God Is My Co-Pilot

Empty Bottle, December 13

We’re here / We’re queer / We’re gonna fuck your children!” screams God Is My Co-Pilot front woman Sharon Topper on “Queer Disco Anthem.” You bet it’s a sensationalist hook, and it sure is fun to shout–whether or not you mean a word of it. Though the next lines explain “Privacy is a punishment / Privacy is not a reward / Publicity is a human right / Live in the light don’t die by a word,” one wonders how many people not already accustomed to the joys of “difficult” music would listen that far. Because while it is both queer and anthemic, “Queer Disco Anthem” is certainly not disco; in fact it might well empty the dance floor at your average North Halsted club.

The pleasure of GodCo’s music is the pleasure of deliberately swiping outside the lines with a big strap-on-dildo-shaped crayon. It’s a bratty, impolite sort of fun, the kind that crashes atonally and jarringly right into the middle-class adult seriousness that cultural assimilation requires. Assimilation also demands simplification: a mass public that still has trouble moving beyond a tab-A-into-slot-B understanding of sexuality or an exclusively male-adolescent conception of rock ‘n’ roll won’t wade willingly into the weird complexities of what really makes a booty shake. And since assimilation also demands betrayal of those on the fringes–those who more often than not are the originators of cultural eruptions–there remains the problem of what to do with the marginals who are still getting a kick out of being weird.

Since the price of assimilation is an issue that both queer activism and underground rock have been grappling with for a while, the two seem like completely natural bedfellows. Both movements have always had at their core a hearty dose of tricksterism, mocking and mooning artistic and social conventions that, from an outsider’s perspective, really do look pretty silly.

For this reason God Is My Co-Pilot–its three-page discography and John Zorn’s blessing notwithstanding–is proudly, defiantly silly. 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. They mug for the crowd and each other, and flinch at cameras as if they’re not used to such scrutiny.

Don’t get me wrong–this is highly intelligent music, rich and chunky with clever appropriations and fascinating rhythmic lurches and on-a-dime turns and stops. But it’s also highly physical music that rips out of the PA with the force of the finest thrash and the dirtiest funk. At its best, avant-rock, like any other kind, does have the power to make its audience want to sweat and scream and screw, and GodCo’s frenzied subversions tingle in the spine–that messenger full of nerves that connects brain and booty.

Live–at least tonight–GodCo’s sound is closer to traditional punk than it is on record, where all bets are completely off. That isn’t to say it’s at all predictable, though–the conventions stick around just long enough for you to think you’ve got it pegged, and then are blasted away, into David Mecionis’s mutant-jazz drums or Topper’s tinny little keyboard trills, then down into a completely different crunching riff. They do assume some familiarity with the recordings; here the clever lyrics (“I’ve been watching her face when she’s out with you / I’ve been making a list of what you don’t do”) get lost in the murk as beats suddenly switch off and guitars shuffle–only to have a key phrase, like “gonna steal your girlfriend,” emerge from a sudden pocket of silence.

Perhaps that’s why there are relatively few people dancing. When GodCo made its Chicago debut two years ago at a Czar Bar Homocore show, bodies hurtled through the air; tonight, the audience is small and rather stoic. You can always find people willing to stand around with serious expressions appreciating avant-rock–or avant-anything. But to dance to this music is to risk looking silly, since chances are the beat isn’t where you thought it was going to be. It’s a game to find it, and it’s a treasure hunt for the surprises–the beats within beats, the sudden strange beauty of the unexpected.

Which is an apt enough description of art and sex when they’re stripped of ego-protecting thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots. That might be what’s getting lost in the translation–that the heart of experimentation is play, without which we have only the puritanical grimness of formulaic rock, professional sports, and other deadly serious macho proving grounds where the rules–and therefore control–are all.

But good creativity, like good sex, is about an artful balance of control and not-control, a principle God Is My Co-Pilot embodies onstage. They know exactly what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. They’re doing it because the queer liberation movement is about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s not compatible with the hair-shirt postures of the old left’s martyrs, nor with consumerist fostering of desire as commodity. It is compatible with the unself-consciousness of children, who don’t play the games “right”; they play them the way they want to since often enough it’s much more fun to play them “wrong.” There are whole new games waiting to be discovered that way, and every God Is My Co-Pilot song carries a possible new game within its musical antistructure. This is one band that can play doctor with my inner child any day.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by James Crump-RSP.