Oakland academic Essence Harden interviews RADAR SPECTACLE performer BRONTEZ PURNELL.
Tell us about you’re recent work “New Diaspora” and “Other Dancers” at the L@te series at the Berkeley Art Museum (BAM). How does blackness, queerness, and collaboration inform your work?
New Diaspora was a means to celebrate the different Black talent going on in the Bay right now. It was inherently a very queer night also. I grew up in Alabama and have always been challenged/ curious about the lives of Black people in terms of place/environment/time period. Other Dancers was a means to celebrate the different experimental choreographers I know. there were some people involved in Other Dancers whose work i had never even seen before. i just got drunk at a bar with them and it was like “oh! you do performance? KOOL! would you be a part of this?” Blackness, Queerness, and Collaboration inform my work INFINITELY.
Speaking of “New Diaspora” I really loved how you ended the night with a decompression of energy by leading a group-follow dance onto pillows. How is community reconciliation significant to your art?
I went to speak to my friends class at Berkeley about community healing thorough art and i think its as simple as getting a group of people (no matter the number) in a space together moving towards a common goal or feeling however fleeting it may be. Its essentially about togetherness and intention.
Tell us about the making of “Free Jazz” your inaugural dance film from the Brontez Purnell Dance Company? Particularly the “cut n’ mix” of aesthetic choices involving punk, cosmology, the African Diaspora, and temporality. How has studying theatre and dance informed your current project?
I was obsessed with doing a dance movie cause like who does that? Particularity in Black and White Super 8 cause im a slave to aesthetic. I was doing work and making pieces at Cal State East Bay and was really excited about it so i wanted to put the work i did in a form that could live forever and encapsulate a certain period in my career. All my work is informed by whats closest to me. I think about things like sex, religion, community 24/7 and the film is a subdued response to my raging obsessions. Maybe it gives them more of a context for myself.
I loveeee novella’s, tell us about your upcoming work?
It’s called “Johnny Would You Love Me If My Dick Were Bigger” its not a novella as much as it is an exorcism of the ghosts of my reckless first 30 years on the planet. I found a publisher but editing is kicking my ass. I decided not to change to tittle ever cause i fell like trying to pander commercial appeal for a book thats about a black punk rockers romp through life is somewhat delusional. Plus i see it living on in that N.W.A meets feminism category of literature.
I think what’s really incredible about your art and you as a person is the inescapable visibility you give to the complexity of being Black, queer, male, and a politically radical punk. Can you talk about being a radical Black queer punk and how these and other positionalities continue to inform your art?
Its hard cause at 30 im finally starting to feel semi-comfortable in my skin and what i will allow and not allow. Even though im rightfully a cross section of all these varied identities i dont trust MOST Black people, MOST punks, MOST queers and don’t get me started on men. Its been an interesting journey finding out who my people are. One example was i took a dance class at Berkeley and this other queer black male student found out i was from Alabama and had all these romantic notions of Blackness and the Deep South (he had grown up in California) and he said something about wanting to move to Atlanta- now growing up down South i have my own prejudices. In inadvertently blurted out “dude, first of all if you HAVE to party down South go to New Orleans NOT Atlanta. I CANT with Atlanta. I know all the shows on TV make it look fun but its the WORST mix of East Coast attitude and Southern boredom. If i wanted a bunch of stuck-up Black people telling me to go to church all the time i’d watch BET…..BARF”- and i look up and im like “holy shit- i just scared this kid”- this is one example of how my radical, black, punk rockness gets me in trouble and i wouldn’t trade it for the WORLD…….
Essence Harden is a current graduate student in the department of African American Studies at UC Berkeley. When she is not researching articulations of Black masculinity through 1980/90′s hair and styling practices you can find her reading sci-fi and eating bagels in her back lot/garden.
Can you tell us about Texta and your amazing superhero aesthetic?
‘Texta’ means felt-tip marker in Australia and it’s been my pseudonym for nearly 15 years. I sometimes dress in a superhero costume, the first version, in 1997, got created when I was doing kids’ drawing and workshops and then I carried it over into my art world persona. Markers are an accessible medium, and the superhero adds to my accessibility in the often cold, alienating, elitist gallery. And personally being a texta superhero is a way for me to feel a bit empowered in spaces that I’m marginalised, as brown, queer and seen as female. I mostly wear my marker themed superhero outfit only for kids’ activities these days, though I have other spandex outfits too.
Tell us about your most recent solo project “Unknown Artist” and the shift from earlier works, particularly the nude form and critical engagement with white bodies to the self portraiture.
‘Unknown Artist’ is a series of self-portraits, where I drew myself as different characters exploring aspects of my identities, especially race, sexuality and gender. Many of them are about me trying to connect with cultural heritage and cultural identity. They include one where I’m Gandhi the literally imperfect leader as a zombie, one reclaiming Indian mythology around the hyena, a self-love self-portrait of a superhero me rescuing a nude me, and one about internalizied patriarchy and white supremacy of me with blonde hair, blue contacts, holding a Ken doll being puppetted by Animal from the Muppets. It is a pretty big concept shift from my previous work; nudes of mostly white queers posed in scenarios of their choosing. I guess I’ve changed a lot as a person in the last few years, engaged more in what it means to be a racialised person in mostly white environments, acknowledging the ways I’ve adapted to and prioritised white people, and trying to change that conditioning. The last few years i’ve been trying to focus on finding and creating queer people of colour ‘community’’, so my creative and friendship circles have shifted a lot, and my art has too. Before the Unknown Artist series I did a series called We Dont Need Another Hero, where Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous people of colour living in Australia posed as protagonists of post-apocalyptic movies, with colonialism obviously being our apocalypse. My earlier work celebrated queerness, and what some might see as radical queerness, but I now acknowledge that it was very white-centric ideas of queerness, bodies, and beauty I was honouring. Shifting to a queer POC focus in my art and drawing the self-portraits has been indescribably healing and empowering, especially when I’ve had relatively few images of brownness, especially queer brownness, around me for my entire life.
