Brontez Purnell is an indie zine maker, trained dancer and queer punk rocker who's fronted Bay Area bands like Gravy Train!!! and the Younger Lovers.
No, let’s try that again. Brontez Purnell is an utterly fearless indie zine maker, trained dancer and queer punk rocker who's fronted Bay Area bands like Gravy Train!!! and the Younger Lovers.
Inhibition, trepidation, self-suppression . . . these concepts are not part of Purnell's emotional lexicon. As a result, it’s hard to look away when he's performing, and hard to stop reading what he pours out across the pages.
Brontez grew up gay in Triana, Alabama (population: 400), an experience he describes as “its own specific brand of horror.” There, he began to learn an important lesson: that making art to document one's experience is also a very effective method for survival.
Like so many who’ve navigated tough times in hard places, Purnell is very attached to and in awe of those who came before him. He’s “home” when playing Eli’s Mile High Club in Oakland – pictures of his uncle J.J. Malone, who owned the club when Eli’s was a blues and soul mecca in the ’60s and ’70s, adorn a special photo shrine there.
“As people of color, as artists, as counter-culturalists, so much of our history gets erased,” Brontez says. “There are times when you just despair.”
Those are the times when he’ll call his mother in Alabama. “You’re a black gay male artist in California,” she’ll say. “Somebody prayed for your existence hundreds of years before you were even born.”
No wonder he’s not afraid.
Funding for KQED Arts is provided by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Support is also provided by Yogen and Peggy Dalal, Diane B. Wilsey, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Helen Sarah Steyer, the William and Gretchen Kimball Fund, and the members of KQED