by Weston Bingham / 13 December 2008
It’s been 13 years since G.B. Jones began her film The Lollipop Generation, but in celebration of it’s long-awaited completion and first New York City screening, East Village Boys took the opportunity to talk with the legendary matriarch of queercore.
G.B.’s life-as-bricolage legend began in the early ’80s with the band Bunny and the Lakers, and the seminal (no pun intended) all-girl experimental post-punk (there are a lot of labels, but I like that one) band Fifth Column. She co-founded the groundbreaking zine J.D.s (Juvenile Delinquents) with fellow troublemaker Bruce LaBruce, filmed a series of influential underground films with her queercore comrades in Toronto, appeared in a few others, appropriated and then one-upped an icon of homoerotic art, and shook-up and pissed-off more people with her zine Double Bill. She’s been wreaking general havoc, disrupting the would-be assimilators of queer culture, and assaulting the values that have been defining the gay mainstream for years. Decades even.
An interview can’t really do this story justice – it really needs a book. Not that she doesn’t have one, it’s just that the Canadian authorities thought it best to seize and ban it. Anyway, we asked her about all of that, so read and watch on.
Weston Bingham: I really want to ask you about your film, The Lollipop Generation, but it wouldn’t be right to not dig into your history a bit. Your band Fifth Column was a pioneering queercore, riot grrrl, pick your label, band in the ’80s and ’90s. Why do you think girl bands like Fifth Column, The Slits, X-Ray Spex, The Runaways STILL get second billing to the boy bands?
G.B. Jones: That’s an interesting question. I don’t know. Why do you think that happens?
Fifth Column, ‘I LoveYou, But…’
WB: Hmm, that IS interesting… In 1985 you guys released your first album, and you and Bruce LaBruce launched the first issue of J.D.s, arguably the single most important catalyst of queercore culture. What was your agenda with the zine?
GB: To disturb and disrupt. And it did. It woke people up and got them thinking and doing things. That was the idea.
WB: Your music, the magazine, the films, the performances and events, are all-media DIY collaborations. Even your “Tom Girls” drawings collaborated with an unwitting Tom of Finland – and Vivienne Westwood for that matter. Was there a tight-knit community? What was the scene like?
GB: Busy! I was always sitting behind my desk working all the time and just kind of watching all these people getting together with each other or fighting with each other, doing drugs and getting drunk, posing for pictures, going to jail and getting out of jail, playing in bands and working on zines. The thing is that a lot of it happened in my apartment, so I took photos of it and filmed it and put it in a zine. I just did things with people who weren’t scared to hang around with me. A lot of people were scared to be associated with me. Even now, some people still are! I don’t know why.
WB: Did the community emerge out of necessity or by design? Did it really exist pre-J.D.s or was it a self-fulfilling prophecy?
GB: Both. It existed in my apartment and then it spread from there. Really.
WB: What do you see as the state of queercore culture now, after more than 20 years?
GB: Well, I showed The Lollipop Generation in Montreal and they had a big party for the movie afterwards with three queercore bands playing, and it was totally packed, with all these kids dancing, and licking the free lollipops they gave out, and having fun. People show me all these bands on YouTube that say they’re queercore, and I get all these letters from people in Greece and Italy and South Africa and all over the world, so I guess it’s still going on. It’s great, cause they’re taking it over and making it their own.
WB: It seems like queercore culture is manifested primarily in music.
GB: At first it was really mainly zine-based, for at least five years in the late ’80s when it all started, before there were lots of bands. And within those zines there was a lot of writing of all different genres, like fiction, essays, diaristic, journalism and so on, and there was many different kinds of art-making as well, such as drawing, sequential art, collage, etc, and there was a lot of work that would be considered bricolage, which was particularly appropriate for us. There was photography as well, and from the very beginning we were making films. I think much of this practice continued on in the work of people who began by doing zines, so I don’t know if I agree that it’s a movement that manifests itself mostly in music.
