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Too Beautiful 

Wednesday, Feb 10 1999
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Photo by Ed Illades

Ten years ago, when San Francisco’s Pansy Division sent a demo tape to gay-owned, L.A.-based Amoeba Records & Filmworks, its hillbillygoat-gruff owner, Gomorrah Wednesday, huffed that their music was the worst noise he had ever encountered. I remember hearing that early tape and not being too impressed, either, but what a difference a decade of constant touring can make. With a new CD, Absurd Pop Song Romance (Lookout), recorded in Chicago by grumpy noisemeister Steve Albini, the group — which includes Jon Ginoli on guitar and vocals, Chris Freeman on bass and vocals, Patrick Goodwin on guitar and vocals, and Luis Illades on drums — now has a thicker, dusky-riche sound and is bound to rock your highfalutin nelly world, whether you’re ready for it or not. Jon, the band’s official minister of information, though knackered from a grisly European tour, was more than willing to play e-mug with me.

WEEKLY: Hey, you honkytonky biscuit queen, how’s it hanging?

JON GINOLI: Hello, your highness . . . I mean that in more ways than one.

Your band provokes a lot of funky new-wave criticism. Why is that?

Yes, there is a lot of strong opinion about us. People got upset because a lot of our early songs were sex-obsessed. Back then [the early ’90s], it seemed like most gay art revolved around AIDS; that was necessary. We wanted to do something that celebrated gay sexuality — and safe sex — at the height of AIDS pariahdom. But we’ve switched gears and are doing less humorous, sexual stuff, and now people are upset about that. So either way, some people get pissed off!

One of my straight editors is a huge fan, but feels your latest record is too hippy-dippy. What do you say to that?

Good god, what an overreaction!

You’re a hard-working, prolific band.
Where do you see yourself within the homocore
hierarchy?

There’s a queer-punk e-mail list, and I was surprised how often and vociferously we got trashed. It was disappointing. I figured if anyone would like us it would be queers into rock. I think the reason some people attack us is we’re the most visible of the all-queer rock bands, and the expectations that people have for a gay band get put on our shoulders. My response to those who want us to be different is "Start your own band."

Testify, sister! The new CD is interesting to me because of all the Fassbinder bitterness.

Bitter, moi? Fox and His Friends is my favorite Fassbinder film, though. I think our songs about friendship and relationships balance out the more sex-oriented approach of our earlier stuff. We didn’t want to repeat ourselves. We feel like we’ve
written enough pro-sex anthems. People know we’re a gay band. It’s not necessary to be in your face all the time.

I love how you and Chris, as the long-in-the-tooth members of the band, confront your desperation about being P.I. (Past It) on songs like "February 17," "Sweet Insecurity" and "Too Beautiful." It’s very brave.

We’re trying to be honest. You can chart that evolution through our records.

What a grueling tour schedule you keep. Would you agree that your band is as tight as a gymnast’s booty crack?

We’ve always been touring monsters — we wanted to play anywhere we could. From Morgantown, West Virginia, or Sioux Falls, South Dakota, or Moncton, New Bruns wick, we’ve played so many small towns, partly because that’s where we came from and we wanted to go back there, where we wouldn’t be expected to go. It does give you perspective, and it makes me think things I wouldn’t if I was in California all year.

Did Steve Albini fix you his famous vocal tea concoction? It seems like it on the record — your voice is stronger. Wasn’t it wonderful working with Mr. Albini? He can be so deliciously opinionated.

He is incredible; his outspoken reputation obscures the fact that he’s a brilliant engineer — he really knows his stuff. He’s a great guy to have on your side in an argument. He’s very sharp.

The great Albini is a meticulous butch bottom. Are you a sloppy bottom, Jon? You look like one.

Hmm, better recheck that compass of yours!

As a hot femme top, I appreciate the efforts that went into your album. Steve doesn’t exactly believe in sweetening vocals, and he doesn’t need to — the raw aesthetic holds much charm. You know how to work with what you have. It’s that old I-could-go-on-singing-even-if-nobody-wants-to-hear-it approach. Wow! That’s great!

Yeah! I love Jonathan Richman, Lou Reed and Mark E. Smith of the Fall, among other great non-singers.

When are you moving to L.A.? San Francisco is pretty, but so tired, and no one bathes there.

That’s true, but I prefer some natural odeur over West Hollywood cologne.

Did you know that Morrissey just moved to L.A. with his boyfriend? I saw them the other day at Trader Joe’s.

Now there’s a bitter, condescending queen. I’d much rather talk about Pulp or Momus. They are just as fey, but much more interesting. Jarvis Cocker, what a pervert! And Momus is the queerest heterosexual I know of. Far, far more interesting than Morrissey or even Stephen Merritt of Magnetic Fields, Morrissey’s equally bitter equivalent. Oh, and call me when Morrissey comes out. I’ll be collecting Social Security by then.

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