reading is fundamental

Artist Seth Bogart’s Smutty Punk Reading List

Published October 29, 2020

Seth Bogart by Alexandra Cabral.

“I feel like she would kill me,” says the artist Seth Bogart, referring to the radical feminist writer Valerie Solanas, whose seminal manuscript SCUM Manifesto he’s recreated in crude ceramic for his latest exhibition, Library Fantasy Volume One at Fierman Gallery in New York. There, the tome, which was published one year prior to Solanas’s assassination attempt of Andy Warhol in 1968 and suggested the annihilation of the male gender entirely, appears atop a shelf, as in a used bookstore, beside fragile replicas of Larry Kramer’s controversial novel Faggots and a collection of erotic short stories, Macho Sluts, by Pat Califia. Its title is spelled out in bold red glaze, a clay discount sticker at odds with the gallery’s nearby price list. “[Solanas] was so ahead of her time and smart… but was considered to be a crazy person,” he adds. “I think, in reality, she was kind of just right. Men are ruining the world.” 

Though Bogart’s vast yet decidedly low-budget output spans painting, pottery, and clothing design, he’s perhaps best known for his music. He came up in the Oakland punk scene in the early 2000s as the shriek-singing lead vocalist of the electro-clash foursome Gravy Train!!!! before unleashing sexed up ballads as the lisping, titular hunk of the garage-rock band Hunx and His Punx. His inaugural release under his own name came in 2015, and on his first album since, Seth Bogart Presents… Men on the Verge of Nothing, which released last month, we see a familiar reckoning with masculinity. It listens, at times, like a bummed out dirge for a society that allowed the death of a generation of gay men (“The Other Siders”) and that would squeeze the femininity from a new one (“Boys Who Don’t Wanna Be Boys”), while assembling an all-girl crew of collaborators that includes Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna and Veronica Falls to make the case that women will save the world.

“Why are we talking about women being on the verge of something bad when men are the ones really on the verge of everything, but at the same time, nothing?” Bogart asks, a nod to the Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which inspired his album title. Though he admits his latest record is “more serious” than previous releases, Bogart’s varied pursuits stay true to a John Waters-level of affinity for camp, while also reflecting a nostalgia for the analog days of queer culture, of cruising in parks and scanning the shelves of Los Angeles’s Circus of Books (“Now it’s, like, a dumb weed store!”). It comes as little surprise then, that, when asked to share his essential reading list with Interview, it becomes a guide to staying blissfully queer and punk forever, to eradicating men and being a shitty one. 

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Cookie Mueller, Garden of Ashes

“All of Cookie’s books are genius, but this is the one I lusted after for years. I tricked a guy into trading a ceramic toothbrush I made for this almost-impossible-to-find, tiny little book. Hanuman Books published over 40 titles by icons like Gary Indiana, Patti Smith, Candy Darling, Eileen Myles, and Jack Smith out of the Chelsea Hotel—and, of course, two by my favorite Pisces in the world, Cookie Mueller. Cookie writes about breaking into show biz, her co-stars Divine and Edith Massey, and, well, not much else really. You can’t fit that much into a pocket-sized book! I heard they used to sell these in a vending machine for 50 cents at Danceteria in the ’80s.”

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Patrick Cowley, Mechanical Fantasy Box: The Homoerotic Journal of Patrick Cowley

“Patrick Cowley made tons of amazing recordings in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and he’s best known for his work with Sylvester, like the hit ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).’ Dark Entries recently published this incredible book of Patrick’s sex journals that were started in 1974 in San Francisco and ended on his 30th birthday in 1980. His writing is like poetry—super sexual and horny but also very beautiful. Crisco in backpacks. Nonstop cruising. A German artist I really love, Gwenaël Rattke, did a bunch of illustrations for the book, and he also recently designed the cover art for my ‘Boys Who Don’t Wanna Be Boys: The Remixes’ 12-inch.” 

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Charles White, The Life and Times of Little Richard

“I used to have this recurring dream I had the most beautiful Little Richard hair, and then I would wake up with this old thing. This book is one of the most salacious and juicy rock and roll tales you will ever read. There are some quotes from Little Richard that shocked even me. ‘So I had this boy with 15 inches and I watched him turning into a homosexual through that. I tried to have sex with him in my rectum… Oh, I think I know how women feel when they are having a baby.’ It gets better. ‘I would pay a guy with a big penis to come and have sex with these ladies so I could watch them. As I was watching, I would masturbate while someone was eating my titties.’ It’s too bad Richard later denounced his homosexuality. I hope he’s up in heaven getting his titties sucked by hot men.”

