February 19, 2018
Released On February 13, 1996
Released By Lookout! Records
If any of you (fellow OYR contributors, or OYR readers) have ever wondered about my process to selecting an album for Off Your Radar, let me give you a little insight on how I decided upon Wish I’d Taken Pictures: when I was making my Off Your Radar selection, I already knew I was going to select a Pansy Division album, but I was torn between four albums: Absurd Pop Song Romance (which is, as far as I know, often cited as their best album), That’s So Gay (which re-ignited my interest in the band a few years back), The Essential Pansy Division (my first run-in with the band’s music), and Wish I’d Taken Pictures (which I had only listened to for the first time this past winter). I quickly realized that I enjoy the first half of That’s So Gay, but I don’t listen to second side nearly as often, and I eliminated The Essential because, while it’s a terrific introduction to the band (in addition to gathering 31 tracks from every one of the band’s studio and compilation LPs up to 2006, it also boasts some very extensive liner notes by guitarist/vocalist Jon Ginoli), it lacks the cohesiveness of a studio LP. For whatever reason, that bugged me (I think it comes from the same place that prevents people from including greatest hits or live albums as their Album Of The Year every December).
That left me with two choices: the fan favorite Absurd Pop Song Romance and the only album of theirs that I had deliberately skipped when I started to branch out into their discography: Wish I’d Taken Pictures. It seemed obvious. As I went to submit Absurd Pop Song Romance, I was thinking about how the album straying from Pansy Division’s signature playful pop punk makes it the stand-out album of their early discography and then it occurred to me: I just like Wish I’d Taken Pictures more. My first listen of the album just so happened to coincide with a fairly deep emotional wound — but if there’s a better way to deal with that sort of pain than with music, I sure don’t know of it. Wish I’d Taken Pictures became my go-to listen and I’ve enjoyed every second of it.
Absurd Pop Song Romance might get all the glory of being known as the album when Pansy Division branched out into serious song-writing, but I believe that’s a disservice to Wish I’d Taken Pictures. Upon first listen, it might not seem like an album that starts off with a song about feeling horny in the morning (aptly titled “Horny in the Morning”) would ever make for a cathartic break-up album. And you’d be right to think that. “Vanilla” has some clever lyrics for sure (“you’re liberal, but fantasize right-wing” makes me smirk every time), and “Dick Of Death” is a classic Pansy Division banger, but both also hardly feel like they would be comforting in times of heartbreak. But consider the album’s middle: “I Really Wanted You” is a tune about a former flame settling down with someone else. “The Summer You Let Your Hair Grow Out” recalls a rejection from a close friend and co-worker. “Don’t Be So Sure” details the feeling of being used by someone who enjoys the attention but doesn’t feel the same way. Even the title track hits me hard: I, too, wish I had taken pictures of my brief, yet intense, relationship.
“The Ache” is particularly gut-wrenching as it examines a long-term relationship that is only long-term because of the safety it provides. Whereas the other tracks I’ve mentioned were there to cover fresh wounds, this song gets me to thinking about the seven-and-a-half year relationship that I was in until last summer. I don’t mean to imply that it was a loveless relationship, because it wasn’t, but listening to this song made me realize that I’m glad it ended or else it could have become the very relationship described in the song. It’s a somber, slow, and softly sung tune, and it would make for a fitting ballad-esque ending to the album. Fortunately, it doesn’t take the cliched route, and instead ends with a 1-2 punch of songs about a guy who is unable to pee when other people are nearby, and the regrettable options left at a bar after last call. After the rough emotional tumble that makes up a majority of the album, it’s a welcome change of pace, and thematically it completes the journey that started with waking up horny.
I feel like it would be irresponsible of me to not at least acknowledge the queer aspects of this album. It’s highly likely that one of the major reasons that Pansy Division never achieved widespread recognition, even after being selected as the opening act for Green Day’s Dookie national tour in 1994, is because they’re… well, gay. Major labels wouldn’t have wanted to touch the band that wrote a song like “Touch My Joe Camel,” and even if they had, there’s no way that they wouldn’t have interfered to make the songs friendlier to hetero crowds. A song like “Dick Of Death” wouldn’t stand a chance as a single even today, but considering that Wish I’d Taken Pictures came out in the same era as the Clueless, American Pie, Empire Records, and 10 Things I Hate About You soundtracks, “The Summer You Let Your Hair Grow Out” could have at least been a minor hit. (For the record, I’m fully aware that Pansy Division was on the Angus soundtrack).
