If you’ve read my recent posts on Gravitar and Star Pimp, you already know I was a college-radio weenie in the early 90s. Back then I was only dimly aware of the queer activism happening in punk, hardcore, and other forms of underground and avant-garde rock. I mean, I knew that Pansy Division, Team Dresch, Tribe 8, and Fifth Column existed, but did I understand that they were part of a deep-rooted movement? I doubt it. I was a mostly straight kid, still getting educated about all sorts of shit, and the Internet wasn’t around to help me connect the dots.
Today, of course, I work in music journalism. It’s part of my job to be aware of stuff. But to my ears, the current conversation around queer punk is missing something: Almost nobody seems to remember God Is My Co-Pilot.
Led by the bisexual husband-and-wife duo of Sharon Topper (vocals) and Craig Flanagin (guitar), GodCo romped through New York City’s downtown scene in the 90s, collecting and discarding collaborators like a noisy playground game with rules that change every 20 seconds. Their early core lineup included drummers Siobhan Duffy and Michael Evans as well as bassist James Garrison, and all sorts of folks turned up on their recordings or onstage at their gleefully fucked-up shows—among them composer and saxophonist John Zorn, Half Japanese cofounder Jad Fair, free-jazz multi-instrumentalist Anthony Coleman, experimental guitarist Elliott Sharp, and Borbetomagus saxophonist Jim Sauter.
The pedigrees of God Is My Co-Pilot’s collaborators look even more impressive when you consider that the band’s rambunctious, intelligent, omnivorous skronk—it’s been called all sorts of things, but I like “free punk”—ran on chutzpah, wit, and a healthy sense of fun more than on anything traditionally thought of as musicianship. Flanagin picked up the guitar a few weeks before GodCo’s first show in 1990, and Duffy basically learned how to play drums on the job.
In a 1995 interview with Josh Ronsen of Austin zine Monk Mink Pink Punk, Topper explained the qualifications for membership in GodCo: “You don’t have to play an instrument but you have to like to try and to like sounds,” she said. “And you have to be nice to us. Especially me.”
Ronsen’s friend interjected incredulously: “You have people who have no clue how to play instruments but they like sounds and are friendly?”
Topper replied: “Me!”
God Is My Co-Pilot made their Chicago debut in March 1994 as part of a rowdy Homocore concert at Czar Bar, and in December 1996 my irreplaceable colleague Monica Kendrick reviewed a GodCo gig at the Empty Bottle.
Calling the band “proudly, defiantly silly” despite their avant-garde credentials, Kendrick described the scene onstage: “Topper’s grin is the grin of the little girl caught playing with herself in school, the one who refuses to apologize for it and thinks that the adults’ shock is hilarious. Her thrusting of the microphone up and out from her crotch is pure play—‘See, I got a thingy too!’ Toy percussion instruments and toy keyboards appear and vanish. Topper spins her clarinet like a majorette in a homecoming parade and laughs when the mouthpiece goes flying. Hulking guitarist Craig Flanagin reaches over to pluck bassist Daria Klotz’s strings as if they’re playing doctor.”
I got to see GodCo while I was in graduate school in Eugene, Oregon. In fact it might’ve been 20 years ago nearly to the day—it was a Halloween show, and I’m pretty sure it was in 1995. I definitely remember people in costumes grinning and jumping around like maniacs, including a lesbian couple dressed as Village People-style construction workers.
At the end of the set, Topper crouched at the lip of the stage, the better to chat with the happy fans crowding around. “Thank you!” I hollered at her, goofy with adrenaline. “You have no idea how badly I needed this.” (School was kicking my ass that month, but I don’t think I tried to explain that.) She grabbed me by the back of the neck and pulled me up against the monitors. “I’ve been feeling pretty grave,” she said into my ear. “You have no idea how badly I needed this.” We had the same haircut—cropped to less than an inch all over—and we rubbed each other’s heads in solidarity, so that a fine spray of sweat sprang out of our bristly hair.
I can’t find much evidence online of GodCo activity after the 90s, but a not insignificant chunk of their bulging discography is still findable, and helpful copyright rogues have uploaded some of it to YouTube and elsewhere.
The lyrics in my headline come from the song “Queer Disco Anthem.” In the liner notes to the band’s 1996 best-of collection, Topper writes, “Whereas Craig feels legally obligated to disclaim the ‘We’re gonna fuck your children’ line, I sing it as the complete absurdity it is. We all know it’s the straight men who are the child molesters . . . just ask one out of four women.”
This next video includes all 15 songs on side one of the 1992 full-length Speed Yr Trip, an album I’ve loved since it came out. I especially like the lyrics to “Anyone but You,” where Topper sings along to what sounds like nothing but two bumping-and-grinding trap-set drummers: “I wish I were in East Saint Louis / Being beaten and robbed in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart / I wish I were back in high school / Being picked on by assholes in gym / And bored by teachers who resent you because you’re young / Anywhere but here / With anyone but you.”
And make sure to stick around for the bratty, bouncy, clattering version of the traditional French song “C’Etait une Jeune Fille.”
The last number I’ll share is “Caught Looking” from the 1994 Finnish-language GodCo seven-inch ¿Ootko Sä Poika Vai Tyttö? (which loosely translates to “Are You a Boy or a Girl?”). In this clip from May ’95, John Peel plays it on his BBC Radio One show, demonstrating the charming enthusiasm and good taste that made him a friend to so many excellent and underappreciated bands.