OK Then

Why Pansy Division still matters -- and not just to suburban kids

I wish I could say that those of you who missed out on Pansy Division's recent shows should be kicking yourselves right now, but sadly, I can't. While the aforementioned SF Weekly story reported, in addition to a comeback, a change in musical direction, that change turned out to be barely noticeable. The songs are still anthemic to the point of being cheeky; you can see the choruses coming from a mile away. And although, as promised, some of the lyrics deal with more universal themes and are, in their own ways, subtle (like Elton John's "Daniel"), there are still tunes like "He Whipped My Ass in Tennis ...," whose chorus proclaims, "He whipped my ass in tennis/ So I fucked his ass in bed." This kind of gaudy confession isn't necessarily a bad thing -- if you liked Pansy Division before, you'll probably still like the group now. It's just that, as Freeman notes, songs like these are no longer all that shocking.

"The climate now is very different than when we started out," says the bassist. "We've got all these gay movies and gay characters and blah, blah, blah, which we didn't have when we started. [Back then], it was like, 'We're alone out here.' Now we've got seven albums under our belt and 12 years. So I think we've proven the point wrong that you can't have a career and be out of the closet. That was what we were always told at the beginning. But as we went along, the themes of our songs had to change because we couldn't just keep rewriting the same song over and over again."

In my opinion, though, those themes haven't really evolved, which on second thought may not be so bad. Because what I find myself wondering is, did Pansy Division, its explicit lyrics, and its followers in the queercore movement really change things? Or did sending up gay issues in a crass and humorous, not to mention catchy, manner merely make suburbanites like myself feel a little more comfortable with those issues, so that now I can watch Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and think, "Oh, how cute and funny," while at the same time there are recent polls which reflect that the percentage of people in this country who oppose gay marriage is on the rise. Perhaps, then, it's no coincidence that Pansy Division is mounting a comeback during an economic downturn, in a time when another Bush is fighting off the Democrats, the policy of gays in the military remains "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and we're back in Iraq. The band's message may not be as fashionable or as punk rock as it once was, but it's just as relevant.

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