Regardless, Wish I’d Taken Pictures is still a hit with me. I may not have gotten any pictures during my last fling, but I did form a personal connection with this album. I know that I haven’t been a fan of it for long, but whenever I find myself recommending a good entry point into Pansy Division’s discography I can safely say that it will always be this one.
Pop punk provocateurs. Queercore royalty. Melodic masters.
Life is transitory in a zillion different ways — so many that it may be more interesting to think about the ways in which it’s not transitory. What’s permanent? What outlasts us? These are questions that are hard to escape when you have small children, who grow up too fast and seem like new people every morning, as if nights were weeks and weeks were years. And while it’s fashionable to decry the omnipresence of photography these days, pictures do help you take stock and wrap your brain around the changes you’re going through. I love that Pansy Division named their 1996 album after “Wish I’d Taken Pictures,” a tune that laments how the faces (and butts) of past lovers fade without a photographic record, because the song itself serves a similar function, with quick nutshell encapsulations of the rise and fall of relationships. Each verse is like a snapshot, which got me thinking about how every song ever written is a type of photograph. It’s no coincidence that collections of both are called albums; they compile crystallized moments that came and went but weren’t allowed to pass without being noted. Bookmarked. Elevated. Love comes and goes throughout Wish I’d Taken Pictures, from the fatalism of “Expiration Date” to the disappointment that defines “I Really Wanted You” and “The Summer You Let Your Hair Grow Out,” but Jon Ginoli marches on, chronicling the ups and downs in songs that often sound upbeat when the lyrics are anything but. At the risk of sounding like a Taylor Swift apologist, maybe there’s a degree of comfort in knowing that if things go wrong, the creative process is waiting, to help you take stock, wrap your brain around the changes you’re going through, and then move on. Maybe even in a major key.
I’m not unfamiliar with Pansy Division — I checked them out when they were first hitting the scene back in the early ’90s. I was in high school and starting to realize that I was queer, so for me the idea of a punk band who were openly, unapologetically queer had a strong appeal. However, two factors kept me from ever getting as stoked on Pansy Division as I wanted to be. For one thing, their lyrics were really blatant, and often focused on graphic details of gay sex. I totally got why they were doing that — and I agreed with their implication that the uber-hetero punk world needed to be shocked out of their implicit homophobia. This sort of shock value was certainly one way to do it, but as a lesbian myself, I couldn’t relate but so much to the stuff about being a gay dude. What’s more, once I heard the songs a time or two, the novelty kind of wore off. It wasn’t shocking anymore; now it was just kind of crude. And then we run into the other thing that held me back from really loving Pansy Division back then: their clean, jangly poppiness. After being introduced to them through the world of Lookout! Records and the whole California pop-punk scene of the early ’90s, I was really hoping for them to have a bit more of a crunch to their sound. But they were more power-pop than pop-punk, and while I could respect that rationally, I just wasn’t feeling it on a visceral level. Nearly a quarter-century later, I’m introduced to the third Pansy Division LP, Wish I’d Taken Pictures, and find both of my initial issues with the band fading away. For one thing, by this point in their career, they’d burned through most of the “hey, we’re gay! Isn’t our sex life shocking?” approach they’d started with. It’s still here, don’t get me wrong (look no further than opener “Horny In The Morning” for evidence) — but there are a lot more songs that relate to the honest day-to-day details of being queer, like having a crush on one of your straight friends and being kinda sad that they’re getting married (“I Really Wanted You“), or meeting dudes who are really attractive but turn out to be jerks, over and over (“Wish I’d Taken Pictures“). These songs are still blatantly queer, even if only because they’re a man singing about other men, but most of the time, they get beyond novelty and shock value to reach real sincerity and relatability. Meanwhile, maybe it’s just that I’m older, or maybe that it’s been aware of Pansy Division for a long time and knew what to expect when I put this on. Hell, maybe it’s just that they got better by their third album than they were on their earlier EPs. Either way, I find myself really getting into these catchy, jangly, poppy-but-not-really-punky tunes. There’s a lot of creativity built into these riffs, from the country-style swing of “Don’t Be So Sure” to the Everly-ish vocal harmonies on “The Summer You Let Your Hair Grow Out.” I figured this would be an album that I more respected than actively liked, but I’m finding that I’m wrong — this is actually really good. Which is a nice thing to realize. I’m glad I can finally be as stoked about Pansy Division as I wanted to be back when I was 16.