Can you talk some about your writing project “Harshbrowns” and my favorite piece “The Kreayshawn complex: cultural appropriation as counter-cultural expression”?
I started writing my harshbrowns blog kind of anonymously, when I had just begun to race rage, catalysed by a few specific events mostly around cultural appropriation and racial fetishism in the white-centric queer ‘radical’ Melbourne scene. The race rage had been bubbling under the surface for a long time but the reaction of most of my white close friends to my explanations of how these events had impacted on me, quite suddenly alienated me from most of the people who had been really close in my life as I realised their racisms. Writing the blog, I processed these experiences, and even though the posts or poems are often addressed to white people, they were as much a way for me to connect with others with similar experiences, to try to build new connections in the face of an intense disillusionment in the idea of community I had known.
The responses to the blog have been really overwhelming, not just the high visitor stats, but the touching personal messages from people positively connecting with it as well as the intense reactions to people who have been confronted by the content. I think that the Kreayshawn complex post, on how cultural appropriation often seems an expression of people’s counter-cultural identity, using hip-hop as it’s main reference, spoke to a lot of people beyond the specific Melbourne-based events the post referenced. My words as a non-black person writing about appropriation, using mostly the example of appropriated black culture in the predominately non-black context of Australia could never articulate the complexity of the issues, but hopefully through my own lens as a racialised person I wrote something relatable, putting into a broader white-appropriation-of-other-cultures’ context.
What is your writing process like and how does it lie in conjecture with your illustrative art? Are there any writing projects in the works?
I hadn’t officially been a writer before starting the blog, other than song lyrics, casual travel blogging, journalling and brief writing about the people in my drawings. I’ve come to realise that I really enjoy the writing process and am a pretty articulate yet accessible writer. I have long periods where I only write for myself, if at all, keeping a very personal and ranty journal, but this processing usually bubbles into a form that I share. Writing often helps me conceptualise my visual art, and my visual art is usually emotional tangent to my writing. However, my writing has been more outwardly critical while my art is more focused on construction of identity. I was race raging hard at the world when I was drawing the We Don’t Need Another Hero post-apocalypse movie poster series at the same time as I was writing uncomfortable-for-white-people-poetry, whereas I did a lot of self-reflective, private writing while making my Unknown Artist self-portrait series. The Unknown Artist series reflects a lot on what ‘cultural heritage’ means and on completing that series I wrote a new piece about cultural identity and the personal effects of cultural appropriation on my connection to cultural heritage. This will soon be published in Peril magazine online, on the harshbrowns blog and sometimes read on tour with Sister Spit while showing the self-portraits as projections.
I’m really interested in your oppositional gaze onto structures and populaces of power within your work particularly, your critiques of whiteness, normativity, patriarchy, and coloniality. How is this politics of critical dissent informed within your art and writing?
I hope that especially my visual art is about constructing queer, POC, feminist, decolonized identity and that the representation and centering of these identities is the focus. My art values empowerment (though also vulnerability) over directly de-constructing the structures of power that affect these identities, which I feel is an effective way of resisting those structures. My writing has more directly critiqued, especially whiteness, though I’ve been trying lately to focus my energies in constructing identity, so that the ‘you’ pictured in my writing are those I identity with rather than addressing those who don’t share my experiences.
You work a lot with youth- we met at Girls Rock Camp, Oakland in Summer of 2012- and do a great number of workshops in Australia. Can you tell us about the import of young people for your work and your involvement with volunteer spaces?
I teach youth (and adult) drawing workshops, superhero identity workshops, contour line drawing and other stuff, but most of my ‘work’ with youth at the moment is hanging out with my friends’ kids. I do like working with young people and my artwork is generally accessible to many of them, not just in the felt-tip marker medium, but the playfulness is a friendly vehicle to deliver the complex content.
I’ve worked creatively, made and put my artwork in DIY, punk, and volunteer spaces as much as I have in white-walled commercial art spaces. I wouldn’t be making a living from my art without the commercial contexts I show in, I’m really pleased that my last show sold out in Melbourne, but I don’t often feel comfortable in those spaces. I am happy that my work is in major public institutions because many people will see it that aren’t going to access it at commercial galleries or punk environments. There’s definitely much to negotiate in less commercial environments, but I have more hope to make connections with and be inspired by folks, and contribute something real to people through my art and inter-personally, when I’m with people and in spaces that share aspects of my own identity. I’ve put a bit of energy into figuring out what QPOC community means in Melbourne, helping organise some social and performance events, but lately I’ve mostly been reclusively working on my visual art.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a series of ‘Poem Portraits’, seeking out queer, trans and two-spirit people of colour writers and poets to pose in a scenario with their words. I’ve made a few in this theme, and it’s been a great challenge to bring together these two creative practices that I enjoy. I’m hoping to show the series in Australia in February at a great Indigenous run gallery called Blak Dot in Melbourne, and I’d love to show them somewhere in the US or Canada too, if anyone has any leads. Other than that, I hope to write more that I share, keep making art I’m proud of, look after myself and look out for my friends.
