A podcast about history

That's not stuck in the past


Two decades ago, Brontez Purnell fled his Christian family in Alabama, landed in a warehouse full of punks in East Oakland, and quickly got to work hooking up with as many guys as he could get his hands on. Janelle Hessig, creator of influential zines like Tales of Blarg and Desperate Times, urged Brontez to chronicle his eclectic trysts, and in 2014 they published an illustrated compilation of this self-described “anti-erotica.” The combination of Brontez’s gleeful debauchery and Janelle’s laughably lurid drawings made “The Cruising Diaries” an instant Bay Area underground classic, with the first print run (that Janelle financed with settlement money from getting hit by a car) selling out rapidly.

Since then, Brontez has written three acclaimed novels and been celebrated by the New York Times as an essential “Black male writer for our time.” In this episode, Brontez and Janelle recall the roots of the friendship that helped launch this distinguished career. First, we discuss the thriving 1990s/2000s warehouse culture that incubated a generation of broke Bay Area artists and musicians. Then, Brontez takes us on a tour of some notable East Bay cruising spots of yesteryear. Listen now to hear stories of nefarious potlucks, horny wizards, landfill parties, go-go boys, Jello Biafra, and more: Apple / SoundCloud / Spotify.

An expanded version of “The Cruising Diaries” was recently published by Silver Sprocket. From the publisher’s description: “After leaving small town Alabama where romantic options were scant for a Black queer punk, Purnell was delighted to discover a wealth of romantic opportunity in his adopted home of Oakland and devoted his time to sampling each and every flavor.”
Janelle and Brontez perform together as Baby Jail at the Apgar Street punk house in north Oakland, circa mid-2000s. Brontez continues to release music, as a solo artist and with The Younger Lovers.
During the warehouse scene’s heyday, wild parties raged in underground venues throughout the East Bay every weekend. The location on this flyer, once the home of Erase Errata, has since been converted into High Street Studios. [Illustration: Janelle Hessig]
Janelle and Brontez getting festive, circa mid-2000s.
14-year-old Janelle Hessig made the first issue of Tales of Blarg in crafts class at Pinole Valley High while her classmates were surreptitiously sculpting ceramic bongs. She describes early issues as a cross between Mad Magazine, Absolutely Zippo, and Sassy. As zine culture grew throughout the 1990s, Tales of Blarg emerged as one of the most influential and definitive of of the era. Janelle continues to publish art and newsletters through her Patreon page.
Brontez and Janelle outside of the Oakland garage where we recorded this special Valentine’s Day episode of East Bay Yesterday on February 5, 2021. Listen to the interview here: Apple / SoundCloud / Spotify.

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The friendship behind “The Cruising Diaries”
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