Picture this: A lovely youngish woman and her handsome bearded husband driving around in a tiny car running errands and listening to Pansy Division’s 1996 record, Wish I’d Taken Pictures. Melissa: “I don’t know, I don’t want to listen to anyone singing about their boners.” PJ: “Change it to farts, and this band is Blink 182.” Melissa: “…” Is Pansy Division challenging some sort of status quo by writing a song that starts “Woke up with a morning woody / Could not keep my hands off my goodies”? Absolutely! But I still don’t want to hear about boners. I am more interested at how singer-songwriter Jon Ginogli and the rest of the band challenge the way gay men in particular are portrayed as being obsessed with sex by both confronting it and making a case for romantic love. “I Really Wanted You,” for instance, tells the story of a potential love interest who married a woman instead of exploring a relationship with Ginogli. He sings, “Your suntanned body stretched out on the carpet in front of me / I know as long as live I’ll never lose that memory.” It uses sexual imagery to portray desire, which is initially jarring, because we are not used to men being sung about in that way—only women. I like to think “The Summer You Let Your Hair Grow Out” is the Call Me By Your Name of Pansy Divisions songs: even though the characters meet working at the mall instead of at a mansion in Italy, the themes of friendship and longing are present in both works. “Kevin” is a hilarious examination of a never-attached man who refuses to admit he’s gay. It’s easy to get lost in the bigger issues that Pansy Division are trying to call attention to, but the songs are slices of mid-’90s Lookout! Records pop punk goodness. “This Is Your Life” sounds like some of Mike Mills’ jangliest R.E.M. songs while “Dick Of Death” makes me want to fling my arms around and dance. There is so much to unpack and analyze in this record, and I wish I had the time and space to do so, but this just seems like a really good time to revisit the work of this classic queercore band and see how things have changed (or totally fucking not because it seems like we’re moving backwards). Oh, and did I desperately want to relate something on this record to Call Me By Your Name so I could mention it before I leave OYR? Fuck yes, and I would do it again.
Melissa Koch (@bunnycaper)
Mediocre Runner, Aspiring Celebrity DJ
Couched in my feed next to a rash of articles laughing about the millennial effect, one previous generations created with participation trophies and smart phones, rang out the voice of Emma Gonzalez. A survivor from the shooting in Parkland, Florida, this week, she spoke up the mainstream party line, against the official White House response to what happened. Listening to her words and Wish I’d Taken Pictures this week, I couldn’t help but see the connective thread between her voice in this tragedy and voices in music that are spoken against the strength of repressive, restrictive majority thought. Since the hip gyrations of Elvis gave a musical credence to the tingling felt in the youth of America’s pants, the ultra-conservative mouthpiece of American politics has discounted those voices as if they were a passing minority. In this week’s album, as irreverent and fun as Wish I’d Taken Pictures is, there’s a reverberation of the same refusal to be silent. Simple arrangements with a drummer hitting pretty hard, guitar pushing out fun if repetitive melodies, act as a platform for thoughts on waking up alone with morning wood, for seeing a girlfriend flirt with another dude and wishing she’d bring that guy over so all three could have some fun. In a message that could not be clearer, in “This Is Your Life” the band underscores the division between their lives and the majority with the addition “not mine” sung in chorus. Without a trace of guile or apology, Pansy Division delivers an album rife with subversive ideas, even for 1996. Here is an undeniable by-product of those ultra conservative ideologies that are often aligned with youth and are, in some way, also discounted because of that alignment. Just like self-righteous moralism angered people enough to spawn punk rock in the first place, with bands like Pansy Division who sing about morning wood and threesomes and fucking with a defiant chin in the air, so to does this calculated refusal to address these massacres spawn voices like Gonzalez’s, and I can’t wait for the day when it’s so loud they can’t help but listen.
Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite
Offering a great deal of visual levity to an understated unrequited love story.
Do you know why boxing is such a great sport? It’s literal. There’s no ball or javelin or discus to represent the will and power of the athlete. It’s literally a fight between two athletes to determine who is the fastest, strongest, and well-quipped to handle combat. Pansy Division’s songwriting is much the same way, and they land haymaker after haymaker on Wish I’d Taken Pictures. Light on the metaphors, heavy on the details, jams like “Vanilla” and “Pee Shy” leave us with absolutely no guess work as to the subject matter and how the band feels about it. I, for one, had been waiting for a pee shyness anthem, and little did I know it’s been around for over twenty years. Thank you, Pansy Division! I swear, Trojan or Durex or Lifestyles need to license “Expiration Date” for their next ad campaign — the record immediately made me run to my night stand for a brief inventory. Thank you, Pansy Division! And sure, “Sidewalk Sale” features the metaphor of a sidewalk sale for less than desirable options for potential post-bar hook-ups, but the presentation remains transparent to illuminate the hilarity and creativity of the concept. They wish they’d taken pictures, but the lyrics throughout are so descriptive and matter-of-fact that we can easily picture everything in our own minds, for better or worse.
Learning that Pansy Division is an openly gay and well celebrated queer band from all the way back in the dawn of the 1990s (and well before the surge of the LBGTQ+ community) put a smile on my face, even before kicking off that first track. Sometimes the reminder of lengthier historical context really puts present day statements, whether political, social, and-or artistic, into perspective and gives current strides more impactful meaning. I’d just like to take this initial moment to acknowledge and appreciate Pansy Division’s impact for LGBTQ+ people. Following that, this very spunky and punky record is one heck of a trip. Similar to last week’s 100th celebratory issue, going back 22 years for this week leads to quite the reminder of what music used to be like pre-excessive compression, which was just about to really take off after 1996. Knowing this now, it makes revisiting work from the precipice of this shift in music production history all the more fascinating. Furthermore, once Wish I’d Taken Pictures is underway and listeners see genre affiliations with punk and alternative rock song form, what comes through the audio only gets more intriguing. With influences like Bad Religion, The Ramones, The Buzzcocks, and Descendents, one might expect a certain direction of punk sound — particularly being reminded that compression, excessive digital enhancement, and obsessive sonic cleanliness were not priorities yet. However, right from the bluntly titled “Horny In The Morning” and on many of the tracks throughout the album, Jon Ginoli’s lead vocal comes across extremely… clear? That’s not to say punk music has to be lo-fi-or deliberately shoddy quality to “be punk.” Rather, what’s surprising is the fact that the vocals are so clear, they sound entirely separate from the rest of the music — like Ginoli sung them totally isolated, in a proper booth, and had his take mixed with the rest of the band. There are exceptions of course, like “Kevin,” which sounds much more like what I anticipated: natural vocals, seemingly recorded live or at least with less sonic separation from the rest of the music, and a given ambient space to make Ginoli sound together with everyone else. Much earlier track “Expiration Date” stands out as well, with heavy distortion and frequency filtering on the vocal, for a buzzy, ratty, scratchy sound that matches the more classic punk stripe (not to mention that it establishes a cool contrast with the band instrumentals — especially the drums — that sound mic’ed from a slight distance and thus have an expansive sound quality.) The melodies are catchy, the songs are punk-style short, and the inclusion of a fair amount of acoustically-driven arrangements that manage to cross the border between faster and slower tempos (“The Summer You Let Your Hair Grow Out” vs. “The Ache” respectively), are noteworthy choices that were obviously successfully executed not to appear haphazardly tacked to each other. Wish I’d Taken Pictures doesn’t fight with its musical variances. The more demure side of its sound isn’t unheard of against other alternative bands of the decade that liked to jump between amp cables and unplugged strums. If anything, the album carries a smorgasbord of emotional sides well and the only expectantly punk thing about it is that the record’s lyrical content (“I’ll do you sexual favors / But I’m not into those sexual flavors”) might just not be for those under a certain age.