Essence Harden is a current graduate student in the department of African American Studies at UC Berkeley. When she is not researching articulations of Black masculinity through 1980/90′s hair and styling practices you can find her reading sci-fi and eating bagels in her back lot/garden.
There are so many fun things happening this weekend! Follow my lead:
On FRIDAY I’m going to see Sister Spit alum Brontez Purnell’s new performance THE EPISODES with Anthony R. Lucas and Sophia Wang at The Garage. I LOVE Brontez The Writer (pick up a copy of his zine Fag School at your local DOWN AT LULUS retailer), and Brontez The Musician, so I’m really excited to experience Brontez The Choreographer.
On SATURDAY I’m going to the GRASP Showcase. As the invitation describes: “Girls Rock After School Program (GRASP) is a 10-week program for girls 8-18 years old. Students attend instrument lessons, form a band, collaboratively write an original song, participate in workshops, and perform with their band at a live showcase.” Girls Rock Camp is an AMAZING organization- give’em your support.
SATURDAY is all about the tweens because in the evening I’m going to Manifest Reads Pushing Margins, a reading benefiting Pushing Margins, an LGBTQQIA youth summer arts camp. Readers are Truong Tran, Nico Peck, Tessa Micaela, Brittany Billmeyer-Finn, Cheena Marie Lo, Kate Robinson and a musical performance by Maddy MADLINES Clifford.
And before I head home I’m going to go see Brilliant Colors at Hemlock!
On Sunday I’m spending the morning at my home away from home, DOWN AT LULUS. DOWN AT LULUS is a salon and vintage collective started by Tina Lucchesi and Seth Bogart. I’m a buyer for the store and each season we host a HUGE dollar sale.
THEEENNNN I’m going to the first show of the Black Salt Collective!
Black Salt Collective is the work of Fanciulla Gentile, Grace Rosario Perkins, and Adee Roberson.
These TALENTED LADIES will be selling their wares, exhibiting their works and unveiling their window display installation at ATA. I’ve got to be there by 5pm so I don’t miss the performance by LA-based musician Jeepneys!
So, please excuse me if I sound a little like THIS today- but there is just so much you CAN’T MISS!! See you this weekend.
Hello! And welcome to my Better-Late-Than-Never ART Monday. This week I’m so excited to recommend Spit and Passion by Cristy C. Road.
Spit and Passion is a graphic coming out memoir focusing on the often-overlooked moment of secret childhood queer-revelation, rather than the more common narrative of adolescent queer-declaration. This isn’t a story about coming out to others- it’s about coming out to oneself. And for some of us, coming out to oneself looks a lot like this:
You could say the book takes place in early 90s Miami- but the setting would be more aptly described as in the mind of preteen Cristy as she navigates, and second-guesses, the realization that she’s probably a dyke.
The story tracks Cristy as she reconciles her Cuban-American Catholic upbringing with her new queer punk leanings.
She seeks solace in Ren & Stimpy, Freddy Mercury, Broadway musicals, Rosanne Barr, and most fanatically, Green Day. Her story is filled with references, as varied as they seem, that all outsider-gays will identify with. Ren & Stimpy is the millennial Burt & Ernie, no?
I’m a HUGE fan of Cristy C. Road’s illustrations and this book does not disappoint with incredibly beautiful artwork. Each panel is a stand-alone piece.
Buy a copy of Spit and Passion RIGHT NOW and come see Cristy C. Road when she’s on tour with Sister Spit 2013! (For those in the Bay Area- come to the Sister Spit Kick Off at The San Francisco Public Library on March 31)
AND ANOTHER THING: Cristy C. Road is also working on a tarot deck with our own Michelle Tea! Check out some of the drawings in the works- THEY ARE AMAZING.
You should know before I even began that Towson, Maryland is where John Waters set his film Serial Mom, about a suburban mother who cracks and starts slaying everyone in her Real Housewifes-esque environment. Sister Spit says, Well done! What a creepy enclave! Though our show at Towson University was awesome, should one find oneself in Towson, one should not step foot off the campus. First, one of our male tour members using the restroom in PF Chang’s wound up with a hand full of ejaculate when he went to grab some toilet paper! Yes, dear readers, ejaculate! A huge gob was on the toilet as well – I know, because another tour member bravely went into the bathroom and photographed it. We spent much of our dinner speculating on which employee did it. As a group of people who have masturbated on the clock, we felt certain it was an employee! However, our solidarity with a wage slave taking a little ‘me’ time was eroded by their disgusting sloppiness and disregard for others. What a jerk off!
We all wolfed down our desserts in order to make it into the Towson Town Center (a mall that is putting on airs) to buy toiletries at Sephora and get haircuts. We all met up in the mall’s center, in front of this, um, beautiful display of some classical signifiers of wealth and abundance. ‘Marble’! Sweeping staircases! Cheeubs! We were snapping some pictures of Erin posing with the little angels while waiting for Jerry Lee, when suddenly . . .
We were set upon by Mall Cops! They were quite hostile and acted as if we were skateboarding off the faux-marble or sliding down the bannisters. We were told that we could not take any photos and that we had to leave the mall immediately. The mall was closing, and we were on our way out anyway, but they were being super intense and unfriendly about it, especially when there were still people walking all around us, sitting at the food court and exiting stores. We turned and walked toward the exit, steaming at this rude treatment!
Rather than just send us on our way – we were being very obedient, this isn’t a 90s Sister Spit tour, after all – they escorted us out like a pack of criminals! As you can see there on the left, other shoppers were allowed to walk to their vehicles in a dignified manner, with no interference from the mall cops.
