I Could Not Believe It: The 1979 Teenage Diaries of Sean DeLear

Courtesy of Semiotext(e). I met Sean DeLear when I was twenty-four, in this house across from the Eagle in Los Angeles—I remember Sean talking about the LA scene, me asking him if he had a Germs burn (I don’t remember the answer), but also being very struck by the fact that up until that point I had probably met only a couple dozen Black punks but never anyone of Sean De’s age and with their poise. Even in Stripped Bare House at 2 A.M. and being festive she just commanded this kind of magic and glamour—it was definitely something to reach for and to aspire to. We don’t always clock these things when we are younger, but the mere presence of her let me be hip to the fact that I could be beautiful, Black, and punk forever—and in fact, it would be the best possible path to take. It had been mentioned to me by Alice Bag (of the Bags, duh) that Sean was amongst the “First 50”—that seminal group of LA kids who were the first freaks to go to punk shows in Los Angeles and the geniuses of LA punk. Being a total-poser nineties punk I can’t even wrap my head around the dopamine effect of being in the mix when it all felt new—when Sean first started taking the bus out of Simi Valley and going headfirst into the scene for shows in Hollywood. How very frightening and liberating it must have been at the time for her, but of course I think Sean De was way beyond the title “trendsetter”—the word for her is MOTHER, forever, for sure, and for always. What is contained in the tiny pages of this book is a blaringly potent historical artifact of Black youth, seconds before the full realization into the scary world of adolescence and inevitable adulthood. Uncomfortable in parts? Yes, of course. I remember in eighth grade reading The Diary of Anne Frank—the uncensored version, which was withheld from the public until her father’s death because he stated he could not live with the most private parts of his adolescent daughter’s diary being consumed by the world. There is a certain sense of protection I feel for baby Sean De’s most private thoughts being so exposed; however, so very little is written about the lives and the bold sexuality of young queers, and specifically of young Black queers, that I also have to give regard to the fact that there is something ultimately explosive about this text. It also denotes the intense singularity of its author. A gay Black punk one generation AFTER DeLear, at the age of fourteen I was rather content staring at a wall and obsessing over my Lookout Records catalog—I can’t even comprehend a gay Black kid some thirty years before planning to blackmail older white boys’ dads for money for acting lessons. Okay, like first of all, YAAAAAAAS BITCH, and second, this level of forward thinking is what propelled Sean De to become the scene girl to end all scene girls. I do have to imagine what level of this diary is real and which parts sit in an autofictional space—did she REALLY fuck all these old white dudes? Or was it a horny and advanced imagination at play? The only real answer is WHO CARES. I think one of the most magical things about Sean De was that her imagination and her fantasy world were so absolute. The world she was spinning always BECAME true—this is the beauty of a shape-shifter, and she was a noted scene darling and muse for this reason. Now amid all this magic, of course, was her fair share of trials and tribulations. Sean related to me that when her band Glue’s music video for “Paloma” debuted on MTV’s 120 Minutes, a higher-up in programming made a call to make sure that it was never shown again—and how sad. Now, let’s consider that Sean De’s performance did not exist in a vacuum—I mean, if there was room for RuPaul, why not for Sean De? Certainly by the nineties there was room for a punk rock gender-defying Black child-gangster of the revolution—or then again, maybe not. Whereas RuPaul was relegated to the dance world, Sean De made rock and roll her drama—and rock and roll to this day REMAINS (disappointingly) the last stronghold of segregation in music. In a post-Afro-punk reality this should not be the case, but as desegregation proves itself to be a one-hundred-year period, Sean De’s struggle to claim solidification and recognition in the world of SoCal nineties music comes as no real surprise. But also, as we are in an intense period of rediscovering buried histories and legacies, Sean De’s is one of great note, triumph, and inspiration. As a matter of fucking fact, she is the Queen Mother of alternative music, and in whatever higher realm of existence she is currently existing in, I can only imagine the sound of great explosions and bells ringing as she is gluing on her ICONIC eyelashes and receiving her flowers. At the time of Sean De’s death, I actually got a handful of her eyelashes, which I promptly put on my altar for the dead. I collected every zine she was in in the nineties and the Kid Congo record of which she was the subject, and I got to read and relish in the world o

I Could Not Believe It: The 1979 Teenage Diaries of Sean DeLear

Courtesy of Semiotext(e).

