Epick catching up to do, you guys. I'm on it! At the top of my list is that I recently went to the Brooklyn Zine Fest and I got the newest issue (#4) of Brontez' brilliant zine, Fag School. The title and theme is JOIN THE PROFESSIONALS. You can buy it online from Pegacorn Press. It's totally great, and worth at least the $5 it'll cost you.
So, y'know: Zine Review Time!
FULL DISCLOSURE: I know (and adore) Brontez, and have contributed to a past issue of Fag School, he's contributed to my zine. Scorcher, and we've done a few readings together here in NYC. So, I'm biased. I'm a fan. I have pretty high expectations for his work, and I was not disappointed.
The zine is split neatly in half: one-half is a collection of new fiction writing, detailing his glamorous and exciting life as a working artist in California, and the other half is interviews with a number of luminaries about what it means to be a "professional". Among the greats who Brontez interviewed are: Daniel Nicoletta, Kenyon Farrow, Michelle Tea, Javier Perez, Josh Cheon, Suppositori “Spaz” Spelling, Robert Yang AKA “Robot Hustle,” Justin Torres, Chris Owens, Tobi Vail, Juan Velasquez, and Stevie Shakes.
All the interviewers give great quote, and I'm deeply envious of Brontez' vision here. Taken as a whole, the interviews reveal not only the subjects, but of course the dynamic, versatile depths of Brontez' thinking. He's able to get people from a variety of backgrounds and practices to speak to similar themes, and is able to tease out juicy bits of information. The conversations illuminate each other.
Like Brontez, I do feel a certain fundamental ambivalence towards professionalism as such. And yet there's a certain way the notion of professionalism or being "a real artist" can be re-appropriated in the context of queers and people of color and folk artists and women and punk rockers as a way of signaling the context we are creating for our own work. Such a deceptively smart idea! Michelle Tea's interview was actually pretty great, in terms of how she and Brontez discuss writing as memoir vs. fiction and how people deal with being written about. A definite must.
The other half of the zine, subtitled "Johnny, Would You love Me If My Dick were Bigger" is a collection of stories by Brontez alone. I had the good fortune to hear him read from some of these the last time we did a reading together (with the studly genius Joseph Whitt) at P.P.O.W. Gallery a few months ago. I'm always struck with the combination of courage and vulnerability in Brontez' writing. He's able to simultaneously be tough and tender, to be articulate about his impulses, to be riotously funny as well as sincere and serious. I really admire these things, and I wish I could do them as well as Brontez does! Reading this paragraph, I'm afraid I am making his writing sound too cute or something. It is cute, though. It's totally cute; it's adorable. But I don't mean that in a dismissive or pat way. Brontez' writing is, like him, so cute, appealing, and attractive precisely because he's not (or doesn't seem to be) scared of failing to be cute. It's just, like, a bonus. This is writing that doesn't beg for identification, validation or approval from the reader. There's a kind of brash punkness to this "either you get it or you don't" mentality. But the basic fact of the matter is: you will get it.
I think a lot of time first-person narratives dealing with the queer sexuality get referred to as "confessional" which I kind of hate. Confessional implies disclosure in the context of shame. That's, I mean, what it implies to me (and is why I hate it). Brontez' writing could well be referred to as confessional, I guess, by a straight critic. There's a very graphic (and hilarious) story about poopdick in here. But the thing that makes Fag School not confessional is that it's not shameful. He doesn't seem to be battling his insecurities or notions of what people will think of him for revealing this. Instead, he's charging ahead with the life work of a writer and finding ways to relay his experiences and impressions in language that is engaging, beautiful, smart.
There's also a bit of heartbreak here. Brontez is, among other things, a total romantic! It's kind of fucked up how, even in 2012, male-identified punk rockers writing about their heart feelings seems somehow fresh or radical. Maybe it doesn't seem that way, but Brontez' writing does feel fresh and radical. He'll talk about experiencing intimacy with someone he may or may not want to beat up. He talks about connecting with people despite his better judgment, and is able to comment on the decision-making process to, say, hook up with a junkie, or an asshole, or detail the myriad ways we can sometimes be disappointed by the guy who is so sweet and could be perfect for us. He can relay a story, and also comment on it. It's like he's watching himself in a movie. It's great. His understanding of himself makes me want to understand myself better.