I took a few photos of these power-mad mall cops with my phone as some sort of evidence of whatever was happening – it felt really crazy! They then threatened to take my phone and arrest me! One demanded to see my phone and I told him that cops need warrants for such things. I listen to enough Jay-Z to know my rights! The man cryptically replied, “We’re not cops.” What sort of rogue code were these rent-a-cops operating under?!
They trailed us menacingly all the way into the garage, where they ran our plates and called us – I shit you not – retarded. One of the very sweet queers from Towson University was super outraged, an we wanted to get their badge numbers or something but they were such wild, threatening d-bags we thought it best to just climb into the van and let them escort us off the property with their lights flashing, as if we were criminals and not simply people who spent too much money at Sephora.
I wrote a passionate plea for justice to the powers that be at the Towson Town Center, but I have yet to hear back! Thankfully, we have all recovered from the incident, and I do believe that my love of shopping and of malls has not been too damaged. Still, I think Sister Spit deserves an apology, and some gift certificates to Sephora! Yeah.
Here’s our trusty Merch girl, Cassie J Sneider, proudly hawking our wares in Toronto! Look at all that great stuff! Our Merch Table on this tour has been referred to as the Sister Spit Skymall; also the Sister Spit Yard Sale (after some garbagey bullshit of questionable origin – plastic sunglasses?) showed up for sale. For tonight’s totally awesome show in Durham, North Carolina we were the Sister Spit Candy Store because of the case of candy cigarettes Cassie found at some god-forsaken roadside America hole-in-the-wall and is now selling for a dollar, or free with a purchase of her book Fine, Fine Music.
Smoking does make you look cool. Cassie read her whole story tonight with a candy cigarette clutched in her knuckles. Badass.
This was Jerry Lee and Brontez’s room at the amazing Gladstone Hotel in Toronto! The rooms are all designed by a different artist and so they’re all one-of–kind! It was very a-pro-po that the boys got what was essentially the bedroom of a hormonal thirteen year old in 1981, the walls covered with pics of Matt Dillon, Kristy McNicholl (hey, my busted computer is so busted it won’t let me open a new tab so I can spell check Kristy’s name, sorry! OH, and Kristy just came out! As a lesbian! Which we all already knew forever and ever but it is always cool to be able to say, See World, some celebrities really are gay and we gay people can often spot them, okay????? Now, if fucking Peppermint Patti would just cop to it we’d all be thrilled) - oh, and unicorns! And Ralph Macchio. It was a great room. Me and Erin got one that was very woodland, with a stack of chopped firewood (really) and giant branches wedged into the corners. Justin’s was a very glamorous, silvery room with multiple vanities, and Cassie and Kit’s was like a boy’s room, with puzzles glued to the wall. It was as if the very hotel had read our personalities and gave us rooms that matched our souls. Though my inner tween would have preferred Jerry Lee and Brontez’s crib, for this reason:
Bitches got crunk in Toronto. There was theft and belligerence, and sly attempts by inebriated tour members to have sex with strangers in their hotel rooms! Bringing a trick home to the room you are sharing with a fellow tour member is even more illegal than food hoarding! Cite the precedent-setting 2007 case Georges vs. Argo if you’d like more information. Anyway, here is everyone hungover and shame spiraling the next morning. It took us about 45 minutes to get out of these poses and hit the road. And for the record, Cassie J is not hungover – everyone else’s debauchery had given her a migraine.
Look you guys, it’s Niagara Falls! God made this! Look at the majesty! We idiotically stopped here on our way to Pittsburgh, getting us into Pittsburgh too late to stop at the hotel, so we all had to take whores’ baths in the restrooms at The Warhol Museum. But it was worth it, because we all had to pee and why not pee in nature?
For all the excellent places we get to go on tour, we never really get to see anything. We pull right into our hotel, head to the venue and then leave the next morning. So it actually was fun to have a family vay-cay moment at the Falls.
I took this awesome picture of Jerry Lee’s butt totally by accident!
Brontez thought the falls would be a lot bigger – he told his mom on the phone that they were only about two stories and he totally understood how someone could go over them in a barrel and live. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m still impressed,” He clarified. I’m actually obsessed with the bird next to Brontez and was making him get as close to it as he could without freaking it out. It’s a red-winged blackbird – when it flies it’s wings are so cool!
Girls gone wild.
Being in the van in the rain is sort of cozy and sweet. Not that I’ve been getting a lot of sleep, but even when I am well-rested it’s hard to stay awake. The motion of the van and the stillness of your own self sort of lulls you. Today we listened to a lot of Modern Lovers, my favorite road trip album ever. We stopped at a Panera near Qunatico for smoothies. We tried to eat at a Waffle House but church had just gotten out and it was mobbed. I tried to read Vanity Fair but then started falling asleep so I laid with a sweater as a pillow and tried to nap, but then I was writing a story in my head and thought, Well, what if this is some sort of great book and I don’t write it down and I lose it forever?! So I plugged my dying computer in and wrote like five pages of a new novel. Cool. So now I have three novels in progress. In case you think this makes a person feel like a Real Writer, let me assure you it does not. It makes you feel like a Real Fake Writer who can’t finish a freaking book so you keep starting new ones. Anyways…
Truck Stop Bathroom Art
Secret Puddles Markey in his dressing room.
I was too busy running around at our show at the amazing Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh to see much of the galleries, but I loved this weird shot of Andy with Albert Schwartzenegger and Grace Jones all hanging out together.
