On the surface, Fort Collins is a town of flower girls and granola culture — an unoffensive, quaint population that demonstrates a deep love for nature and liberalism with a thriving creative arts community painted with bright colors and progressive happiness. Given this hippy reputation, you might be surprised to learn about the thriving underground punk scene that lit up the town in the late ’90s.
That’s why GoGo Germaine’s (pen name of Erin Barnes) new book, Glory Guitars: Memoir of a ’90s Teenage Punk Rock Grrrl, is so important — it’s a roadmap to the vibrant punk scene that swept through Denver’s creative community as well as the larger United States throughout the past half-decade. It is a vivid depiction of punk culture’s intersection with feminism.
According to Barnes, who spent her late ’90s adolescence skipping class and sneaking into iconic Fort Collins punk clubs like Starlight and The 608, being “punk” isn’t about the music you listen to or the way you dress. Instead, Barnes believes that punk is “an ethos that’s primarily concerned with authenticity, questioning authority and being yourself in a bold and beautiful way.”
Sometimes, it’s difficult to understand the legacy that characterizes critical moments in time and culture, and definitive “eras” are only really definitive in hindsight. That’s why, when Barnes was moshing at sweaty house parties and lounging backstage with mature rock bands, lying about her age to party with her favorite musicians well before she graduated high school, she had no idea she was living in a golden renaissance of Fort Collins punk culture. When she began interviewing people for her memoir, her perspective changed.
“I didn’t know it was a special time or anything like that,” Barnes said. “I just remember going to house parties.”
When Barnes began digging up her past and compiling memories for Glory Guitars, a few things became clear. The first is that there’s a careful polish that covers the modern world with strict regulations and the watchful eyes of social media — an evolution that has made youthful rebellion much more difficult, for better or for worse.
“There’s this sort of theme in my book revolving around the innocence in our bad behavior. That’s what the Starlight venue was for me… there were jello wrestling parties and we were hanging out backstage getting drunk all the time as teenagers. I don’t think a place like that could really exist today.”
Starlight was also the place where Barnes began her weird courtship with a 50-something rockstar, who was literally older than her own parents. As fun and free as her teenagehood was, Barnes acknowledges that it wasn’t always safe, and although she feels a slight disappointment that today’s generation will never get to experience the sort of recklessness that ran amuck in late ’90s FoCo, she’s also thankful for a safer world.
The second thing that Barnes realized in writing Glory Guitars is that the feminist movement has come a long way in 30 years and, thankfully, the punk scene is a great example.
“Feminism” has been a loaded political term for decades, but for many, it’s a much less intimidating word today than it was 25 years ago. In 2022, most young people are proud to announce their feminist ideologies. But in the late ’90s, feminism was shameful and associated with “man-hating” connotations. That’s why, when Barnes got her first tattoo — a Kanji symbol for “woman” — stamped on her chest in an abandoned parking lot at 15 years old, she felt slightly embarrassed about her new body art, writing in her book:
“I was also, as you can tell, not super into feminism at the time, so the ‘woman’ stamp was lost on me,” Barnes admitted. “I believed that women were equal to men, but I thought the way to fight sexism was to be a really fucking cool woman. Surely, if these teenage boys spend an afternoon with my level of wit, they’ll roll over and readily surrender the keys to the Patriarchy. I thought that people who called themselves ‘feminists’ were brash and irritating. The way to get across to men, I believed, did not involve nagging.
“For these reasons, I experienced a period of a few years when I was humiliated to admit I had ‘woman’ tattooed on my chest.”
“The punk scene doesn’t care if you’re a woman or if you’re a trans man,” Barnes said. “They don’t care about your ethnicity or your race or whatever your identity may be. If you can get on stage and bring it, then you’re there… it can also be a great vehicle for female anger.”
The corporate world is, unfortunately, much different. Gender and racial disparities in the workplace are still a systemic issue, and there are few jobs that allow their employees to show up for work with a pink mohawk and spiked chains. Even worse, office moshpits aren’t exactly embraced by upper management. No wonder adulthood is so boring.
Barnes had a tough time adjusting to the responsibilities of the adult world, accompanied by feelings of repressed creativity and bleak maturity. That’s why, when she discovered her affinity for writing and journalism, she embraced a new literary career with open arms.
Barnes’ writing career has blossomed into a two-decade-long escapade of music journalism and activism and even landed her a job as the PR Manager for Meow Wolf Denver, where she remains employed today.
Despite Meow Wolf’s innovatory nature and lackadaisical customs (Barnes often wears cat ears and spiked necklaces to work), when she began writing Glory Guitars, she knew she had to tap into her rebellious spirit to channel her inner punk without the confounds of adulthood. She wanted to create a character that embodied the pillars of punk spirit — feminism, revolution and shameless creativity. Thus, her alter ego, GoGo Germaine, was born.
“GoGo Germaine is like my shadow self to embrace the dark side,” Barnes said. “The things I’ve done with Gogo are things that I’ve been reprimanded for and discouraged not to be. Embracing that has been really psychologically therapeutic for me too. It’s been cathartic.”
GoGo Germaine embodies the youthful subversion and imaginative tendencies of adolescence that are so often lost amidst the guise of tedious maturity. Although society insists rebellion is merely a shameful cry for attention, that’s not how Barnes sees it. In fact, she insists that “what I’ve discovered through GoGo has taught me about the world… It’s like an act of magic.”
Rebellion doesn’t mean cheerfully watching the world burn. Rebellion doesn’t mean you’re troubled or mentally unstable, either. Barnes says that rebellion, in many cases, is just “a reflection of what you see in the world.” Even more important, rebellion is often a physical manifestation of embracing your creative spirit.
“I think that a lot of people in our modern society push down their spirit instead of channeling it,” Barnes said. “That can happen in relationships when you’re afraid to show your loved ones who you really are. For me, ‘rebellion’ also means being easy on yourself, being your authentic self and finding an outlet. Sometimes you need to go do something irresponsible, and that’s fine.”
Now that is what being punk is all about.
All photography by Glenn Ross