Agony Shorthand

Monday, June 27, 2005
MY TAKE ON THE "DiG!" DVD........

I've lived in San Francisco for 16 years now, and not once until this past Friday night have I heard a lick of music from THE BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE. Nearly half that time they were living here & playing chaotic, well-documented shows, but my "scene" and their shamelessly retro, Beatle-boot scene never actually crossed. Now I have had a little experience with the DANDY WARHOLS, I must say. A former co-worker who loved the band asked me to come along to a show in 2000 & I obliged thanks to the free ticket; what I saw didn't distress me much -- just a corporate alterna-rock band with a few very catchy tunes and a decent sound, obviously looking to get really, really big, that's all. Wouldn't you know it, the next company I worked for (2001-03) was Vodafone, the world's largest wireless carrier, and the company appropriated a slice of Dandy Warhols arcana for a massive European ad campaign -- next thing you knew and "The Dandies" were stadium-huge over there. It was kind of funny; I traveled to Ireland that year and I'd see Dandy Warhols CDs in the racks with stickers on them, "featuring the song 'Bohemian Like You', as featured in Vodafone's TV ads". Why, back in my day......hrrrumph. Anyway, the tune itself is actually quite good, a Top 40 song that deserved to be there. But I had no real interest in the "DiG!" movie, detailing the crossing career paths and intense pseudo-rivalry of these two bands, until the excellent reviews and raves from friends began pouring in.

"DiG!" is, in fact, more entertaining than most rock and roll movies you're going to find. Forget the subject matter -- though it's not easy once you've seen Anton Newcombe of the BJM in action for nearly 2 hours. It's the graphic portrayal of the players in the Brian Jonestown Massacre that makes this film, and their legend-making fucked-up-ness is just beyond belief. One part of me wishes I could party with them a bunch (particularly maracas player/court jester/drunk Joel Gion) while the other part recoils in horror at the abuse these guys gave thmselves & each other. The thing about both bands is, I reckon they really did have something of their own unique scene for a while in the mid-90s, one centered as much around their very caftan-and-scarf heavy 60s clothes (Brian Jones ain't namechecked for nothing) as their very 60s hippie/psych/love music. Some of it's actually really good, too -- going on the evidence here, all the great things everyone says about Newcombe's musical genius might be at least 10% true. He's one of those people that is completely unfathomable outside of being in a band and who will likely never work a job; problem is, his personality is so off-the-charts narcissistic and destructive that even that career has been nothing short of a wreck, and the guys that did stay with him for years (Gion, "Matt Hollywood") finally threw in the towel after one final on-stage boot-kick or heroin-laced tirade.

There are lots of well-edited clips and some self-serving voiceover from the Dandy Warhols' "Courtney Taylor". (Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, didn't anyone tell you not to saddle your poor boy with a girl's name? "Courtney" ends up having this total Paul Lynde-like voice and mincing stage persona, mixed in with an ego as wide as the day is long). Filmmaker Ondi Timoner positions the BJM's failures with the Dandy Warhols' dogged and unyielding eyes on the prize, though early on both bands are just broke, struggling pals & fellow admirers. Later this semi-fake feud between the bands ensues, which is more about Newcombe trying to create some British-style press war in a country (US) where no major journalists are willing to write about junkie bands with zero record sales -- in the UK it may be a different story. Newcombe is such an addled mess that when he creepy crawls the Dandy Warhols' CMJ show in New York (against a restraining order, believe it or not!), the camera catches him stumbling all over the sidewalk, into the street, mumbling incoherently into the camera, all the while handing out his latest 12" EP, a "put-down" of the Dandy Warhols called "Not If You Were The Last Dandy On Earth" to everyone under the sun, while wrapped in this ridiculous Russian-style fur hat. Great stuff. I had read these stories about these bands before, but Timoner's camera was there for something like 7 years, capturing it all. Definitely a must-rent if you haven't seen it yet, and I'm sorry if you're bummed it's not about Amon Duul and the Electric Eels.