The women who did ASL interpretation for our show at the Warhol were so awesome, and total champs about interpreting Brontez’s nasty-ass stories!
Jerry dressed dandy for Andy! Respect.
Our Tour manager, Beth Pickens, swears by outing the whole van as gay as the best way to get through customs easily. When the eventual ‘How do you all know each other?’ question came from Border Patrol, I piped up, ‘Artistic collaborators – and we’re all gay.’ The guy waved us right into America! Maybe it works in the same way it worked for Justin Bond to tell V’s boss that V had to miss work to take V’s sister for an abortion, when in fact V had to go to the clinic to get some medication for The Clap. People just don’t want to know. All our Passport photos are pretty embarrassing, save for Cassie J Sneider who just got hers last week and is looking great with perfect cat-eye eyeliner, per usual.
Sister Spit would like to welcome Anne Heche to the Van Library, where she will be among such company as the Silence Of the Lambs audiobook, Tracy Morgan’s I Am the New Black audiobook and Jon Benet: Inside the Ramsey Murder Investigation by Detective Steve Thomas, read aloud. All 400+ pages of it.
Beauty daredevil Cassie J Sneider plucks her brows in a moving van!
At some bar down the street from our Oberlin, Ohio show, I sent Jerry Lee upstairs with my camera to come back with a photo and show us what we were missing as we sat downstairs eating tater tots and salad. There you go.
Erin Markey swears by the maternal, new age victim-blaming soothsaying of prophetess Louise Hay! Though I resent her claim that I brought my yeast infection on myself with bad feelings about my vagina, I really dug listening to her audio meditations, where she likened our negativity-prone psyches to frying pans that have so much gunk on them they need to soak in the sink for a while, but the sink is positive thinking, and when you soak your brain in it all the negativity soaks off! #METAPHOR
Found in a CVS in Pittsburgh. One of many items not for sale in San Francisco. You have to come to AMERICA for these!
NEXT TIME: Sister Spit gets kicked out of a mall in Towson, Maryland!
Hey you guys! Doesn’t Jerry Lee look scary rest stop hot in the new America glasses he picked up in Iowa City this morning? We were told to get coffee at the little coffee bar inside White Rabbit, a boutique I was about to write off as a DIY shop with, you know, electrical tape wallets and apple cozies but NO, this place was seriously good shopping! I got a pair of dead stock asymmetrical $5 sunglasses that I think are too something for me – hip hop, electro, new wave, young? – but at that price and this level of shopping deprivation I couldn’t say no! I also bought excellent some stone jewelry by Raw Earth, and Jerry Lee bought these here incredible aviators. Now he fits right in with the USA!
Look at Cassie J Sneider hiding behind an oppressive wall of other people’s vices. After our pretty great show at Butler University in Indianapolis tonight even I was hungry, which meant that everyone else on tour were starving because unlike these sad, weak people I tour with I don’t have to slow my roll with food. I was pretty excited to eat spinach etouffe at Yat’s but the place was closed so we picked a place that sounded exciting – a gay 24-hour diner called Ollie’s Downtown. Ollie’s is basically like the most uninspiring dive gay bar you can imagine, filled with the cigarette smoke and they serve food. It was like eating in a big, gay ashtray. Jerry Lee kindly offered not to smoke at the table, but Justin Bond took a stand – after all these nights having to take V’s cigarettes outside, the tables had turned! If we wanted fresh air, we would have to go outside, she said, and lit up a Marlboro Light right there at the table! The only thing that soothes the grotesque pain of sitting in a room of second-hand smoke is smoking, so I adopted a When-In-Indianapolis attitude and smoked one of Mx’s cigarettes. It was pretty disgusting but worth it to see the looks of shock and horror when my non-smoking tourmates came in to the bar/diner/hell and saw me smoking and sipping a Sprite (I had asked for a Ginger Ale!)
Cassie looked pretty depressed by the atmosphere and I asked her if she was having body memories of being locked in sealed environments with chain-smoking parents, and she lit up with the glow of being seen and said yes. I was, too.
My true love came to visit me on tour. Perhaps she just wanted an excuse to go shopping for faux coonskin hats at truck stops, but I don’t care. Steve Perry said it, the road ain’t no place to start a family. Having a conjugal visit with my true love is of the utmost importance. That dude who plays Don Draper on Mad Men won’t allow his Hollywood lifestyle to separate him from his woman, that annoying actress from that Friends with Kids movie, for more than two weeks at a time and I am swearing by this as well.
In Portland we went to The Alibi, an epic tiki bar, for karaoke. It was our first and only karaoke on tour so far, and it was a really good one! Our guest that night at Lewis and Clark College was Cooper Lee Bombardier, who came on the very first Sister Spit tour ever in 1997! He also came on a later tiny tour up the west coast, and when me and Sini Anderson took the van to get cleaned we took Cooper’s duffel bag out of the back and then left it on the street by accident! At the shady car wash on Portrero in San Francisco! A lifetime of leather pants, perfectly worn western shirts and classic rock Ts, gone in an instant. I can’t believe Cooper even talks to me after that. That’s forgiveness.
This was Dorothy Allison’s first trip inside a karaoke bar! She didn’t sing, but, you know, baby steps! It was brave enough for her to endure Cassie’s ferocious Iron Maiden, my trembling Stevie Nicks, and Chelsea Starr’s Courtney Love. If she was going to sing, I think she would have done Janis Joplin. There’s always tomorrow.