I met Sean DeLear when I was twenty-four, in this house across from the Eagle in Los Angeles—I remember Sean talking about the LA scene, me asking him if he had a Germs burn (I don’t remember the answer), but also being very struck by the fact that up until that point I had probably met only a couple dozen Black punks but never anyone of Sean De’s age and with their poise. Even in Stripped Bare House at 2 A.M. and being festive she just commanded this kind of magic and glamour—it was definitely something to reach for and to aspire to. We don’t always clock these things when we are younger, but the mere presence of her let me be hip to the fact that I could be beautiful, Black, and punk forever—and in fact, it would be the best possible path to take.

It had been mentioned to me by Alice Bag (of the Bags, duh) that Sean was amongst the “First 50”—that seminal group of LA kids who were the first freaks to go to punk shows in Los Angeles and the geniuses of LA punk. Being a total-poser nineties punk I can’t even wrap my head around the dopamine effect of being in the mix when it all felt new—when Sean first started taking the bus out of Simi Valley and going headfirst into the scene for shows in Hollywood. How very frightening and liberating it must have been at the time for her, but of course I think Sean De was way beyond the title “trendsetter”—the word for her is MOTHER, forever, for sure, and for always.

What is contained in the tiny pages of this book is a blaringly potent historical artifact of Black youth, seconds before the full realization into the scary world of adolescence and inevitable adulthood. Uncomfortable in parts? Yes, of course. I remember in eighth grade reading The Diary of Anne Frank—the uncensored version, which was withheld from the public until her father’s death because he stated he could not live with the most private parts of his adolescent daughter’s diary being consumed by the world. There is a certain sense of protection I feel for baby Sean De’s most private thoughts being so exposed; however, so very little is written about the lives and the bold sexuality of young queers, and specifically of young Black queers, that I also have to give regard to the fact that there is something ultimately explosive about this text. It also denotes the intense singularity of its author. A gay Black punk one generation AFTER DeLear, at the age of fourteen I was rather content staring at a wall and obsessing over my Lookout Records catalog—I can’t even comprehend a gay Black kid some thirty years before planning to blackmail older white boys’ dads for money for acting lessons. Okay, like first of all, YAAAAAAAS BITCH, and second, this level of forward thinking is what propelled Sean De to become the scene girl to end all scene girls. I do have to imagine what level of this diary is real and which parts sit in an autofictional space—did she REALLY fuck all these old white dudes? Or was it a horny and advanced imagination at play? The only real answer is WHO CARES. I think one of the most magical things about Sean De was that her imagination and her fantasy world were so absolute. The world she was spinning always BECAME true—this is the beauty of a shape-shifter, and she was a noted scene darling and muse for this reason.

Now amid all this magic, of course, was her fair share of trials and tribulations. Sean related to me that when her band Glue’s music video for “Paloma” debuted on MTV’s 120 Minutes, a higher-up in programming made a call to make sure that it was never shown again—and how sad.

Now, let’s consider that Sean De’s performance did not exist in a vacuum—I mean, if there was room for RuPaul, why not for Sean De? Certainly by the nineties there was room for a punk rock gender-defying Black child-gangster of the revolution—or then again, maybe not. Whereas RuPaul was relegated to the dance world, Sean De made rock and roll her drama—and rock and roll to this day REMAINS (disappointingly) the last stronghold of segregation in music. In a post-Afro-punk reality this should not be the case, but as desegregation proves itself to be a one-hundred-year period, Sean De’s struggle to claim solidification and recognition in the world of SoCal nineties music comes as no real surprise. But also, as we are in an intense period of rediscovering buried histories and legacies, Sean De’s is one of great note, triumph, and inspiration. As a matter of fucking fact, she is the Queen Mother of alternative music, and in whatever higher realm of existence she is currently existing in, I can only imagine the sound of great explosions and bells ringing as she is gluing on her ICONIC eyelashes and receiving her flowers.

