It's the last Friday night in January at Cell Block, a leather bar on North Halsted. The club is packed with leathermen, skinheads, and enough beer bellies to fill an Oktoberfest tent. A few women dressed like tarty cheerleaders bob through the crowd, and a gaggle of straight-looking people, apparently someone's work friends, huddle at the far end of the bar sipping drinks.
Incarceration is the theme at Cell Block. Where Leathermen Do Hard Time, the matchbooks say. Prison bars are everywhere--over the blackened front windows, hanging from the ceiling, framing square holes in the wall from which disembodied mannequin arms reach out pleadingly.
Emerging from thick cigar smoke to the final strains of "Bela Lugosi's Dead," four men in gray and black quasi-military uniforms take the stage. The lead singer, a burly man with a shaved head and the bearing and muscles of the 60s pro-wrestling terror Dick the Bruiser, leans into the microphone, a beer in one hand and a stogie in the other, and roars, "Let the buttfucking begin!"
His name is Jinx Titanic, and the band's is too. They crash into their first song, "C'mon," and beer and Silly String spray into the air. A beefy giant wearing a fur jockstrap weaves between the musicians and starts asking the crowd for donations for the Rainbow World Fund; eager contributors do their part by stuffing dollar bills into his pouch. Porn star Brad McGuire--eight and a half inches and uncut, according to his Web site--struts around the stage in snakeskin briefs fondling himself. Midway through the set the Likity Split Radical Cheerleaders, a group of young, mostly female queer activists in green and purple costumes, are invited up to extol masturbation and admonish the audience to riot, not diet.
Jinx Titanic plays at Cell Block the last Friday of every month, and despite the under-the-radar promotion, its outrageous shows are popular, attracting gay men and lesbians, the transgendered and straight. The band has brought punk to a gay strip that doesn't offer much in the way of music other than dance tracks and show tunes. "For a community that pushes diversity," says Jinx, "there's not much of it on Halsted Street."
As the band charges through songs with titles such as "You Make Me Wanna Cum," "Oh Daddy," and "Everybody Loves a Muscle Boi," Jinx removes his jacket to reveal thick, hairy upper arms. Garrison Latimer, the husky young bassist who, like Jinx, is gay, smiles and just moves out of the way when a shirtless bear with a huge gut nearly elbows him off the stage (according to Latimer's blog entry the following day, the bear later offered him a blow job, which he declined). The band's other two members, guitarist Jay Bennett (not to be confused with the former Wilco guitarist) and drummer Posey--both blue-eyed, shaggy haired, and straight--don't seem to mind the chaos either.
Jinx Titanic is a bit Sex Pistols and a bit Ramones, but without the anarchy or the Thorazine. They've staked out the largely unexplored pop territory of muscle boys, mustang daddies, and rough trade, and their lyrics use every imaginable rhyme for the word underwear. According to David Ciminelli, author of the forthcoming Homocore: The Loud and Raucous Rise of Queer Rock, which includes a chapter on Jinx Titanic, the band's musicianship, versatility, and accessibility make it a standout. "They're fun, they're sexy, and they're rocking," he says. "I put on their CD and I hear surf rock, punk rock, frat rock. And the lyrics get across points--like the problem with crystal meth in the gay community in a song like 'Your Hearse Is Here'--without getting down your throat."
The band started three years ago when John Kamys, a Jeff Award-winning stage composer whose credits include several seasons as music director for the Goodman's production of A Christmas Carol, was asked to put together an act for a gay-themed rock night at Nevin's Live in Evanston. At the time Kamys was shuttling back and forth between his home in Chicago and San Francisco, where he was caring for a dying aunt. He wrote a few songs that reflected the rawness and frustration of his life and enlisted a few musicians he'd worked with in the theater. "We just decided to turn everything loud and throw a big, dirty party," he says. The Nevin's show was a success, and his impromptu bandmates liked the stripped-down material. Kamys christened himself Jinx Titanic and his new group Super 8 Cum Shot.
The band's name was both a draw and a drawback, especially after they released two recordings. College DJs got reprimanded for saying cum on the air, and print media often omitted the word or replaced letters with asterisks. "It's hysterical that the word cum, slang for an organic body fluid, is so threatening on the airwaves," Jinx says, "but degrading a woman isn't." Reluctantly, he changed the name. "I'll always love the name Super 8 Cum Shot. But it just became too difficult, and we wanted to move forward."
The band played the usual circuit of venues for newly formed acts, but they quickly grew tired of what Jinx calls the "shitty rock-club atmosphere." After shows they and some friends usually headed to Cell Block, where Jinx had worked as a bartender and DJ. "My friends kept asking, 'Why do we always have to go to straight clubs to see the group?'" he says. After some prodding from customers, Cell Block's manager offered the band a gig.
Last summer, following a raucous appearance at the Northalsted Market Days festival, Jinx Titanic started working with the LA-based B-movie firm Killerpix to create a half-hour variety show for television that expands on the Cell Block concept. Jinx says it's "Pee-wee's Playhouse meets leather bar meets boys gone wild." After meeting with several networks, the band is now talking to LOGO, Viacom's soon-to-be-launched gay and lesbian channel. They've got their fingers crossed. "I'd like to think there's room for us in the mainstream," Jinx says. "But either way, the party train's gonna keep rolling."
During the band's final number at Cell Block, "Everyone Here Wants to Fuck You," the room is filled with people flashing middle fingers and shouting "fuck you" along with Jinx. The Cell Block crowd, says Posey, is "a lot more receptive and enthusiastic than the jaded indie-rock audience at any straight club."
Alex Fullerton, who performs with the Likity Split Radical Cheerleaders, offers one explanation. "You hear guys singing about girls all the time," he says. "That's all you hear--people singing about the opposite sex. I've never heard anything like Jinx before."
But Jason Kluczyk, who's straight, says he loves the show too, now that he's stopped worrying he'll get hit on by a leatherman. "I like a band with a lot of spunk," he says, apparently without irony. "And these guys have it."
When: Fri 3/25, 9 PM
Where: Cell Block, 3702 N. Halsted
Info: 773-665-8064, www.cellblockchicago.com
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/G. Thomas Ward.