THE QUEER ISSUE Call it a harmonic convergence of two queer legends of indie rock and queercore. Victor Krummenacher of Camper Van Beethoven and Jon Ginoli of Pansy Division got together recently to talk about the way it was, coming out in the repressed 1980s and coming into their own experientially, politically, and musically in 1990s San Francisco each, as Krummenacher puts it, a "gay guy suddenly in Candyland." Life is still sweet and hella active for these old friends: Krummenacher celebrates Camper’s 25th anniversary with a June 28 show at the Fillmore, and Ginoli is unleashing Pansy Division’s new documentary, Pansy Division: Life in a Gay Rock Band, at Frameline June 26, complete with an afterparty performance at the Eagle. And naturally, this won’t be the last you’ll hear from these prolific players: Pansy Division is working on a new album and Ginoli has a memoir coming next year on SF’s Cleis Press, while Krummenacher is recording as McCabe and Mrs. Miller with the Sippy Cups’ Alison Faith Levy and recently completed a fifth solo full-length. (Kimberly Chun)
JON GINOLI Before I started Pansy Division, I’d been actively trying to find other gay musicians’ records. I’d listen to records, listen for hints, and it just seemed like I was always getting disappointed in that there were musicians I heard about who were supposed to be gay that would flat-out deny it in interviews. I thought, OK, if all these people who I think are lying are not going to come out, or really aren’t … that’s when it finally dawned on me that I should do this band. At the same time I had that idea, so did Tribe 8. It was Tribe 8 and us and Glen Meadmore in Los Angeles. When we started that’s what was going on in queer rock. The only other thing I knew about and I didn’t know about this till I started playing was Fifth Column in Toronto.
There really wasn’t much you could point to, and that’s partly why I wanted to be as out and blunt as I could. Because it seemed like if you were gay and you liked rock ‘n’ roll, it was something you had to hide and it was something that there was some shame attached to.
VICTOR KRUMMENACHER It was an interesting time. From my perspective, we had the [Michael] Stipe rumors and we had the Hüsker Dü rumors. But it was kind of, like, don’t ask, don’t tell. Kid Congo was always out. He was always what he was, which I admired a lot.
JG I remember meeting him in New York, in ’94, ’95, and by that time, I knew he was gay. But I’d been a fan of all bands he’d been in the Gun Club, the Cramps, and the Bad Seeds and I didn’t know he was gay until 10 years after I’d started buying his records.
VK A lot of the reason I was attracted to punk rock was because I knew queer people in it. My friends were gay, and I was coming out, and it was just really easy to deal with because they liked the same music, and it was fun. But it was a hard time, and the ’80s sucked. I’m 43 now, and I deal with people in their 20s who have no clue how much it sucked.
JG Only the highlights have filtered down to them.
VK There was Phranc, and there was some chatter about Morrissey.
JG It’s interesting I was thinking, OK, it’s like a ladder. You’re taking a step at a time to reach a certain place, and I was thinking about the women’s music scene, the lesbian music scene, from the late ’70s. The folk scene.
VK Which seemed a little bit more coherent.
JG But it also seemed more insular, especially when I talk to people from that period. It was about being separate, and the thing about me wanting to do Pansy Division was that I wanted to engage by using rock music. It was kind of like taking the music that’s popular but doing something that people would consider subversive with it.
People were dying, and that’s why even though I was horny and wanted to sing these pro-gay songs we sang about condoms a lot. We had some songs that were cautionary tales. But for somebody who was born in 1987, there’s no way that they could have much of a clue about what we’re talking about, because they just didn’t see the people dying. I moved here in ’89 from Champaign, Illinois, and one of the first things I did was join ACT UP.
VK My experiences with ACT UP and Queer Nation meetings were rowdy good times it was go out and be visible and be noisy and then it got very bureaucratic, which I think was a natural progression.
JG ACT UP ran its course, which was right around the time I had the idea to do Pansy Division. I’m a political person, but I don’t like too much music that’s really didactic and up front about its politics. I didn’t want to make music that people would agree with but wouldn’t really enjoy. I thought this is my way to do cultural activism.
What I wanted to mention was I had a band [the Outnumbered] before Pansy Division that had three albums. They were indie in the ’80s, and at the time, I was out to my band members, I was out to people in Champaign, but I didn’t feel like I could write about being gay in my music because I was trying to represent the band and they were all hetero.
So did you have any bands before Camper?
VK Camper was my first band, when I was 18. It was funny I came out, and my band broke up [in 1990]. It might have had something to do with why I wanted to leave the band at the time, but it had nothing to do with the band breaking up. Basically when I came out, they were like, "And … ?" I don’t think it was any great surprise.
But the interesting thing was as soon as I came out, it was immediate acceptance. Seldom did I run into any problem, which made me wonder, why the hell didn’t I do it sooner, and why the hell didn’t more people do it?
JG It seems to me both Michael Stipe and Bob Mould have made statements about how they didn’t want to come out because they didn’t want to be seen as role models. The problem was to me, well, you’re already role models to people and some of them are gay and some of them are straight.
My own thought about it was, well, if no one is going to come out and be out in music playing the style I like, then I’ll do it. I mean, I had nothing to lose, and I do respect that other people have a lot of pressures, record companies.
VK The truth of the matter is, you guys did a lot of legwork that did ripple up.
JG So now you’re doing Camper, and you’re out, and you’re in a long-term relationship. Were you been able to meet guys at shows, even if you wanted to back then, and now that you’re out, do you have a gay contingent at Camper shows?
VK I wind up with gay contingents usually in the strangest, most unexpected ways. It’s been more than once that I’ve gone home with a guy, and he figures out, "You look familiar." Anonymity can be something you can thrive on. Or I guess, bluntly, it’s nice to fuck around and have people not know who you are because I’ve frequently been hit on because of who I am.
What I’m interested in is, where do you see younger people going?
JG We came along pre-MySpace, pre-Internet, really. It’s so different now. It used to be a guessing game where you’d trade rumors with other gay people about people you heard that were gay. Now Pansy Division has a MySpace page, and I’m getting messages and friend requests from other queer bands all the time and a lot of straight bands, too, that like our music. So I think it’s not that big of a deal anymore unless you’re trying to make it in the mainstream. Then there’s still a wall where you can’t make it unless you’re already successful to some point, or you set out to be. Look at Rufus Wainwright. He’s on a major label, but it was obvious from the outset that he was going to be a cult figure.
VK Especially if he’s going to be doing the Judy Garland things. Not to dig too hard, but I did actually see it the other night [on PBS], and it was, like, "Why did you do that?" In a certain way, ironically, it’s great progress "Oh, yeah, a gay guy doing all of Judy at Carnegie Hall at Carnegie Hall." My mom used to play Judy at Carnegie Hall, and I’ve always loved Judy Garland, but then I was just going, "That’s not Judy Garland. That’s just Rufus Wainwright." I feel like he’s better in his own context.
JG Given that I’ve always chafed against the gay identity that posits show tunes as part of the essential experience, I made myself sit down with the Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall double CD, and, you know, his between-song patter was campy but he didn’t camp those songs up anymore than they already were. But I don’t want to hear anybody singing "The Trolley Song." I really don’t.
PANSY DIVISION: LIFE IN A GAY ROCK BAND
Screening Thurs/26, 7 p.m., $9<\d>$10
2961 16th St., SF
Show begins 10 p.m., $7
398 12th St., SF
CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN
Sat/28, 9 p.m., $25
1805 Geary, SF