At the time of Sean De’s death, I actually got a handful of her eyelashes, which I promptly put on my altar for the dead. I collected every zine she was in in the nineties and the Kid Congo record of which she was the subject, and I got to read and relish in the world of this great artist as a teen. I don’t know how I got so lucky as to share a planet for a brief time with this punk-rock fairy godmother, but you best believe that I pray to any god listening that I am grateful for such. Long live Sean DeLear.

—Brontez Purnell

Monday, January 1, 1979

Happy New Year Tony it is now midnight and one second. Well this is my first diary and I will write everything that happens to me in 1979. Will write tonight Bye … Well I am going to bed now so today there was a bitchen earthquake that was 4.6 on the Richter scale. Me and Terry went bowling today and me and Kim got in a fight on the phone. About Ken (fag-it) P. Kim still likes him even though he was going to ask her to go with him but he didn’t. I thought of a name for you, Ty short for Tyler who works at the bowling alley and who I have a crush on madly. I don’t know if he is gay or not but he is so so so so cute cute. Well I am going to go to bed now, so good night.

Love,
Tony

Thursday, February 8, 1979

Dear Ty,

Today I did the long jump and got almost fifteen feet, not bad. I had acting class today and I think the play will be okay. I hope I don’t forget my lines and my cues. Well if I forget, oh well—there is nothing I can do about it. Tomorrow I am going to go to Topanga Plaza and try to get a trick and if I do I will swipe all his money, or her money. And Chatsworth High is right across the street and I will go into the locker room and act like I am looking for someone and I will say I am from Great Falls, Montana. I am looking for David B. I hope I get some money or I might just rob a store for all you know. But I don’t think so. Good night.

Love,
Tony

Friday, February 9, 1979

Dear Ty,

Well I went to Topanga Plaza and was in the tearoom and stuck my cock out to this man and he was a cop and he arrested me for masturbating in a public restroom. Can you believe it? They took me to the police station handcuffed then they called my mom and she had to come get me. She asked me if I thought I was gay and I told her I don’t know. I went to the high school and could not find the locker room and there were a lot of hunks. Then at about 2:30 A.M. I got my mom’s keys to the Zee and went for a little bit of a spin. It was so bitchen at first. I almost hit a car and from then on I was very careful. I went about twenty-five miles. I went to Simi Bowl and there was no one and then over the hill to Rocket Bowl and they were not open. I came home and Mom went through my room and called Dad.

Love,
Tony

Saturday, February 10, 1979

Dear Ty,

In the morning dad was here and he gave me a lecture about why I went over the hill and for what. I don’t know how to tell them that I think I am gay. I don’t think I will tell them at all. I had so much fun driving last night. Dad said “You don’t know how to drive,” that is what he thinks. Oh well. I went to bowling today and I was the only one there and we won two games. I bowled a 115, a 149, and a 169, not bad. I did not go in the tearoom that much because of yesterday over the hill. But I did see this one man’s cock—not bad about six and a half inches long, not that thick at all. Well tomorrow is the big day, I hope I can spin the basketball on my finger and don’t drop it. I hope it will be fun. I wonder how long I will be grounded for ditching and taking the car. When I find out I will tell you. This will be the first time this year. Good night.

Love,
Tony

Sunday, February 11, 1979

Dear Ty,

Well today was the big day of the play and it was okay and I didn’t drop the basketball when I spun it on my finger. I remembered all my lines I was so glad. Mom did not take my mags away from me that she found Friday night so I put them back where they belong and nobody knows where they are. We have a three-day weekend but I had four days. I am going to build a fishpond I started digging today and it is half dug up. I want to get little turtles and goldfish and all kinds of plants around it. I hope it does not cost a lot of money. I might get my phone put in but I don’t know. I wonder when I get Grandma’s piano I want to get it so I can learn to play super good. Good night.

Love,
Tony

Monday, February 12, 1979

Dear Ty,

Well I finished my fishpond now, all I have to do is get some cement and fish and turtles and a lot of plants to go all around it. I just thought of something—I have to get a good filter to keep it clean so I don’t have to clean it every day. I want to get a good one. I still don’t know when I get to be a free man again. I will probably be grounded for a week or two. I hope it is not long for my sake. It will be a long time I know her too well to let me off that easy. I meant to ask about the piano but I forgot again. I don’t think it will be too soon don’t you worry. I still love Tyler S. he is a total babe so is Dale B. and Victor C. I want their COCKS.