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Linda Simpson, Pages

“This is an absolutely stunning collection of photographs by legendary New York drag queen Linda Simpson. All the photos are of Linda’s friend, a trans woman named Page, who passed away in 2002. Linda discovered Page when her friend, Tabboo!, rented a documentary Page was in called ‘What Sex Am I?’ They became friends and Linda documented her for the next decade. Page did a lot of really crazy performances about gender and identity: Linda tells the story of Page pulling out a butcher knife and chopping off her strap-on dildo on stage. One of the photos in this book would not leave my brain. It’s a shot of Page looking in the mirror of a van in ’90s New York wearing a cone wig twice the size of her head. I reached out to Linda and asked if I could use it for the cover of my album Men on the Verge of Nothing. She said yes; she wants to keep Page’s legacy alive.”

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Valerie Solanas, SCUM Manifesto

“Can you imagine a world without men? Hopefully, I’ll be reincarnated as a fly on the wall so I can witness it when we’re killed off. Society for Cutting Up Men (SCUM) suggested a program that would ‘eliminate the male sex and begin to create a far-out, funky female world.’ In 1967, Valerie Solanas said that men ruined the world and it’s up to women to fix it. How true is that in 2020? Undeniable.”

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Ron Athey, Queer Communion

“I used to be so intimidated by Ron Athey when I would see him around L.A. and I’m not sure why, because we have a million friends in common. Maybe it’s all his tattoos or his strikingly good looks or his legendary performances that precede him. I’m not quite sure, really! One day, I got the courage to talk to him, and he’s really the sweetest man in the world. So warm and friendly. I literally just want to hug him for an entire day. This book is an exploration of Ron’s career—part memoir, part art book—from his early days performing with Premature Ejaculation to his controversial blood-soaked performances. Such an important queer artist.”

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Niki de Saint Phalle, AIDS: You Can’t Catch It Holding Hands

“Niki de Saint Phalle was an artist most known for her monumental sculptures. In 1986, she published this book that reads as a letter to her son. She knew many people, mostly gay men, who were sick and dying of AIDS, and she felt like she had to help fight and educate people. Over 70,000 copies of this book were distributed for free in schools. Niki’s childlike drawings are accompanied by facts about AIDS such as you can’t get it from toilet seats, combs, money, or books. Don’t share needles. No sex parties. Use rubbers. When my friend gave me a copy last year, I instantly teared up as I read it. I was a kid in the 1980s, and my uncle’s boyfriend died of AIDS. I grew up terrified of it.”

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Brontez Purnell, Johnny Would You Love Me If My Dick Were Bigger

“Brontez and I played in several bands together and were pen pals in high school, so I’ve known him for over 20 years, and he has become one of my favorite writers in the world. This collection features amazing short stories and essays like ‘How To Survive Shitty Men, ‘How To Survive Being a Shitty Man,’ and the iconic ‘Johnny Would You Love Me if My Dick Were Bigger.’ He also tells the story of when we got guns pulled on us by rednecks at a shitty Dairy Queen while we were on tour in Texas. For being too gay, I’m sure. Brontez wasn’t scared and ended up giving a trucker a blowjob in the truck stop bathroom within minutes of having guns pulled on us. He said, ‘What a difference one stop can make,’ as he returned to the van. I wish I could live life more like Brontez.”

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Joey Terrill, Homeboy Beautiful

Homeboy Beautiful was a short-lived, influential, queer, Chicano publication in the late ’70s by the artist Joey Terrill. My friend Rudy reissued these zines a few years back and I was lucky enough to get both issues. Joey used the concept of magazines like Cosmopolitan and Ladies Home Journal and subverted them into homo-homeboy masterpieces. In Issue 2, a white husband and wife are kidnapped, tied up, and forced to eat menudo. ‘It’s menudo, white-boy! Now eat it!’ I think you can find scans of these on the internet.”

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Alice Bag, Violence Girl

“If you’re a fan of punk, there was truly no scene more exciting than L.A. in the late ’70s. It was full of women, queers, and people of color: Germs, The Screamers, and, of course, Alice Bag, singer of The Bags and later part of Castration Squad. Her book, Violence Girl, is a Chicana punk story. It’s truly thrilling to read about her friendship with Darby Crash, how she almost was the singer of The Go-Go’s, how she became a fitness instructor at Jack LaLanne—they forced her to wear high heels when she worked—and later a school teacher. I’m lucky I got to be in a short-lived band with Alice. I’m so deeply inspired by people who stay punk their entire lives.”