Tag Archives: bay area

Since I Laid My Burden Down by Brontez Purnell

Video by Nick Taplin, Post-Consumer Records

Saw a video a few months back of Brontez Purnell reading from his up-and-coming book Since I Laid my Burden Down and had to get a copy as soon as it came out. Tried to read it with his voice in my head. The book has been doted upon with a marvelous thick library jacket by New York City University’s Feminist Press.

The punk rocker, performance artist and otherwise notable Oakland figure, whom I remember as one of the few interesting people on Earth in the vacuous universal hell of 2005, published the zine Fag School beginning in 2003. He has also published the Cruising Diaries in 2014 with the collaboration of Janelle Hessig, from whose Tales of Blarg I first heard of his exploits, as well as 2015’s diary-style Johnny Would You Love Me if my Dick Were Bigger. Since I Laid my Burden Down is sort of a Bildungsroman framed in a memoir. Is there a word for that?

DeShawn, blessed with the emotional receptivity that marks a faggot amongst his church-centered community, reflects during a funeral trip to his Alabama hometown of his trajectory in making his life meaningful, and not wasting his faggot people skills in the office of a rural preacher. Regardless of his shifting relationship with his mother, there is the feeling that he thinks his mother has limited her life becoming a preacher herself.

DeShawn is drawn as a product of generations raised by women, with men absent or devoid of father quality. The protagonist seeks mentorship and trust naturally, nevertheless, through his everyday channels, even through an older married lover. Despite making his own way, fleeing Alabama for California, DeShawn never really feels like he can stand the weight of his life on his shoulders, and has problems with memory and scale. Like a lot of us. The story

The book is full of family, church, death, sex, and the perverse distortion of time and place unique to being in one’s early thirties. Particularly rewarding are the terse but deft descriptions of family members, such as “DeShawn’s mother always spoke recklessly when it was unnecessary, and coolly when it was greatly needed.” Wait –how do they ever know when is which? Does the narrator mean this in hindsight or…?

Throughout the story DeShawn visits two funerals and relates cleaning out several dead people’s houses, visits the gracious and lovable mother of both an early lover and an early abuser, and wears out the patience of a girlfriend in New York, all the while taking stock of the relationships he put on hold or fled when he left Alabama. Along the way he sees some ghosts that grow more vivid and some that thankfully fade.

The prose is unadorned and direct, more diary-like in the beginning, with creams of sly humor beaten in. The back of the book features quotes that I personally found a little hysterical, such as “foul-mouthed and evil.” Perhaps these refer more to Johnny. Purnell’s narrator swears a lot, but only in that the book irreverently records the living language, and is meant to be read out loud. This, in my opinion, is one of the book’s greatest strengths. Anyone obsessed with Pitchfork-level simile-spraying could find any great oral art in corners of Brontez’ sentences, from beat literature to Henry Roth to … I don’t even know, I hate that phony free-association name-dropping stuff. Altogether I appreciated that the prose, though steeped in contemporary slang and naturally-occurring humor, betrays none of the lascivious revelry of Johnny but rather a deep and true affection and understanding for most of DeShawn’s characters, regardless of whether he gets along with them.

He knew feeling good was a setup

Reading the sexual escapades and mentions of a youth steeped in punk rock, it was kind of hard for me, at least, not to place Brontez himself in for DeShawn –as he placed himself as close to the fictional glass as can be in Johnny –so I recommend the reader enjoy the book first and then go cyber-stalk the poor, highly-exposed author. The night their post-Loma Prieta freedom punk warehouse gets closed down, even a fictional lover tells DeShawn “everyone knows who you are.”

I also appreciated how Purnell manages to fit the realities of Deep South life into the story in tiny but excellent bites. This stuff is unimaginable for us west-coast types with our Hollywood-deadened intellects, and the author even points that out in a funny moment. He relates how the principal at the school would remind DeShawn, when he got in trouble, that “your great-granpappy used to raise chickens for my family…” This is the medium of DeShawn’s family’s story that must never be overlooked: in the south there are these horseshit relationships that can be evoked as if to show loyalty, but are really just threats of force. In turn, the protagonists internalize this doublespeak and wield it on each other with varying degrees of purpose (we’ve got this out west with Latino immigrants too). Maybe I just found this insightful and brilliant as a dumb Californian beach bum. What am I gonna school the reader with, the abusive roundabouts of various pelagic fish?

It’s probably clear by now that my only challenge for Purnell for next time, should he decide to do a next time, is to work out before writing who the narrator is. This way the key emotion, be it sex-crazed enthusiasm or reflective love, can really shine through consistently. The reader also could really get cozy within the work’s world if Purnell takes the above decision, moving on some from the format that seems to have begun with Johnny. Finally, this will doubtlessly also address some nitpicky tonal issues I have with some parts.