Speaking of Sister Spit Alumni Chelsea, check out her fancy phone! Way to dodge a brain tumor and look cute! I also enjoy the rhinestone cellie on the table, the wad of cash and the bottle of digestive enzymes.
Plaid Attack, Chicago
That’s a Char’d Polish on the left and your classic Cheese Dog on the right. Chicago, duh.
We all miss Dorothy Allison so much! Having her in the van was sweet and magical, and hearing her every night was a devastating rapture. For reals. We love you, Dorothy!
In Minneapolis we really needed a mic cord that was locked inside this cabinet. I had a feeling Cassie J could pick a lock, and when I asked her she said, “What kind of lock?” Then she pulled a bobby pin from her hair and got to work. It’s so great traveling with criminals.
Watching Season 2 of Dynasty in the Redwoods, California
Erin Markey is just WILD about Dill Pickle Potato Chips!
Okay, more soon, I got to go to bed! We’re getting up early to do a Sephora run before our Whole Foods run before heading to Oberlin College. Excellent!
Hey! Our Road Manager Jerry Lee ran out to get some dollars in Tucson and wound up falling into Toxic Ranch Records and finding a Seven Year Bitch 45! Look at all that punk happiness on his face. I understand – as awesome as our Tucson show was, and it was AWESOME, very, very, very AWESOME, I couldn’t wait til it was over so I could dash over to the Goodwill and buy two winter coats, a skirt, three blouses (One is Norma Kamali! Score!) and a necklace. Let’s be real: Tour is about hitting thrift shops across the USA and maximum karaoke.
At one gas station, Dorothy was told by the man behind the counter that they no longer had a microwave because druggies from the halfway house down the block would come in to microwave their pee before they had to go for a pee test. We don’t know if this actually works or if it is the sort of idea that comes from a person who also thinks there are bugs crawling out of their pores.
I like to lay down in the van and sort of sleep but also just listen to everyone talking. It gives me this cozy, safe feeling I used to get when I was a kid and half fell-asleep under the kitchen table when we had company over. Company was generally my grandmother and an aunt and a few cousins chain smoking and gossiping with my mother, and I would pray they’d just leave me there half-snoozing and totally eavesdropping on the floor, and they usually did. Today in the van Dorothy was playing her iPod and we listened to James McMurty and the Heartless Bastards, which sounds like a contemporary country music Violent Femmes, and then the theme to All That Jazz, plus some poems. It all prompted Erin to sing Jesus puts his money in the National Bank, the national bank, the National Bank / Jesus puts his money in the National Bank/ And that’s how Jesus saves! And share how she sang this song her dad taught her at her Youth Group ski trip and everyone just stared at her.
Today on the drive from Oakland to Arcata we passed the Army recruiting office where Dorothy’s son almost registered, and the Pier 1 Imports parking lot where Dorothy waited for him. The Army recruiter came out and said, ‘Mother Allison, you’ve got a fine boy,’ and what Dorothy was all, ‘Get the fuck away from my vehicle, I am here under protest.” Wow, did you really say that?! We all gasped. “I wanted to,” She sighed, “But you don’t want to embarrass your boy.”
Dorothy Allison told us a story about Janis Joplin’s old girlfriend Linda, who’d lived in Northern California. Linda told Dorothy that when people OD’d they’d bury them in hollow of a Redwood grove and cover them with dirt and flowers and wine, and say about them ‘They went to the trees.’ “She’s the one who was selling Janis’ underwear on Craig’s List. Not that they were actually Janis’ underwear. You know Janis wasn’t wearing Calvin Klein underwear so you knew she was just fucking with them. You got to make a living somehow.”
“Did you all know that Thomas Kincaid died this weekend?” Jerry Lee asks.
“He was lying in a bathtub with a bowl of gravy next to him, like Whitney Houston,” Erin said.
“Can you imagine if your last meal was a bowl of gravy fries?” Jerry Lee asked.
“I’m going to make it my artistic mission,” Said Erin.
“I hate that we live in a world where you can’t just have a movie about Julia Child, you have to splice in a blogger.” – Brontez Purnell
Erin Markey missed out on My So-Called Life because she wasn’t allowed to watch MTV because of the kids who set their house on fire after watching Beevus and Butthead.
In the front of the van Cassie and Dorothy negotiate Dorothy’s iPod for maximum Springsteen. “We’ll start with Badlands,” Dorothy says. “This is one of my favorite songs to sing at karaoke,” Cassie says. “I bet you’re good,” Dorothy says.
Sippin Syrup is the opposite of an energy drink – it is chock full of every herbal downer you can think of: Kava Kava, Hops, Valerian, Poppy, Melatonin and more. Jerry Lee drank some during the day and was then too wasted to drive the van. Cassie drank some after dark and Kit made the mistake of spiking his with Vodka. Says Jerry, “The ‘sippin’ is for real! You do not want to drink that, you want to sip it! I was seriously snoozed out. It’s carbonated. You can’t taste any of it, it just tastes like grape soda. All three of us who took it had a real doped-up experience on it.” Note the use of the word ‘took’ instead of ‘drank’.
Even better than the free tampons at the UC Santa Barbara Women’s Center are the buttons that say Don’t grab my ASS! It’s sexual assault!
Brontez’s reading materials. He says that he’s the kind of woman that The Feminine Mystique says you’re not supposed to be. Also, Cassie brought a copy of The Decline of Western Civilization: The Metal Years for us to watch on the DVD player in the van, after we watch the 2nd season of Dynasty, which Jerry Lee brought.
