Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Fall of the Brian Jonestown Massacre

Their lives were turbulent.  There were riots at their shows.  Sometimes on the stage among themselves. Their members often quit. They lived in squalor.  They alienated the music industry. They also created some of the most incredible music of the 90's. Yet some of you are reading this and asking, "Why don't I know this band?"

Fellow staffer Tom asked me if I had ever watched the documentary "Dig!".  I had not.  I am almost ashamed to admit this but when he told me that it was a documentary about The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols that was filmed over seven years I honestly couldn't even name one song from either band.  I had heard of them but never listened. He encouraged me to watch it.  Being a musician himself it was one of those movies he had watched countless times frustrated by the talent and lack of success.

Time went by and about once a week Tom would send me a text asking if I had watched it.  I had not.  Finally on a Saturday night I caved.  I brought it up and watched spellbound for the next 1:47 minutes.

In the beginning Anton Newcombe had all of the potential that one could have.  He was a genius.  He could play numerous instruments, not only write songs prolifically but write GOOD songs prolifically and produce them himself.  He created his own style of music blending 60's psychedelia with today's folk and alternative that inspired numerous bands such as The Dandy Warhols and  The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.  He had the industry a buzz thinking he was the next great thing.  That never happened.

Sadly, potential does not mean success.  It is mentioned in the documentary "Dig!" that Anton compared himself with the Beatles and Rolling Stones but unlike those bands they had success before the drugs took hold.  True.  Even Brian Wilson had his success before retreating to his bed. The other major piece missing that wasn't mentioned was a partner.   McCartney had Lennon.  Richards had Jagger.  Bono had The Edge.  A partnership that would keep each other in check.  Anton managed to push everyone away.  He let his crazy flag fly and dared everyone to try to capture it.  Anton surrounded himself with creators and them told them not to think and just do.  He lost Matt Hollywood.  He lost Peter Hayes.  He pushed them all away.  His ego and destructiveness alienated everyone that loved him.

His best chance at true partnership was with Courtney Taylor-Taylor of The Dandy Warhols.  His pop sensibilities and Anton's arrangements would have made an incredible one-two punch.  Instead of making Courtney an ally he made him an enemy.  Add this alienation to a family history of mental illness (father was schizophrenic) with drug abuse and it is a combustible cocktail of failure.  There was never that one person to put him in his place, shut him up, and keep him focused. Instead his delusional idealism was the creative and destructive force behind the band.

Anton managed to destroy every industry opportunity.  He didn't want to sell out, relinquish control, or compromise.  He didn't care about the money,  He just wanted his music to be heard.  All of these things are precisely what prevented this from happening.  It was difficult to watch as The Dandy Warholes did all the right things but just never quite captured what Anton possessed. One was so close and the other so far away. They both wanted the same thing.  They both wanted what the other possessed and together they could have achieved it.  Instead you just feel sort of empty in the end.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warholes are still around today.  Anton still lurking in the shadows while Courtney enjoys success.  Anton was briefly a member of The Warlocks. Anton does have the touch of gold, as Tom would say.  It just doesn't work on himself.  Peter Hayes was co-founder of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.  Miranda Lee Richards has had a good solo career.  There are numerous others.  Many members, formerly of BJM, including Matt Hollywood and Jeff Davies, found their way back to Anton.  Presumably hoping that things would change.  Sadly, things stay the same. That is Anton's gift and curse.

If you have not seen it please watch "Dig!"  It makes you wonder how many other cases of this exist. There was never truly a rise.  Only a fall.

See you when the needle drops!


Recent Articles By Fran


  1. Seriously? Have you paid them,, any attention outside that ridiculous film? If you're going to pose as a journalist,a little investigation would probably come in handy. Seriously.

    1. Thank you for the feedback Tom. I love that you disagree with me. I certainly do not agree with everything I read. What fun would it be if everyone assumed I was right or took my word as gospel. This piece was my commentary on Anton after watching the movie. In my opinion Anton never achieved the commercial success he was capable of partly due to his self destructive nature at that time. I've read about his disdain for he movie and I know he's married and in Europe still making music today. My point was I felt he should have been bigger and wasn't. I know succes is measured in different ways. I am curious about your thoughts on this subject. I would love for you to change my mind.