Since I Laid my Burden Down is a document of a unique life within its unique time and place, an effective and efficient balance of the personal and the universal. Cut that self-conscious crap out about “I don’t recommend every book to everyone.” Get Brontez’ new book and have everyone you know read it!

I have to say, for myself, that I feel that more of these kinds of stories are auspiciously coming into my life. Not necessarily being written, but coming to my attention. Maybe I just don’t get out enough, I don’t know.
But anyhow, when I read Since I Laid My Burden Down, I enjoyed it in one way the same as I so immensely enjoyed Malae’s What We Are: in that the books are full of people I would be friends with. It’s not so simple as “an outsider,” because the question would be, outside of what? Rather it’s a member of a certain socio-economic group who has made certain socio-economic choices within the flush of cash of the Bay Area, a consciously growing and becoming, empathetic scumbag, with no time for the oppression of success, health or other bullshit. Stuck in a phenomenological spiral. The kind of people whose extinction I constantly fear after years of living in Santa Cruz and San José. When I read these books I feel like they were written for me!
Incidentally they both dropped Bukowski’s name, who may well have been highly empathetic besides being a scumbag. Some scholar can comment below about that.

I feel, further, that this book’s approach belongs at least in part to the great tradition of “pack all my youth into some stories so I can stop trying to remember every last bit of it and get ready for the all-out fuckery of maturity.” Brontez certainly demonstrates in Burden the wisdom and ability to handle time and memory necessary to do so, and he certainly has a fascinating maturity and decline ahead of him, unlike most of us. The Savage Detectives is also a great example of this approach, and even I myself, at least as concerns dialogue, am dumping all the silly shit I ever heard from fifth grade up into the mouths of my characters in Byebye and Shlort, the thing I’m working on. I’m excited to see what Brontez comes up with next.

Goodbye by Ben Passmore

Saw the cats from Owl Bike or whatever at the Local Color gallery’s zine fest in downtown San José and seized on the opportunity to find out whence all the commotion about Louisiana artist Ben Passmore‘s comic Goodbye.

goodbye_cover_1024x1024

Besides being surprised by the smallness of its quarter-sheet format (because the ad I got in the mail is legal size? Were they trying to impress me?), one association I made for myself when I first started reading was that both Goodbye and Pantomime Horse have a frame of this dead guy lying on the ground, who ends up representing a major conceit in the book revealed later.

I’ll give Ben this commendation: his stuff makes us want to reread it, largely because he has a skill for illustrating and talking around themes rather than hitting them on the nose, which many of us don’t, either for lack of skill, focus or confidence.

Goodbye deals impressively with values, action, and dialectic. In the comic, Passmore transports us from a somewhat startling shift in perspective about yuppie vacationing, through a mysterious and doubtlessly magical explosion, into a self-aware allegory about the conflict within a person over what counts as meaningful intentions and effective action. On the spectrum (sorry, Ben!), Passmore is much more a writer than an artist although the neat and tidy art has its charm.

In guiding us through this dialectic, Passmore wisely begins with the sense of community that we had when we were stupid, unmobilized kids with lots of time and few commitments, rather than shooting straight for self-critique about direct action against the fuckeries of late capitalism and anti-intellectualism. He makes a genuine case for the tiny sweetness found between people when partying and trying to figure it all out. He makes fun of bay area outwanderers (scheiss Auswanderer!) who impose their whatever on our scene –if only they’d move to red states in order to influence federal-level voting trends like Bernie’s meme machine said to without gentrifying our fucking domestic light beer establishments! Believe me Ben, I’m in San god damn José, where they paved the valley of the heart’s delight to make the god damn eBay, and I feel you.

goodbye_interior2_1024x1024

He then makes a joke about group sex and lands us in the lap of a local anarchist, soon to draw us into his spirit with a breath of the aging process and times gone by. Ultimately his message is for us to find the common ground and get together again. What, then, does goodbye mean? Maybe it just means that parting is not the end, but rather the beginning of many happy returns.

As noted above and in our comments on Pantomime Horse, Passmore seems always to be talking around the invisible on several levels, one of them usually comprising hilarious and true imagery from the circles of people in which we operate, and one that’s very personal and spiritual, and which colors the reportage with its tone.

Ben could be a great artist one day as long as he avoids the ironic bullshit and stays on target. Goodbye should get its due respect in the short story world. I wonder if Bird in the Hand or whatever know what they have in him. Get Goodbye! Get several copies and give it as a gift! As Ben rightly reminds us, there are no rights to reserve!

