In the early '90's, guitarist / songwriter Jon Ginoli noticed there was a lack of openly gay punk and rock bands, so in classic DIY spirit, he decided to start one. Along with bassist Chris Freeman and drummer Jay Paget, Ginoli started Pansy Division, the first openly-gay rock / punk band.
The goal of the band was to produce high quality music that broke down gay stereotypes. The songs, heavily influenced by '60's and '70's pop and punk bands, are short, catchy tunes with in-your-face titles like "Homo Christmas," "Bill and Ted's Homosexual Adventure," "Touch My Joe Camel" and "Smells Like Queer Spirit."
By 1994, Pansy Division were the leaders of an emerging queercore movement, and that year they went on tour with former Lookout! records labelmates, Green Day. In 2009, Pansy Division released its ninth studio album, "So Gay," a live DVD and a vinyl, 7-inch record of Green Day's "Coming Clean."
Also this year, Ginoli published his first book, a memoir about his experiences with Pansy Divison called "Deflowered: My Life in Pansy Division." Ginoli will read from his autobiography and play acoustic Pansy Division songs at the Tool Shed, 2427 N. Murray Ave., on Tuesday, May 26 at 7 p.m. The event is free.
OnMilwaukee.com chatted with Ginoli during a short break from his extensive book tour.
OnMilwaukee.com: So how's the book tour?
Jon Ginoli: I'm in the midst of a 60-stop tour right now and it's going great. I always wanted to quit my job, get in a rental car and drive around the country by myself -- and that's exactly what I'm doing right now. I'm really making the most of the situation.
OMC: Where had you been working prior to the book tour?
JG: I worked at Amoeba Records in San Francisco for 10 years. I was doing Pansy Division full time for most of the '90s and when that slowed down, I started working at Amoeba. It was a great job for me.
OMC: I heard you have Midwestern ties? What are they?
JG: I grew up in Peoria, Ill. and I went to college in Champaign, where I lived until I was 30.
OMC: How did you decide to write a book about your experience in Pansy Division?
JG: I really think Pansy Division has an interesting story. I kept tour diaries throughout the years and when I re-read them, they were entertaining. I decided to write the book when I realized the moment that created bands like us -- from the queer rock movement -- had passed, and a lot of people did not know about this. I decided it was something worth documenting. So the book is about more than just my band, it's about a moment in a time. A movement.
OMC: What was going on in the country when you introduced your band?
JG: It was the height of the AIDS crisis and the age of Jesse Helms. Since then, there has been a lot of progress, and people see it now as an easier time to be out. But then, it wasn't. When we began, we were afraid we couldn’t be an openly gay rock band.
OMC: Did your band experience hate crimes?
JG: No. By the time we got on the road -- we toured with Green Day in 1994 -- we were treated better than we expected. This was an indication to us that times were already starting to change.
OMC: Tell me more about touring with Green Day. How did Green Day fans receive Pansy Division?
JG: It was a really unexpected development and the experience changed things for us -- and for queer rock -- so much. It was great. We were on the same label as Green Day before they were signed by Warner Brothers, and they handled early stardom by staying true to the bands who were on their old label, Lookout! Records.
We received a mixed reaction from fans, but we got the topic out there and reached a lot of people -- particularly teenagers. We got letters from teens all over the country -- some of whom were gay and some who were just very gay supportive -- and it made us realize we had a lot more influence that we thought we would.
OMC: Is the "queercore" label limiting?
JG: The label "queercore" is sometimes limiting because the word "core" usually means "hardcore" and we're more melodic, not hardcore. But we prefer "queer rock."
OMC: How is your book different from other band books out there?
JG: "Deflowered" is a more detailed account of what life was really like. I tried to put out there what went on behind the scenes and not give a superficial view of things. The book is an intersection of so many diffferent subjects, like where punk met the mainstream and where gay met the mainstream -- both in the '90's. It pulls in interest from a lot of different areas.
OMC: Your lyrics are mostly about being gay, and often times meant to be humorous. What else can you tell me about your intentions behind your lyrics?
JG: We sing about being gay and we're very blunt and unapologetic. We talk about gay issues in unapologetic terms, but also in a way that's humorous at the same time. We're saying, "I'm going to go ahead and live my life and you can't stop me or put me down. I'll be as blunt and as uninhibited and as happy as I want to be."
OMC: Are there more gay punk rockers in the scene now?
JG: Yes. There's a lot of stuff going on underground that you’re not going to hear about.
OMC: Was Pansy Division more about the music or about being a vehicle to raise LGBT awareness?
JG: Both. I’m a musician and I had the idea to combine my two interests, because for me, you can't separate these things anymore. However, we are a good band musically. Obviously, this was important because if the music wasn't good, we wouldn't have lasted.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.