Fag School is kind of my fantasy of what a queer punk zine could and probably ought to be. It captures a voice, a personality, a perspective. It's smart, fun to read, informative, emotional, and portable. There are spelling and typing mistakes. It's not elaborately designed. It's immediate. It makes my heart beat much faster. Go buy it!
Brontez is currently on tour with Michelle Tea's legendary spoken word road-show, SISTER SPIT. The tour is also featuring some of my favorite writers and thinkers (including Tea) such as Erin MArkey and Saint Mx. Justin Vivian Bond. They're bringing the road show to Issue Project Room in Brooklyn on April 30th, where they'll be joined by Eileen Myles and Narcissister. I've been told to get tickets NOW (which I did and so should you).
Justin Vivian snapped this photo of Brontez from the Sister Spit tour:
SO ADORABLE! Don't you wish you were in the van with them? I fucking do.
For some more information on dear Brontez, check out:
Interview with Lambda Literary.
Interview with Michelle Tea for RADAR Productions.
Brontez' piece on Tobi Vail's JIGSAW.
Okay, bonus round!
How I Met Brontez. The first xmas after I had moved to the East Coast to go to college, I came home for the holiday break which lasted about a month. I had gone to see Gravy Train!!!! perform at the Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. The show was a pretty big deal, because GT!!!! had just finished recording their debut album HELLO, DOCTOR!!! for Kill Rock Stars. They were also my absolute favorite band, and I still think of them as the first celebrities I ever met. So the Bottom of the Hill show in San Francisco was a big deal (at least for me). I was hanging out with them in the dressing room and Chunx asked if I had met Brontez yet. I said no.
I hadn't met him yet, but I did, of course, know who he was, from the internet. He had been on this e-mail list I was on for a minute, devoted to/about fans of the Bangs. He had also been pretty active on this old forum on the Kill Rock Stars site, where you could e-mail questions to any of the bands on their roster, and they'd publish the answers. Which, by the way, was totally awesome and I hope someone has the transcripts of the interview questions. Brontez flirted a bunch with the kids from xbxrx.
So I totally knew who he was, and in a way I sort of resented him? Can I say that? He seemed, to me, at the time, to be living the dream. He knew everybody, meaning people in bands. He was totally out, totally connected to the music and social and political scene. Like, the world he lived in: he seemed to be living in it in a bigger and more fun way than I had been doing. And I was jealous! Like, how does he know the fucking Bangs? Who knows the Bangs? But you have to understand, this was the early aughts. We were still kind of all (in the indie world, the underground world, the punk world, whatever) getting hip to the fact that we could actually connect to and organize our communities and interests online. Like, anybody could know the Bangs, you just wrote them a fan letter, right?
So whatever. Back in the dressing room above the stage at Bottom of the Hill (you know I was feeling particularly V.I. motherfucking P. up in that dingy green room), catching up with Funx, Drunks, Hunx, Chunx, their manager Julie. Drinking beers and smoking cigarettes. I had known all these kids from Gilman Street when I was in high school. I had been 16 and they had been, what, twenty? They seemed so grown-up and cosmopolitan. So anyway we were chatting and they asked if I knew Brontez. If I had met him yet. I guess that he had just moved to the Bay Area, right after I left to go to college? This is before he joined Gravy Train!!!! Our paths had not (yet) crossed. I said no, I hadn't met him, not yet.
"Oh...." Chunx said, rolling her eyes.
"He's gonna eat you alive!" Hunx giggled.
That night, Gravy Train!!!! played "Double-Decker Supreme" and pulled me up onstage to dance in between Chunx and Hunx. It was absolutely the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me at the time (I was on stage! At the Bottom of the Hill!) and I barely noticed that there was a persistent tugging, pulling, yanking at the cuff of my jeans. Someone in the pit at the front of the stage was grabbing me. Were they trying to pull me down, I wondered? Or were they trying to pull off my pants? It was, of course, Brontez. That was the night we met (I think).
He has not yet eaten me alive but I sort of wish he would.