God Is My Co-Pilot
God Is My Co-Pilot
Under the leadership of the openly bisexual husband-and-wife duo of vocalist, clarinetist, and keyboardist Sharon Topper and guitarist Craig Flanagin, God Is My Co-Pilot emerged as one of the most crucial voices in the underground music community of the 1990s. Along with a loose, revolving cast of downtown New York City players, Flanagin and Topper explored lyrical themes ranging from sexuality to radical politics to religious enlightenment, while their hard-to-define musical sound meshed no-wave noise, hardcore thrash, post-funk, avant-garde jazz, and even occasional touches of Middle Eastern chants, Finnish folk music, and Jewish music.
Although God is My Co-Pilot can at times seem dogmatic, their taintless passion, ever-growing musical scope, desire to approach the creative process without boundaries, and astonishingly prolific output have certainly challenged traditional assumptions about how musicians produce and, in turn, audiences consume the musical form. In short, as God Is My Co-Pilot stated in their anthem, the scat-hop song “We Signify” from 1993’s Straight Not, “We’re co-opting rock, the language of sexism, to address gender identity on its own terms of complexity. We’re here to instruct, not to distract. We won’t take your attention without giving some back.”
In just a decade’s time, God Is My Co-Pilot released more than 15 full-length albums, as well as numerous singles and EPs, and toured extensively the world over. Growing in strength and number over the years, the band’s membership swelled to unheard of proportions in an attempt to explore the collective nature of music. New York luminaries and artists of the avant-garde such as John Zorn, Anthony Coleman, Elliott Sharp, and many others offered their talents as guest members. These musical visionaries, alongside independent rockers such as Jad Fair, Catpower’s Chan Marshall, and the Boredoms’ Yoshimi P-We, allowed for God Is My Co-Pilot to sound fresh and exciting each time out—the direct result of changing personnel. Topper, who writes most of the lyrics and sings lead vocals, and Flanagin, the project’s musical director who plays guitar among other instruments, represent the only two musicians who have appeared consistently on every God Is My Co-Pilot record.
The idea to form God Is My Co-Pilot came about in 1990 when Flanagin, who grew up on a farm in New York, and Topper, a native of Long Island, found themselves feeling increasingly alienated from modern music. A true “Do It Yourself” (D.I.Y) spirit, Flanagin, who knew very little about music, subsequently bought his first guitar and taught himself to play. Soon, he developed his own improvisational technique that defied standard chord progressions and other accepted musical patterns, then started jamming with a bassist named James Garrison. They invited Topper, at that time Flanagin’s girlfriend, to join in for the impromptu sessions. Excited by the trio’s results, Flanagin went in search of a drummer, eventually finding Siobahn Duffy, who would sporadically leave the group. Thus, they enlisted percussionist Michael Evans to fill in, and when Duffy would return, God Is My Co-Pilot used two drummers; others such as Fish and Roses’ Rick Brown and Carbon’s David Linton also filled in from time to time, and bassists Fly and Daria Klotz and drummer Fredrik Haas have also played with the group.
According to critics, die-hard fans, and God Is My Co-Pilot themselves, re-creating an entire list of every musician who has participated in one form or another with the group would prove time-consuming and nearly impossible, though Flanagin did at one time make a “family tree” for a fanzine article that went unpublished. “Michael Evans, drummer, etc., says it’s like a basketball team,” Flanagin offered to Janne Maki-Turja in an interview with Finland’s Mutiny! magazine, “where there are a certain number of people in training, and then the coach (that would be me in this metaphor) picks who are the starters, who’s the traveling squad, who to put in to make special plays, and so on.”
The band’s personal lives, rather than professional needs, usually influence who will participate. “Our creative collaborations mainly come out of our social lives,” Topper explained to Andrew Utterson of the British publication Perpee. “Our friends are musicians—some ‘famous,’ some not. As we spent more time on music, our rehearsals and recording sessions began to be our only time to socialize and have fun, so we invite our friends to come and do this
Members include Craig Flanagin (born in New York), guitar, other instruments, musical director; Sharon Topper (born on Long Island, NY), lyrics, vocals, clarinet, keyboards. Flanagin and Topper are married.
Formed group in 1990 in New York City, NY; God Is My Co-Pilot, with a revolving cast of guest musicians, released more than 15 full-length albums, as well as numerous singles and EPs, and toured extensively the world over, 1990— released debut album I Am Not This Body, 1992; released Mir Shlufn Nisht, 1994; released Sex Is for Making Babies, 1995; released Get Busy, 1998.
Addresses: Home— God Is My Co-Pilot, P.O Box 490, Cooper Station, NY, 10276. Email —[email protected]
with us when we feel they have something musically to contribute and it also helps turn recording and rehearsal into a party. Also, the continuous exchange of musical ideas with new people keeps the music interesting for us—the audience with the shortest attention span. As far as the music goes, Craig is the musical director, and one of his favorite things is the challenge of matching different musical personalities to best effect.”
