Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

Suddenly this week, the center of the political universe seems to have shifted in a northeasternly direction. First the Junior Senator from the Great State of Massachusetts, John Kerry, seemingly locks up the presidential nomination, having swept 12 of the 14 states which have cast votes. And now Massachusetts is on track to becoming the first state to legally sanction gay marriage.

Having previously ruled that under the state constitution same-sex couples could not be denied "the opportunity to obtain the benefits, protections, rights and responsibilities afforded to opposite sex couples by the marriage laws of the commonwealth", the Massachusetts Supreme Court was asked by the state Senate whether these could be provided short of actual marriage by instituting "civil unions" for same-sex couples. The court ruled on February 3 that this too was unconstitutional, as, "it continues to relegate same-sex couples to a different status."

This could prove to be a major stumbling block to John Kerry's presidential hopes. As it stands without the ruling, a major plank of the Republican strategy will be to tar Kerry with the label "Massachusetts liberal." These two words carry dire connotations to the conservative electorate. The Bay State has given us Ted Kennedy, the most prominent liberal voice in Congress; and then there's Michael Dukakis. The "Massachusetts liberal" accusation was successful in helping to end Dukakis' presidential aspirations against George H. W. Bush in 1988. John Kerry was Dukakis' Lieutenant Governor for two years, a fact that won't be lost on Republican strategists (expect to start seeing those tank photos again). The fact that this can now be equated with same-sex marriage will surely be a boon to the Republican base. Add the fact that July's Democratic National Convention is slated to be held in Boston, and gay marriage obviously becomes a major issue in the election.

John Kerry has stated that he is in favor of civil unions but opposed to gay marriage, and that he disagrees with the court's decision. Kerry is striking a delicate balance by carefully distinguishing between the two terms. He hopes to both placate the gay community and quell the fears of more conservative independent voters.

In the liner notes to The Best of God Is My Co-Pilot, the band's co-founder, Craig Flanagin, writes:

"Like so many queers who voted for Clinton, I felt totally betrayed by the outcome of the debate about gays in the military. "Don't Ask – Don't Tell": What the fuck is that? The right to hide? We've had that in this country for 50 years…Queers aren't going to line up and say "Thank you for letting us own property, and vote, and marry, and serve in the military like 'normal' people…We're going to live our lives without permission from anyone."

I have to assume that Flanagin is feeling a touch of deja vu this election season.

Sexual politics was always at the center of God Is My Co-Pilot's repertoire. The New York-based skronk-no wave-hardcore-folk-world-dance-jazz-punk collective has possibly the most sex-on-the-brain catalog (and a prolific catalog it is) in the music biz. And both halves of that equation, the brain as well as the sex, are key to GodCo's approach. The lyrics veer from the didactic to the playful and despite my hetero male ears, Sharon Topper's sing-snarl odes to her lesbian paramours are among the closest approximations to real sex on record. No Britney-style trumped-up Penthouse Letters fantasy here. Topper's voice and lyrics convey the simultaneously aggressive and innocent nature of joyful sex in much the same way as did Elvis' instinctive hip-swinging.

As evidenced by my heavily-hyphenated description above, GodCo's music is a multi-culti blend of influences thrown together in a noisy blend of DIY punk attitude and stop-start free-jazz improvisation. Flanagin had never picked up a guitar before he decided to form the band, and he doesn't so much play as attack the thing, evoking scrapes and squeals and percussive bursts that serve as the combustion engine beneath Topper's nursery-rhyme delivery. These two are the core of the band, and the only two constants. The remaining members are drawn from a recurring cast of characters and guest stars. There are usually two drummers which form a sort of percussion ensemble with Flanagin's guitar and leave the bass to carry whatever melodic burden they deign to bear.

GodCo posit themselves as modern primitives; their 1992 "CD Speed Yr Trip" includes a quote from Bela Bartok on Hungarian folk music:

"A genuine peasant melody of our land is a musical example of a perfected art—a musical thought in its most concise expression… It is true that this fierce terseness, and the unfamiliar mode of these melodies, result in their not appealing to the average music lover."

This could serve as GodCo's manifesto, as they not only incorporate folk music of other cultures, but create a genuine peasant melody of their own land. The band has culled lyrics and melodies from nursery rhymes, sea chanties, and bubblegum pop; in 1994 they released "Mir Shlufn Nisht," a collection of traditional Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, Finnish, Swedish and Gaelic folk songs. In these songs, in languages unknown to the majority of their audience, the politics is set aside and Topper's vocals are abstracted into another instrument in the ensemble.

Language is also abstracted, of course, in the political debate, though for opposite reasons. The dispute in the gay marriage issue seems to be shifting from whether same-sex couples will be granted these rights to what they will be called. This is not universally true; at almost the same time that the Massachusetts court announced its decision, the Ohio General Assembly passed a bill barring gay marriage and the granting of equivalent rights or benefits to same-sex couples.

But the Federal Marriage Amendment that President Bush has hinted he will support would define 'marriage' as the union of one man and one woman but would not prohibit states from granting 'civil unions'. The Defense of Marriage Act, signed by President Clinton in 1996, codified the same definition of 'marriage'. DOMA also allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex unions from other states. As soon as states like Massachusetts begin to legalize gay marriage, however, the constitutionality of DOMA will begin to be called into question, which is why conservatives feel the need for the amendment. The question remains whether even George W. Bush wants to preside over the first amendment aimed at restricting civil rights rather than expanding them. This, of course, all in the name of protecting "traditional values." Like 55-hour Vegas pop star marriages. And of course the wedded bliss of GodCo's Sharon Topper and Craig Flanagin, who are married to one
another while vocally outing themselves on record. Viva tradition!

The dissent in the Massachusetts court case avers that there is no reason why two equivalent institutions must bear the same name. The majority argues, "The history of our nation has demonstrated that separate is seldom, if ever, equal." In themselves loaded words, linking this dispute directly to earlier civil rights issues. The language of this debate will become even more contextualized and abstracted as the race progresses. So vote on the issues, not on the words; then throw on a God Is My Co-Pilot record and remind yourself that words have meaning.

Hooray for Imaginary Shaun! He's our political correspondent for "Election 2004" and we're extremely pleased that he'll be checking in every week or so to reflect on recent events in the political campaigns.

Three wholeheartedly supports this report but opinions expressed are the author's and do not necessarily reflect opinions or policies of the girls {although, as igLiz says, "It doesn't necessarily not reflect our opinions…}"