    2. Didn't mean to sound snarky, but that movie, great on one hand and ludicrous on the other, is so misleading. The irony is this: He's done what he was after all along. He lives comfortably, tours like he was 25, owns his studio and produces himself and other indie bands. More importantly, he owns complete rights to every note of music he's ever produced. He answers to no one but himself. Is he a jerk? Don't know him personally but the man has shown the potential. If you take it only from the film, he's a total megalomaniac asshole-- find a drunken junkie that isn't. Since... 'ppears not to be the case. Commercial success is Taylor Swift, Kanye West, etc. tell me where they'll be twenty years after they crack the "Big Time." "A rockstar is a guy who'll fuck your fourteen year old sister backstage.": so sayeth Anton Newcombe. BJM has put out three albums since 2014 that are every bit as good, if not better, than anything done in the nineties. How many bands have managed that? They tour regularly, to positive reviews. (Going to see them at First Avenue in Mpls. on May 14th) BJM have gotten more press, more respect, and more exposure in the last five years of a twenty five year career than any band could have hope for when Dig! was released. And, unlike what is arguably the "ultimate band," the Rolling Stones, are still taken seriously. And they are true to themselves, can never be accused of selling out, and have done this: Kept Music Evil.

      Yeah, I'm a shameless fan.

    3. Tom, you are awesome. I love these types of discussions.

      I agree that with he movie there is context. I'm sure major parts of that movie was not shown in its proper context or edited to look differently than they were. I really like BJM's music and if anything I'm thankful to the movie for introducing them to me.

      I do dig the new music. I still feel that Anton is only scratching the surface. It's untapped genius. I just don't know if he's capable if untapping it. Whereas I don't feel he should, would, or want the success of people like Kanye I think he should definitely be heard by a larger audience.

      Anton is on a whole other level that's over my head. I just think if he found his musical equal and they could collaborate he would be phase two.

      I applaud him. I'd love to see more.

  2. There's a great interview with him on YouTube (gah!) that addresses just that. 8 mins or so titled "Anton Newcombe and Collaboration." One segment asks whether he's a good collaborator... Surprise!... He says something to the effect that "I'm a great team player, but when you're on MY team..." I don't think he's wired that way. Dylan wasn't. Prince wasn't (RIP, I'm a Twin Cities Guy.) Sinatra, Bowie. They may have worked with other artists, but I'm pretty sure who had the final say in how things were done. (I think that's the reason Matt Hollywood is going through his second or third "firing" at this moment.) There isn't room in his head for it. To sound like a pontificating, I'm-so-super-perceptive douchebag, I'd say his vision is so specific that there isn't room for anybody else's input. He'd rather let something flop on his own than allow some one else's contribution weaken the final product, even if it's only in his own head. Jagger-Richards. Yep. Lennon-McCartney, of course (though I think it's obvious as to who was the "deeper" Beatle.) Hey, Captain and Tenille! Sonny and Cher.... As for the Dandy's? A more collective effort to begin with. Here's the deal with that, too, as long as I brought it up. First, I like the Dandy Warhols. Two better band names don't exist compared to Dandy Warhols and BJM. However, the "big break" for them was a total fluke. A cell phone ditty sell-out that went nuclear. In EUROPE, for cryin' out loud. That was no master stroke of marketing or dedication-to-craft-comes-to-appropriate-fruition. They jumped on it-- as they had every right to do and sure as hell should have-- but after that godsend moment, they could not sustain it on their own merit or, honestly, talent. The Dandy Warhols are catchy/clever. But by Courtney's own admission, didn't have a fraction of the talent Anton Newcombe is blessed/cursed with. I can't remember the exact words from Dig!, but it was the part where Anton sent his "threat." Eric Hedford:"They're stalking us now. I'll not have them anywhere near me again." Peter Holmstrom: "I'll still buy their albums, though." That about sums it up.

  3. Dylan did do the Travelling Wilburys. Ok...forget I brought that up...

    I wouldn't change anything about Anton. That is what makes him unique. Make a change and you lose what is special about him. I just wish there was a do over.

    I like the Dandy's. They are pop. Courtney doesn't have Anton's musical IQ. He does however have a decent pop sensibility. Whether that works together I'm not sure but they seemed to admire each other. That says something.

    I do agree that what Anton has is a blessing and a curse. It makes and breaks him. That is the most fascinating part of this. What happens next? I would love to see him break out. A colleague of mine just had this conversation tonight. There are so many bands that he is more important than but is lesser known. That needs to change.


Popular Posts