Simply put — this was a very enjoyable album. I think the thing that astounds me most is how, in the interceding 22 years since its release, the content has become far less shocking. At least in my personal estimation. It’s actually a little embarrassing that in 1996 you could be subversive and punk rock simply by talking about homosexual relationships in the same way as other bands would talk about heterosexual relationships. I’m happy that the content feels more normalized because it leads me towards the hope that society is progressing and growing despite lots of evidence to the contrary. So the “shocking” part of it kind of falls away and what we’re left with is an excellent record of what it was like to be a gay punk rocker looking for love and sex in the mid-’90s. My favorite line comes from the title track and it was what sealed the deal on this album for me: “Met up with a new guy / With alabaster skin / Turned out to be an alabastard / Broke it off with him”. The unflinching creation and use of the word “alabastard” is right up my alley and would put anyone onto my “must hear more” list. And I’m happy to report that everything else I heard on the album was just as rewarding as that line promised.
It’s all supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, I get that. The song titles, the LOL-worthy lyrics, the album cover — hell, even the band’s name — is all one big piss-take on pop punk. And it’s a superb one, for sure. I can appreciate smart satire. But since we’re talking about a really real album (and not, say, Fred Armisen and Bill Hader’s Test Pattern), none of it would matter if the songs themselves weren’t there to back it all up. Thankfully, Wish I’d Take Pictures is full of hook-y melodies and strong choruses that impressively plant a flag in your brain after a single listen. It helps, of course, that Jon Ginoli knows that overstaying one’s welcome, especially in humor, will ruin the joke. Thankfully, PD rattles off 14 songs in a half hour and change, with many of the tracks getting, ahem, in and out in under three minutes. A large part of great songwriting is knowing when to play to your strengths, something that Ginoli clearly gets. But even if pop punk — or Pansy Division’s brand of it — isn’t for you, you can still enjoy the lyrics by themselves. Seriously, how can you hear, “Met up with a new guy / With alabaster skin / Turned out to be an alabastard / Broke it off with him” and keep a straight face, or not be genuinely touched by, “His shirt was open and I saw his chest / A salt-and-pepper, soft and furry mess / You know how that turns me on”? Wish I’d Taken Pictures? More like Wish I’d Written This.
A punk trio as skilled with crude humor as they are with genuine emotion.
In this day and age, when the varieties of LGBTQ identity are taken for granted (at least in my East Coast Elite bubble), it’s hard to reconnect with how radical Pansy Division was in the ’90s. But radical they were, providing a perfect pop-punk soundtrack for the rising Queer Nation movement, with its slogans like “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it,” and “Two-four-six-eight how do you know your kids are straight?” And if they were more politically revolutionary than musically innovative, that was also kind of the point, making an explicit (in all senses of the word) statement that gay culture could include straight-up punk-influenced rock music. I don’t remember what their first two albums sounded like, but by the time of Wish I’d Taken Pictures, they were a polished and professional band, with plenty of well-honed hooks and equally sharp humor. Because of my own predilections, I’m most drawn by the songs that don’t quite fit the formula, like “Expiration Date,” with it’s bluesy, snake-charming bass line and distorted vocals, or “The Ache,” sweetly sad with a nice cello part to break up the prosaic guitars that dominate the album. It would be easy for me (straight, married for 29 years) to say that Pansy Division served their purpose and are no longer necessary, but there’s always someone isolated and ostracized, perhaps a “queer” teen in middle America, still finding themselves, seeking validation and recognition. I hope they discover Pansy Division — it might just be the life-preserver they need in their darkest moment.