With their revolving door of percussionists and other musicians, Flanagin and Topper, the latter known for her ability to shift from sweet to savage vocals at any given moment, started playing live throughout New York City, where they became a favorite act at the Knitting Factory, as well as other famous avant-garde clubs. The performance aspect of God Is My Co-Pilot remained of primary importance over the years. They held regular shows in and around their home base of New York and toured across Europe and Japan as well.
“We play more often in New York than any other band, I think . . . certainly if you remember that we have averaged more than one show per week in the city since 1990,” said Flanagin to Maki-Turja. “We can play so much partly because there’s not just one kind of place for us to play; we love doing gigs that aren’t just like a ’rock show’ in a ’rock club.’ Naturally, we play at CBGBs and Knitting Factory and places like this. . . At least once every summer we play at the Sideshows by the Seashore at Coney Island, which we always enjoy; the carnival atmosphere is already in place! We’ve played at three Radical Jewish Culture festivals now . . . we like that, because in addition to letting us play for people who like us but would never have come to see us at ABC, the different context lets us hear our own music in a very different way, and makes us pay a lot of attention to things like how we relate to an audience.”
In 1991, God Is My Co-Pilot started releasing an endless series of records on their own The Making of Americans as well as other independent labels. The group’s debut album, the wildly eclectic, 34-song I Am Not This Body, arrived in 1992. In 1993, the band released more than ten records, including the EP When This You See Remember Me, the live set Tight Like Fist: Live Recording, the Straight Not album, and the cassette-only What Doctors Don’t Tell You.
God Is My Co-Pilot, longtime participants in John Zorn’s Radical Jewish Culture series, in 1994 released Mir Shlufn Nisht, a collection of traditional Hebrew and Yiddish songs. The group even adhered to the Orthodox directive that the word “God” not be written down, altering the group’s name to read G-d Is My Co-Pilot. That same year also brought forth the 23-song album How to Be. In 1995, the group released Sex Is for Making Babies, considered one of God Is My Co-Pilot’s most bracing albums for its outright attack on conventional sexual mores. That same year, along with a flurry of new EPs and singles, they released the “party record” Puss 02.1996 saw the release of two volumes of early singles and EPs for the compilation The History of Music. That same year, The Best of God Is My Co-Pilot surfaced as a notable introduction to the group’s work. The band rounded out the decade with other standouts including 1997’s Excuse Me, Don’t Squeeze Me, a collaboration with Melt-Banana, and 1998’s Get Busy.
Although such a proliferation of music may seem daunting to many bands, God Is My Co-Pilot insists that developing songs isn’t all that overwhelming. “It’s the urge to work through ideas and not to create ’the perfect song’ so much as to apply different ideas to old songs and to create new songs within the framework and rules of the new idea,” Topper, explaining the group’s work ethic, said to Utterson. Likewise, Flanagin picked up the guitar for one simple reason: “I never wanted to be a rock star,” he said in earnest to Jason Pettigrew of Alternative Press. “I heard these noises, and I wanted to be able to make these noises.”
God Is My Co-Pilot (EP), The Making of Americans, 1991.
On A Wing & A Prayer (EP), Funky Mushroom, 1992.
I Am Not This Body, The Making of Americans, 1992.
Gender Is as Gender Does (EP), Funky Mushroom, 1992.
How I Got Over (EP), Ajax, 1992.
Pissing and Hooting (EP), The Making of Americans/Seze, 1993.
Speed Yr Trip, The Making of Americans, 1993, reissued, DSA, 1995.
When This You See Remember Me, Dark Beloved Cloud, 1993.
My Sinister Hidden Agenda (EP), Blackout, 1993, reissued, The Making of Americans, 1995.
What Doctors Don’t Tell You (cassette tape), Shrimper, 1993.
Straight Out, Outpunk, 1993.
Tight Like Fist: Live Recording, Knitting Factory Works, 1993.
How to Be, The Making of Americans, 1994.
Kittybail (EP), Ajax, 1994.
Mir Shlufn Nisht, Avant, 1994.
Sex Is for Making Babies, DSA, 1995.
No Fi, The Making of Americans, 1995.
Puss 02, Dark Beloved Cloud/The Making of Americans, 1995.
The History of Music, Vol. 1, 1996.
The History of Music, Vol. 2, 1996.
The Best of God Is My Co-Pilot, Atlantic, 1996.
Excuse Me, Don’t Squeeze Me, 1997.
Get Busy, Atavistic, 1998.
Robbins, Ira A., Trouser Press Guide to ’90s Rock, Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 1997.
Alternative Press, October 1992.
Fever Pitch, Spring/Summer 1996.
Rolling Stone, May 18, 1995.
Village Voice, August 18, 1992.
God Is My Co-Pilot Information, http://www.io.com/~hise/godco/info.html (June 16, 2000).
Mutiny!, http://www.io.com/~hise/godco/articles/mutiny.html (June 16, 2000).
Perpee, vol. 2, http://www.io.com/~hise/godco/articles/perpee.html (June 16, 2000).
"God Is My Co-Pilot." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/god-my-co-pilot
"God Is My Co-Pilot." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/god-my-co-pilot