Boys' Band

Pansy Division's all-gay punk was a shocking first. Will fans let the group escape its pioneering role and just make music?

"His critique of gay culture resonates with me; the soullessness and shallowness of it," Ginoli says, looking up from the magazine. "We could write a bunch of songs about being bitter and being marketed to death. I don't know what we're going to end up with, except the songs will probably be of a more personal nature. We want to be as open and honest as we were when we started out; we just don't want to let our past become our straitjacket."

Having already been accepted, what can Pansy Division sing about that's not merely an echo of newer, fresher gay acts? Plenty, Ginoli argues, such as each member's unique life experience.

Pansy Division's label is supportive of whatever its history-making band chooses to do. "We have a family vibe here, and they are old family," says Lookout!'s general manager, Molly Neuman. But she is also a realist.

"It is possible that Jon Ginoli alone could identify himself less with gay issues and more with personal issues, but Pansy Division as a group will have a much harder time. That's how they started and why they started, so it will never be possible for them to not be known as a gay band," Neuman says. "Hopefully they can do something fabulous. They don't want to be the Village People; I hear that."

Goodwin describes the band's dilemma as a Catch-22. "Our history and name can simultaneously detract [from] and elevate how people think about us," he says. "It's a love-hate relationship, and it can be a complete drag."

Consider Pansy Division's recent gig at the Paradise Lounge. The crowd came for the band's reputation, but left with mixed reviews. "Their sit-down-and-be-serious performance does them dirty. I was thinking how much they resembled a lesbian folk band. It wasn't working for me, or them," says Alvin Mangosing, 22, a fan since he was 15. "Pansy Division is all about chuckling, pointing fingers, singing along, and laughing while you pogo on the dance floor. I wasn't feeling the serious songs. I guess that's just stuff guys my age won't be thinking of for a while. Maybe I'll have to start a Pansy Division cover band to keep the classic songs alive."

Pansy Division's older fans better understand what the group is trying to accomplish, but they're still not inclined to embrace the new style over the one they know and love. "Bands do need to evolve, but with Absurd Pop it was too much of a shocking jump from one style to another," says Steven Foster, 36, a devotee from a decade ago. "I like songs from the early albums the best; that's what I came to hear."

British musician Tom Robinson, the first soloist to write gay-themed songs, doesn't think Pansy Division can ever free itself from audience expectations. But to him, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

"I have a theory that every band fortunate enough to write songs that become a soundtrack for other people's lives ceases in time to own those songs. They have a responsibility to act as caretakers for that heritage," Robinson says. He argues that a band can pay respect to the romantic dreams and fantasies an audience attaches to its earlier work without betraying its quest to create new art. His only caveat: "All the new songs have to be is good."

Of course, the members of Pansy Division have no idea if anyone will like what they produce between now and next spring, but the band is paying more attention to the quality of its songs than ever before. The quartet has already thrown out enough new songs to fill an entire album. "We're trying to keep only the really good songs, and not sabotage them to sound quirky, or use smoke and mirrors to cover up a bad one," Goodwin says. "We're doing a lot more editing."

Freeman also promises to follow Robinson's advice. "We're not trying to dump our past. We'll still do our old songs. We understand people love that," he says. "But we can't keep writing new songs about chasing "boys' anymore. We are 40. We don't want to have to call NAMBLA."

For Pansy Division fans who might have a hard time warming up to the band's new direction, Freeman's joking becomes a plea. "We're used to being labeled a carnival act and a novelty band, so call us that if you must," he says. "Just don't dismiss us."

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