Brontez Purnell is the queer scene in California. He’s been living in a punk rock warehouse in Oakland for years, since leaving Triana, Alabama with a bunch of white punks his family were sure were devil worshippers. They tried to stop him but there is no stopping Brontez Purnell. He came to California and started go-go dancing for the messy, underground electroclash band Gravy Train!!!!. Go-go name: Junx. He’s been in lots of bands – Panty Raid, Hot Ass Sex Bomb, right now The Younger Lovers. Brontez is a tender punk and when he punks out with his guitar he seems sort of lovelorn and teenaged, no matter that he is thirty-five. Brontez is the kind of person people will be calling youthful well into his sixties and seventies. When you are trashy and punk you are always relevant and underground, like John Waters. Whatever has touched John Waters has touched Brontez, too. Brontez has a dance company, Brontez Purnell Dance Company. You should go look up Free Jazz, a dance film made by Gary Fembot, it’s on YouTube, it looks like it was made in the 60s, it’s Black Power and Ntozake Shange and faggoty, plus there is witchcraft in there, a simple, powerful punk paganism. Brontez has written for film and acted in film and is making a documentary about the dancer Ed Mok. I know that all of these disciplines must feel equally important to Brontez, who is an artist and must express himself variously, but because I am a writer I feel that his writing is his highest art. His zine Fag School (‘These days, straight boys look like faggots, faggots look like straight boys, and the only people who’ll hit on you and truly MEAN IT are old dudes at the library.’) Brontez writes with Morrissey-like woe about the perils of love and sex and dating but he does it with the fearless, fucked-up humor of someone dancing on the razor wire of faggotry and Blackness and HIV+ status and being broke and being truly punk, for life. Oh, and an artist. And more than a bit of a girl. His book The Cruising Diaries, with illustrations by Jenelle Hessig, is a perverse, hilarious account of casual dates (‘We spent three hours in the shower pissing on each other and he bought me a burrito later. PERFECT DATE.’) His novella, Johnny Would You Love Me If My Dick Were Bigger, gets deeper into romantic woes, compounded by drug hangovers and crap jobs. But his latest, Since I Laid My Burden Down, is truly remarkable – still dirty and witty, still gritty and sly, Brontez’s first novel follows a Brontez-esque young lover back to the Alabama Baptist landscape of his youth, reckoning with love and sex, death and life with a wizened humor, a real maturity that brings depth to his storytelling ability without compromising the wildness that makes him so special. Novelist, zinester, dancer, go-go-boy, punk, filmmaker, actor, performer, Brontez Purnell is everything.
Photograph © Robbie Sweeny