It has manifested itself in so many different forms that, say, a lot of the queercore comic artists aren’t known by the musicians. And maybe vice versa. In turn, neither group may be aware of a writer like Steve Abbott (and other writers like him) who was part of the zine scene in the ’80s and wrote the book The Lizard Club, which could definitely be considered a queercore novel. And a lot of people have probably never seen any of my movies. But it’s not the type of movement that depends on a knowledge of all its various permutations to be able to be involved in it, and that’s why it’s still going on.
WB: What keeps it from becoming just another codified gay community?
GB: It’s not a movement that’s been directed by the marketplace, it hasn’t been concocted by marketing managers, sales reps, and advertisers, it’s something that people want to do themselves. That’s why there are so many different kinds of genres of music within queercore. It hasn’t been streamlined for mass consumption. It’s outside of the radar of the type of people who want to cash in on the latest craze, who are looking for the ‘next big thing’, because you know mainstream America is never going to like it. You can’t sell it to the mainstream. It’s always going to be very scary to the average mall-shopper. It’s always going to horrify all the religious people. It’s going to upset parents. And that’s what’s so good about it.
WB: You and Bruce LaBruce co-authored a famous punk manifesto for Maximum Rock ‘n Roll zine in 1985 titled “Don’t Be Gay Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Fuck Punk Up The Ass,” you argued that gay and punk subcultures weren’t doing enough to extend the boundaries of gender and sexual politics. Any progress?
GB: Hmm, no.
WB: Is queer culture even more codified now?
GB: Hmm, yes.
WB: After J.D.s ran it’s course, you started making your own films, and acting in your friend’s films. How does the energy of your music and the spontaneity of your zines manifest itself in film?
GB: It’s all linked together, because my movies document everything that’s going on. They really are like my home movies, so they capture the scene around the band and the zines.
The Troublemakers starred Caroline Azar, Bruce LaBruce and Joe The Ho, and it captures the early years of J.D.s. and everyone else who was in the zine, like Stevie Sinatra, Dave-Id, Cizzy Che, Mean Jean and me. It was filmed in the condemned house were we all lived, and it was really all about our lives at the time, all the things we were doing: shoplifting, making out, piercing, getting arrested, doing our hair, getting out of jail. It was just our life.
Caroline Azar also starred in The Yo-Yo Gang with Leslie Mah, Donna Dresch, Beverly Breckenridge, Jena von Brücker, Tracie Thomas, Mark Freitas, Klaus von Brücker, Deke Nihilson, and many other stars, plus me and Bruce. It was the story of a two girl gangs who are at war. They’re at war with each other, with their gay roommates, and with the rest of the world. Most of the people in the The Yo-Yo Gang were also in J.D.s, but it’s got more to do with the Fifth Column scene and being in a girl band. A lot of the stars of the movie, like Caroline Azar, Beverly Breckenridge, Anita Smith and Donna Dresch, were in Fifth Column. Jena von Brücker took lots of photos of the band, did background vocals on a couple of our songs, and appeared on the cover of our CD, 36-C, which was a still shot taken from the movie. Bruce La Bruce was the band’s go-go boy for awhile, so I typecast him in the film as a go-go dancer, and Klaus von Brücker also danced with us, so he’s in the film too. And every girl in the movie has been in an all-girl band at some point. The Yo-Yo Gang is about girl-gangs, and being in an all-girl band is pretty much the same as being in a girl gang.
The Lollipop Generation documents the period of the zine Double Bill that I co-edited with Jena von Brücker, Caroline Azar, Johnny Noxzema and Rex from 1991 to 2001. Jena and Johnny star in the movie, and Mark Ewert, Jane Danger, Vaginal Davis, Torry Colichio, Scott Treleaven, Anonymous Boy, Gary Fembot and Stevec all contributed to the zine in some form, in one issue or another.The Lollipop Generation is all about the Double Bill years. Give or take a few extra years to finish it.
Really, it would be hard to separate the zine scene and the band scene and the movie scenes from one another. It’s all kind of interconnected, and the movies are the documents of those times. It’s the real scene, on film, on the screen right in front of you.
WB: Ok, on to your first “feature film”, The Lollipop Generation. What’s it about?