Ah, 1996. While I was literally crying in my crib, queercore legends Pansy Division were at it again with their third studio album release Wish I’d Taken Pictures. The album fully encapsulates all the best qualities of the ’90s punk scene and more. What makes Pansy Division special from its punk contemporaries is that their lyrics and members were out and proud at a time where it was notably more difficult to be. Now, this may not be the case for some people, especially if you’ve just happened to listen to one of their more humorous songs like “Dick Of Death.” But Pansy Division touches my heart. I don’t want to get too sentimental here, but as an out and proud lesbian myself, it is reassuring to hear bands sing songs with traditional punk themes like love, lust, sex, heartache, and various everyday issues through a queer perspective. Although Pansy Division didn’t climb to the heights they potentially could have, their songs are still making all the young punk gaybies of the world feel included within this genre and on a larger scale, this world. I’ll jump off my soapbox now and leave you with this. Wish I’d Taken Pictures is a great ’90s punk record that has found the perfect balance between silly, sweet, and sentimental. If you’re looking to add something new to your punk collection look no further, this is the record for you.
Erin Calvert (@erinpcalvert)
Elder Goth In The Making
If the opening track title “Horny In The Morning” tells you anything, it’s that this band is not afraid to show who they really are and express themselves to the fullest capacity. The lyrics, especially in that song (though others throughout the album are great too), don’t hold anything back which I really give them credit for. Especially at that point in time (1996) when “sexual” references weren’t as blunt in music as they are today. I really like the upbeat-punky sound of the music. It gives the album as a whole a really nice flow, and makes it easy to listen to as there is no real breaks (that I noticed) and each song kind of flows into each other. While I appreciate the in your face attitude of the songs and the almost carefree attitude, I think that my favourite song just might be the slower, more deliberate track “The Ache.” In this song, the violin that closes out the song is so beautiful and such a contrast from the rest of the album that made it really stand out to me. The whole song really has a whole different vibe — the opening guitar reminded me a little bit of “Island In The Sun” by Weezer, while the line “You thought time would help to make things clear / but after all this time the ache won’t disappear” is such a beautiful line, making the song really relatable to a lot of people… much like the rest of the record, which I’m sure wasn’t an easy pill for some to swallow in 1996.
I’m struck by how poignant this record is in 2018, even though it’s a record joyously typical of the ’90s rock scene. In one record alone, you got jangle-pop (“The Summer You Let Your Hair Grow Out“), power-pop (“Pillow Talk“), pop-punk (“Dick Of Death“), flanger sway (“Don’t Be So Sure“), and even songs that throw in some different stuff to break up the pace (“Expiration Date“). Hell, you’ve even got “The Ache” which would have fit perfectly as the slower, tender lament radio stations loved to throw out in between “Come As You Are” and “Two Princes.” There’s no reason these songs (okay, some of these songs) shouldn’t have been radio staples, and I wonder if the band had come out about five years later, how this record (now coming out in 2001) would have done in the pop punk explosion of the early 2000s. Well, the band still would have been gay, and I’m sure the generation that freaked out when Anthony Kiedis kissed Dave Navarro would still be refusing to admit this record out-hooked and out-humored Enema Of The State, but one can hope, right? What transports this record to present day for me is the fleeting sentiment that almost flies in the face of modern technological backlash. Whether you’re an avid social media follower or not, I’m sure you’ve come across one of two scenarios: either somebody ridiculously complaining about another person filming and taking photos instead of “being in the moment,” or you yourself thinking exactly that when looking at a detailed photo album of something seemingly trivial, like a five minute walk. But why? Why do we think people should “be in the moment” and not document it? If modern perception has taught us anything, it’s that memories aren’t perfect, and never capture the entirety of a moment. Why shouldn’t we look to extend those fleeting moments of joy then? This is at the heart of the record, and goes beyond photography as the songs chase brief, silly opportunities (“Horny In The Morning“) as well as genuine and touching short-lived moments (“The Summer You Let Your Hair Grow Out”). With society in a vastly different place today than in 1996, I think this record would have a bit of impact with a modern release, but I wonder how much its message of documenting and treasuring the moments in our life — either childish or sincere — would really hit home with listeners. Still, there’s no denying the songwriting displayed — often featuring battles of sincere reflections and sophomoric humor — would easily be viewed as the pop punk gold it truly is in 2018, just as it rightfully should have back in 1996.
Come Softly by Brenton Wood
Chosen By Melissa Koch