Purissima by Megan Delyani

Got this at the Local Color gallery’s zine fest over the weekend right in downtown San José. Purissima concerns a pair of young people who’ve come home from their respective west-coast megalopoli, which of course in 2016 represent the hopeless quest to gain success and meaning from a nonexistent higher rung of success after the conclusion of one’s education.

purissima-cover

The back of the zine says “Leigh wants answers,” but I’m not sure that the character conveys that, unless only in a very very aloof way. Having made it clear that she doesn’t want to catch up with anyone, Leigh nevertheless lets herself be invited out late at night for donuts by former schoolmate Jen (note the archly stereotyped naming conventions circa 2000-2010 for bookish and popular characters, if only the fault of their pretentious pathetic gen-X parents).

They cruise toward environs that will be familiar to those who’ve haunted author Delyani’s native coastal peninsula, particularly the San Mateo County stretch. Remember those shows they used to have at San Gregorio with the old bar and the campfire ring and there was no boss but just the show promoter??? When Mammatus and the Broads played???

puris1

The zine deals brusquely and with late-adolescent acid with the topic of acceptance by a presumably oppressive popular kid in school. It also briefly runs through the confrontation between a humiliated kid and the attacker, and the attempts by the attacker to make amends.

I’d be interested in seeing Delyani pursue this scene further in a future zine, as I’ve been through that myself and would love to see more details and twists and turns in the gut-wrenching process of receiving, recognizing and trying to prove growth from having inflicted that old but significant wound. I’m still upset about the whole two people I was mean to in my life, in seventh grade, even though we’ve since made our peace. I also still hate the one guy that bullied me, mister immature over here…

Find Megan Delyani’s stuff wherever you can!

Guadalupe River during Pineapple Express 1.17

Here are some photos of the Guadalupe River taken from the Virginia bridge in downtown San José on 11 and 12 January 2017. The river has risen during the “pineapple express” that has made major problems for Santa Cruz, Hollister and Gwairnville, to name a few. These are photos of the spillway, in fact, full to the ramp from the expansion of the river from the levee at west where it remains confined during most of the year. One begins to wonder why Coyote, which flows admirably for a creek, is a creek, when Guadalupe is a river, and flows no better than a creek.

Here is the spillway facing south on Wednesday, Harliss St at east:

20170112_152506

In all photos if you look close you can see the highwater mark in the grass from the early morning when it was still raining. At 3pm when the photos were taken each day, the water has slowed its roll. I wish I could’ve photographed the river form above by the lurid streetlight at 6AM when I drove up onto the 680 ramp and could see the river really moving in the rain, at its peak volume.

Here’s Wednesday facing north:

20170111_162412

Here’s Thursday to the south at about the same time and the same angle as Wednesday:

20170112_152506Only wish I’d picked up even more trash than I had all autumn thanks to you asshole landlords and gentrifiers making sure that our own neighbors can’t afford housing. One fun thing is that a lot of people were out just looking at the river same as me. A chance to get to know your neighbors, pendejos!

One not fun thing is the continued streak of uncritical incompetence on the part of the Murky News, who without a second thought parroted the grossly irresponsible suggestion by NOAA themselves that the drought in California is “over.” HELLO. You reading this just bought a bag of almonds grown with thousand year-old water drilled out of a mile-deep well in Tulare to make a salad that’ll impress your yuppie mother in law. That doesn’t refill with four inches of rain. Incidentally, KCSM played “I’ve Known Rivers” this morning…

This incompetent call shows the idiocy of our water supply measurements in California, which favor surface levels in reservoirs (luxury items) rather than considering the TRUE hydrological realities of local aquifers. In any case, California has no “drought;” we are a dry state and we use our water stupidly including paving the whole state so the rain can’t soak in and gets piped into the ocean. Break some pavement up today!

Black Lives Matter Papel Picado

Here’s some Black Lives Matter papel picado strung up on the second floor of King Library in downtown San José for the festivities of el día de los muertos. I don’t expect any of yall to understand, since all you have to do is not break the law. You’da shot him too, yknow? Some thug.

20161028_160127

Anyhow, I thought it was tigh-ee-igh-eet. And white people should love the juxtaposition, since next to the BLM papeles are ones with skulls on them, representing genocide against black and native people, from a certain point of view. What’s not to love?

On the fifth floor was  an exhibition of beautiful photos of various altars from México from the 1990s to the current day. I particularly liked this one from the Yucatán that had only natural stuff, which ancient Mexicans would have put on their altars. Pencas de nopal, that kind of stuff. A good time was had by all.

#justdontbreakthelaw #idashothimtoo #thug