Jerry Lee’s latest Doritos adventure: Doritos Dinamita. “Look, they’re rolled Doritos! Let’s smoke them! ‘It was all fun and games until Jerry Lee got hospitalized for smoking Doritos.’” He eats them. “Oh my god oh that’s goooooood. It’s limey! The red ones are making me feel crazy, though.”
Stopping at the drive through tree is becoming a Sister Spit tradition – though the audience at our Arcata show said that Trees of Mystery is the area’s best tourist trap. Brontez did not get out of the van at this stop. “I’m gonna stay and sleep,” He said. “I seen a tree.”
At Tomo, the delicious sushi restaurant inside the Arcata Hotel, they’ll hold onto your chopsticks for you. Isn’t that cool?
I tried to upload a video of Jerry Lee losing it while holding a animatronic animal called Justin Beaver that sings Justin Bieber songs, but it didn’t work so you will have to visualize.
We’re off to Portland! Come see us at Holocene!
Hi you guys, I’m so tired. Just watching Dorothy Allison kill the end of our show tonight dead – I mean she was like howling and emoting and just fucking giving the audience everything in a way you rarely see an author do but often see musicians or athletes do – after seeing that I was just like, whew. Half of the audience stumbled to their feet in a standing ovation and the other half was plastered to their chairs, and not a few were crying. Was our UC Santa Cruz tonight the most powerful Sister Spit that ever happened? I would not get into a debate about it. It was stunning.
We were concerned that finding like a hive of dying bees under dying on the front of our van was a bad omen of sorts, but Cassie J Sneider’s commitment to freeing them (and putting them out of their misery) perhaps gained the approval of the Bee Gods.
Good people of UC Santa Cruz, we mean no disrespect but could not help but try to steal these cute informational signs planted helpfully along the rural campus! Don’t worry, we couldn’t figure it out.
Look, it’s Dorothy Allison’s manuscript. This is the 8th draft and she thinks she’s got two more to go. “How do you know?” I asked her, a bit desperately as I find it hard to know when a book is done. “Well, fuck,” She said. “How do you know?” Right, I get it. Nobody knows.
Yesterday we stayed at the Dynasty Suites in Riverside, California where they had this cute little pool. Jerry Lee kept saying “Live nasty, Dy-Nasty.”
In a move both boldly retro and shocking technological, Cassie J Sneider busts out a freaking cassette player and hooks it up to the Van’s stereo. Now all we listen to are scratchy punk tapes, including this amazing 80s Boston-band compilation called Mass Ave that has Human Sexual Response and Mission of Burma on it.
The other morning Cassie sent Kit Yan to the continental breakfast and asked him to bring her back anything that looked ‘fun.’ This barely edible collection of Otis Spunkmeyer delicacies sat in a bag in the Van for a while, and we all got into the idea of a Van ‘free box.’ But food hoarding can spread like wildfire on tour, and I like to nip that shit in the bud, so we tossed it. But it was ‘fun’ while it lasted!
Kit Yan and Erin Markey limber up with some outside-the-van movement.
Cassie J’s style is so hot can you even deal with that belt.
Hey, just Dorothy Allison’s reading copy of Bastard Out of Caroline sitting in my purse, no biggie. This morning’s installment of Make Dorothy Allison Your Best Friend involved walking to Starbucks together and learning that Dorothy has only one cup of coffee a day, but it is a Venti with a shot of Espresso. “Gotta make it count,” She said, and then disappeared into a Denny’s for some eggs.
At yesterday’s panel at UC Riverside (That was yesterday? It feels like three weeks ago!) we learned these things about one another:
Dorothy Allison would like to be cooked into a soup and served to her friends when she dies;
Brontez wrote Kathleen Hannah a desperate cry-for-help fan letter when he was 17 and she wrote him back;
Cassie J Sneider roadies for The Dwarves.
We don’t even know who we are in the van with! It’s only day four.
This is Erin Markey’s first purse ever, from when she was 11 years old! It needs to be in the Erin Markey museum.
– Brontez Purnell on serving sweet tea to Confederate Civil War reenactors while working at a BBQ in Alabama
“If you’re going to be a writer or artist in this country you’re going to spend a lot of your life on the road.”
– Dorothy Allison
Hey! Guess what I did in the Sister Spit van all day? Scribbled furiously into my little notebook, trying to write down every single thing every person said because it was that great. I felt sort of like a creep but also like, who would blame me for this? No court would convict me for noting that Dorothy Allison uses Crisco as a facial cleanser. No court. The inside of the Sister Spit van is teeming with so much juicy gossip, crucial life advice, beauty secrets, half-wit hilarity and stories that even I can’t even believe it, and this is my 10th Sister Spit tour.
Let’s start with a culinary review! Just like that dude in the Taco Bell commercial who goes on a road trip with his pals to score one of their new Dorito tacos, our Road Manager, Jerry Lee Manhattan, hit the road with Sister Spit in part to indulge in such delicacies. He got his at the Taco Bell/Pizza Hut in Bellweather, California. Here is what he had to say about his lunch, a beef taco in a taco shell that is actually a Dorito, and comes wrapped in special cardboard so you don’t get neon Dorito-dust all over your hands, though Jerry himself did note that if you eating a Taco Bell Dorito taco you probably aren’t classy enough to care.
Definitely the best part is the meat – where the meat meets the Dorito. The lettuce and cheese are kind of boring. I have to say that the Parmesan cheese (courtesy of Pizza Hut) did add a subtle kick. I should have put hot sauce to it, to make it juicy! I kind of want to eat it stoned. I wish they’d make one with Cool Ranch!