GB: It’s the story of Georgie, played by Jena von Brücker, who sadly says goodbye to her little puppy and runs away from a horrible home, only to end up in a strange world on the streets of a big city filled with perverts, pimps and smut peddlers. She soon makes three friends; Peanut (KC Klass), who has been kicked out of home and also forced to live on the street; Janie (Jane Danger), a streetwise girl who models for Lollipop magazine and does movies too; and Rufus (Mark Ewert), who is kidnapped and forced to be in an evil porn director’s (Johnny Noxzema) movie with a six-foot-something drag queen named Beulah Blacktress (Vaginal Davis), before Georgie rescues him. Together they have to try to find their way in the big, bad world.
WB: Why did it take 13 years?
GB: Oh, that’s a long, long, long story. You wouldn’t have room to print all the different episodes of insanity that went into making this movie. So may things happened! There were lots of fights, and producers dropping out of the project, and some of the actors didn’t like their characters, and there were numerous rewrites of the story, and floods and nervous breakdowns and other natural disasters. I wish I had filmed everything to do with making the movie, but it would be all so unbelievable people would think I had made it all up.
WB: What about the aging of the teenage cast over that length of time?
GB: The stars of the movie were so relieved when I finally finished it. They felt a little bit trapped in a kind of perpetual adolescence for the sake of the film. Once it was done, they felt like they could finally grow up.
WB: It doesn’t seem like a linear plan of any kind would work out. How do you maintain a sense of experimentation, spontaneity, urgency and story integrity over that long a period?
GB: If you find out at the last minute that someone is coming to town for a couple of days and you want to put them in your movie, you might only have one day to think of a role for them, rewrite the movie so they can be in it, and then get the cast together and film the scenes. It’s not linear, but it is really urgent and spontaneous and experimental!I think the way I make movies is probably similar to exploitation directors like Doris Wishman and Ray Dennis Steckler and Ed Wood Jr., in that you just have to use whatever you have, whatever you managed to get on film, to get the movie done. I mean, I totally relate to Ed Wood trying to finish Plan 9 after Bela Legosi died in the middle of filming, because one of the stars of my movie left the film when we were halfway finished filming and I had to try to work around that in the same way. The only difference is that those directors had a lot more money to make their films than I do. Their idea back then of what was low budget filmmaking is my idea of heaven.
WB: What sort of film would you make with a proper budget?
GB: I’d make more films, lots more films. I’d film everyday. And every one of the stars in my films would get their own movie to star in.WB: Your favorite format, Super 8, has all but disappeared. Video has come and gone. DIY is now much more hi-tech, and every kid with a computer is making films and publishing blogs and photos. What do you think about this democratization?
GB: I think it’s good. I like all the YouTube stars. I like how they make their own little movies. I do like to use Super 8 though, and I like video a lot, now that I’ve tried it. I really love the discarded, thrown away technologies, all the junk store cameras and ways of making movies that most people don’t care about anymore. But I’m not against trying new technology. I’ll try anything once.
WB: Why exactly was your book G.B. Jones banned in Canada, and where can we get it?
GB: You can see on the Customs form that they’ve typed in “Bondage” as the reason they seized the books. There are only two drawings of people who are in bondage in the book; one is of a police officer, who gets tied up and spanked for giving two girls a ticket for parking their motorcycle in the wrong place, and the other is of a prison guard, who is trying to make it with one of the prisoners, but gets tricked and tied up instead. I wouldn’t want to speculate too much about their thinking at the border, but I suspect it may have something to do with the occupations of the women in bondage, more than the fact that these two women are bound. After all, lots of mainstream pornography gets into the country that’s a lot worse than my drawings.
The book was edited by Steve LaFreniere, and put out by Feature Inc. gallery in New York. I only ever had a few copies of it that Steve smuggled into the country for me, so I don’t have any left. But maybe if you go to the gallery they might still have copies which they would probably give you for free. Someone told me it was selling for $125 on the internet but believe me, I’m not getting the money for it.
WB: Who are you listening to now?
GB: I listen to Mariae Nascenti everyday.
WB: And finally, what does G.B. stand for?
GB: Wouldn’t you like to know? It doesn’t stand for anything, except me. It’s just my name, that’s all.
Portraits of G.B. Jones and Andrew Cecil shot for EVB by Mckenzie James.
All artwork © G. B. Jones and/or credited artists.