy Division's Jon Ginoli made explicit. Really explicit. Pansy Division didn't just sing about being queer; they sang about queer sex, in detail. 

I bought all of the early Pansy Division singles as they were released. As a straight, Midwestern guy who missed out on punk's first wave, I recognized queercore and riot grrl punk as the real deal: These bands were way more punk than Green Day or NOFX. They were dangerous! They fought for tangible causes that affected people's daily lives, and in Pansy Division's case, it was easy to imagine the band getting hauled in on obscenity charges for their explicit lyrics and picture sleeves. 

But beyond their rebelliousness, Pansy Division was fun. I caught them live twice, and they put on a great show, rocking out with their hilarious, sing-along anthems and spraying the audience with Silly String

The band is still active. Their catalog is available on Bandcamp, and last year Ginoli released an audio book of his 2009 memoir, Deflowered: My Life in Pansy Division





Music Weird talked to Pansy Division's lead singer and songwriter, Jon Ginoli, on June 1, 2014.


After the 2 Live Crew obscenity debacle, it seemed like Pansy Division could get arrested for peddling smut. What kind of troubles, if any, did you run into from authorities or moral crusades or whatever? 

We had a few problems, but not too many. I can think of three things:

1. When our first album came out, which had a nude guy on the cover, the place our label used to manufacture its cassettes, in Alabama, refused to print it.

2. In Jupiter, Florida, a complaint was made against a record store over our "Bill & Ted's Homosexual Adventure" 45 because the sleeve was "obscene"—it had a blurry picture of two guys blowing each other. They were forced to keep the record behind the counter. It made all three local stations' newscasts that day. I had a VHS tape of the coverage but it decayed over time. Pretty ridiculous.

3. Any covers that displayed any male genitalia had to have the shrinkwrap whited out by hand before being shipped to Japan.


Pansy Division seemed like a "high concept" band from the beginning: you had a vision for creating an openly queer punk band with sexually frank lyrics. Did you ever come to feel that the concept was confining or restrictive? 

It didn't feel restrictive. Back then I felt like we had the field to ourselves. It felt infinite. Over time we got more introspective, because otherwise you do repeat yourself. I always thought even our raciest stuff was sincere, not done for shock value. It was done for people who we thought would get it. If other people thought we were rubbing it in their faces, boo hoo. We grew up with heterosexual images rammed down our throats; we felt we were there for others who felt that way, be they queer or not.


I saw you play live twice in Indiana, and you were well received both times. Did you have any bad or intolerant concert experiences?

The shows we did opening for Green Day were really the only times we received negative reactions, and even so, it was usually pretty mixed. I remember on the first Green Day tour, we played a venue in Indianapolis that was way too small for them to be playing; they'd gotten big quite suddenly that summer. To reach the dressing room and get to our van, we had to be escorted through the overpacked club by big security guards. Some young guy yelled at us, "Fucking faggots!" I yelled back, "We're not fucking faggots, we're buttfucking faggots."

We were pretty nervous when we set out for our first tour, but nothing happened. Nothing ever really did at our own shows, which to me signaled that conditions for gay people had improved. We never got picketed or anything like that. 


Wish I'd Taken Pictures album cover


Did you feel a kinship with the lesbian riot grrrl bands, like CWA and Tribe 8? Did you ever play with any of them?

Yes and yes. I loved both of those bands. It's a shame CWA didn't stick around long enough to make an album; they released only two songs, both on compilations, both of which we were on too. I tried tracking them down a few years ago and failed. Even Kill Rock Stars, the label one of the comps was on, had lost touch with them too. We brought CWA down to San Francisco to open for us once at a gay pride weekend show we did in SF, in 1992 I think, and we played with them once in Olympia.

We played with Tribe 8 a bunch of times. The second Pansy Division show in San Francisco—when I didn't really have a band yet and was doing Pansy Division as a solo project for a few months—was opening for them. We both began at the same time. Chris from Pansy Division and Lynn Breedlove from Tribe 8 even knew each other, but didn't know the other one was playing in a queer band until we were on the same bill one night!

I think Tribe 8 were like the Black Flag to our Ramones, or the Rolling Stones to our Beatles. We were confrontational, but friendly. Tribe 8 pushed people's buttons way harder. They were an amazing live act.


You must have heard from a lot of fans who said that Pansy Division changed their lives or gave them courage to be themselves. 

It's one of the most rewarding things about doing this band. I've heard it a lot. People don't recognize me very often, but if I get introduced to people nowadays, I hear a lot of that. We started the band hoping that kids would hear us; it was what we needed to hear when we were teens. The fact that it did get through to people is still very gratifying for us to hear.

On a related note, I ran into Marcus Ewert yesterday; he was a cover model for our Deflowered and Wish I'd Taken Pictures albums. He told me that he didn't get that much feedback from being on our covers back in the '90s. But in the age of the internet, many people have contacted him saying they'd kept our album covers under their beds and would use those pictures as jerk-off material. He loves hearing stories like that, and so do we.

Nowadays, when the subject of our band is introduced, it seems people either love it or hadn't heard of it. It's fairly all or nothing. However, the under 30s are almost uniformly unfamiliar with our band. Word of mouth about us traveled a long way, but it had its limits.