After allowing a moment for the taco to settle, Jerry Lee continues:
I have to say, I can still taste the Doritos, even after drinking something. That was sick! I would suggest it without the lettuce. I also want it to be noted on the blog that a 7-Layer Burrito is now $2.99. Girl, I should not be paying $3 for anything at Taco Bell. When the fuck id that happen? That’s bullshit. I call bullshit on that.
Soon after our interview Dorothy Allison returns from the Subway across the parking lot with incredible news – a woman was weeping in the Subway, and Dorothy, being a feminist, is not going to just ignore a weeping woman in a fast food restaurant. She asked what was up and the woman told her that a big rig had flipped over three lanes of traffic and took out 30 yards of guard rail and there is now a three hour back-up on the 5! The lady was crying because she was going to miss a wedding, but fuck a wedding, we were on our way to our show at Pasadena City College!
Our drivers Jerry Lee and Cassie J Sneider got to work figuring out an alternate route, and with the help of Snoop Dogg we totally did not miss our show! How did Snoop Dogg help us, you ask? Snoop Dogg is the voice of our GPS. So when we have to stay left, the Doggfather says, “Keep left, nephew!” Also, “Go straight on – like a Playa do!”It is distractingly excellent. Last year’s GPS voice was Mr. Burns from The Simpsons.
Anyway – if your fantasy of being on tour with Dorothy Allison is that she’d sort of kick back and spin great, wonderful, tragic, incredible, hilarious tales all day, well I hate to tell you that is exactly what happens, and it is a shame that she doesn’t make a podcast of herself just talking, because it is as fantastic as you know it is. Like her stories of being in her early 20s in Central Florida running with a bunch of drugstore cowboys – yes, just like in the movie, people knocking off drug stores for the pharmaceuticals. Dorothy didn’t partake so much as advise the thieves on what they’d even lifted. “I’d tell them, you got a lot of stuff to make you go the bathroom.” Shit got gnarly when a thirteen year baby thief shot and killed a pharmacist and got thrown in adult jail and then Steve McQueen got involved (!) and used his celebrity to get the kid out but then the kid just killed again! Jeez! I think I may be commiting the cardinal sin of telling another writers’ story right now, so I will stop, but I just needed to share. Also, Brontez Purnell said that is any of us on this tour shoot anyone he totally has our back. We learned today that Brontez is a Cancer with a Sag rising and a Sag moon, and don’t you think that is the ultimate proclamation of someone with that particular astrological makeup?
Literary Gossip: Joy Harjo loves a particular beverage served at the fast food chain Sonic so much she has an app on her iPhone to find them! Joy Harjo. I think I am totally allowed to shop on the sale rack at Urban Outfitters if Joy Harjo is searching for Sonics on her iPhone.
Let’s discuss the the proper snacks to supply at a sex party – chicken wings and cheese, according to Dorothy. “If they just eat carbs, they’ll crash. I didn’t like having sour cream on the bar, though. People would confuse it with other things.” Cassie J Sneider asked Dorothy if she still had her journals from these times, and she does and she doesn’t – they exist, but they are in North Carolina in the Duke University Archives! So scholars can study them!
We keep talking about food – maybe scarcity is setting in as we get further and further away from San Francisco and anything edible. I myself held my coffee to my lips reverently that morning, murmuring. “My last French Press.”
Tour tastes like burnt hotel coffee, little pouches of coffee that come in sad-looking plastic pouches.
Know what is even sadder? Red Eye Gravy! I didn’t know it was coffee grounds and pork grease, did you? “Only Yankees get all excited about it. Southerners know it’s disgusting,” Dorothy says, and then tells us how great putting a handful of boiled peanuts into an RC Cola is. “It creates this wonderful froth in the mouth.”
“Let’s do it!” Cheers Erin Markey.
Conversation turns, as it will, to bidets and the problems we ignorant Americans have with them. Dorothy once had to tend to a bidet she had mistake for a toilet with a bottle of 409 (they don’t flush). Jerry Lee discussed getting food poisoning while at a screening at the New People Gallery in Japantown which has amazing Japanese toilet-bidet hybrids with warming seats that poor Jerry upchucked into. He then wondered if he could use the bidet to rinse his mouth out.
I don’t know why talk in the Sister Spit van gets so gross, but it always does. Always.
I bet everyone is out in the hot tub playing waterproof Uno right now, while I sit in the Best Western lobby totally slaving away over this blog! Can you believe Cassie J Sneider brought a waterproof Uno keychain? She is the most hardy road warrior I have ever known. She also is adept to coming up with Would You Rathers while driving through the Mojave Desert.
Would you rather smell like cow shit all the time OR have toenails that are 4-inches long?
Would you rather make love to Billy Idol in his prime, OR David Lee Roth in his prime?
Would you rather listen to nothing but Korn for the rest of your life and wear only Jncos OR have Girls Just Want to Have Fun stuck in your head and always have to put an orange petticoat over everything you wear?
Erin Markey adds:
Would you rather passionately kiss a piece of horse poop OR dig through a pile of horse poop the size of a van to find the only copy of your birth certificate in existence?
Back to Cassie:
Would you rather passionately kiss Erin’s horse poop for like 40 minutes OR make out with and give a hand job to the worst asshole you ever dated, and they have to come?
Okay, I’m about to get booted out of the Best Western lobby. It’s time for bed! I leave you with a still life of Dorothy Allison’s cute purse and the literary purchase she made at the Pasadena City College bookstore. Oh and our show in Pasadena was awesome! Thanks everyone!