Love,
Tony

Tuesday, February 13, 1979

Dear Ty,

It started to rain today so I can’t do my pond today. I don’t think it will ever be finished but I can hope and pray. Today I was at Santa Susana Liquors and this old lady was looking at the naked ladies in the mags I could not believe it. She was probably a lez so who cares anyway. Then I went to Simi Liquors and they have the new Playgirl and the centerfold is a total fox with a huge cock and nice balls. I still don’t know when I will be a free gay person again. Probably a month or so; I hope not. I have to find out where Victor and Dale live so I can see them masturbate alone or together. I hope they do it together. If they do it together I will join them and spread it all over school and that will be hell for those two forever … Good night.

Love,
Tony

Wednesday, February 14, 1979

Dear Ty,

In office practice I did not get a chance to find out where Dale and Victor live. Well I went to McDonald’s for lunch and brought it back to school for me and Kim. Everybody was pissed off at me for not getting them something to eat. Oh well. Tomorrow we have our first big test in Mr. Billings’s class. I hope I get a good grade, better than Michelle’s. I still don’t know when I get to be a free gay person again. Right now, I am laying on my big nine-inch cock with a full erection—wish Dale’s cock was up my ass right now but no POSSIBLE WAY. Or Victor’s in my mouth so bad. I still don’t know when I get the piano. Max and Glenda think I broke into their house last night but I didn’t and I know that for sure so they can FUCK OFF. Good night.

Love,
Tony

Thursday, February 15, 1979

Dear Ty,

Nothing at all happened today. I still don’t know when I get the piano. Well, that’s all for tonight. I still love Tyler S. and want to see Dale’s, Victor’s, and Ryan’s cocks so bad. I want to find out where Victor and Dale live. Well, good night.

Love,
Tony

Friday, February 16, 1979

Dear Ty,

It has been one week since I got picked up by the pigs in the bathroom, and one week since I drove the car at night, and one week since I have been grounded. I still don’t know how long I am grounded. I think I will quit my paper route. I am so sick of Mr. Drunk, I am ready to just quit at the end of the month. I got Victor’s and Dale’s address. I can’t find either streets so I have to get a map of Simi Valley. Well, good night.

Love,
Tony

Saturday, March 3, 1979

Dear Ty,

I went to bowling today and we won all four games. I bowled a 143, a 115, and a 143, not bad … I hope my average goes up. We are at Dad’s house right now; I went out tonight. It was a total dud, but one thing I liked was there were a lot of cars and people out on the streets not like in Simi. I was walking home and I met this guy but he was not gay, I asked him and he did not get mad because he was higher than the clouds on coke. But other than him it was a dud. They fixed the hole in the wall at the bowling alley by putting a piece of metal over the hole and welding it. Well, good night.

Love,
Tony

Monday, March 5, 1979

Dear Ty,

I finished collecting today and I think Mark J. is gay. He is always in his room. If he is in school he must study a lot but that is still a lot of studying. I have to ask him one day if he is gay if I get the nerve which I doubt I will. Well we went to court today and I have to go to counseling again. See, they did not do nothing like I said. I forgot to ask Mom how much longer I am grounded, I have to ask tomorrow. I hope Mark J. is gay, he is such a cutie I cannot believe it. Now I have a crush on (in order) Dale B., Tyler S., Mark J., and Victor C. I love them all anyway. Good night.

Love,
Tony

From I Could Not Believe It: The 1979 Teenage Diaries of Sean DeLear, edited by Michael Bullock and Cesar Padilla and with an introduction by Brontez Purnell, to be published by Semiotext(e) in May.

Sean DeLear (1965–2017) was an influential member of the “Silver Lake scene” in eighties and nineties Los Angeles before moving to Europe. In Vienna, he became part of the art collective Gelitin and devised a solo cabaret show called Sean DeLear on the Rocks. DeLear was a cultural boundary-breaker whose work transcended sexuality, race, age, genre, and scene.

Brontez Purnell is a writer, musician, dancer, filmmaker, and performance artist. He is the author of a graphic novel, a novella, a children’s book, and the novel Since I Laid My Burden Down. Born in Triana, Alabama, he’s lived in Oakland, California, for more than a decade.