Some Kind of Megalomaniac: James Parker on the Dandy Warhols-Brian Jonestown Massacre documentary Dig! (Arthur, 2004)

Some Kind of Megalomaniac

The unfamous also feud, as James Parker finds in Dig!, a feature-length film documenting the decade-long love/hate thing between the leaders of the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre

Originally published in Arthur No. 12 (Sept. 2004)


Reviewed:

DIG!

(Palm Pictures, released October 1)

Directed by Ondi Timoner

In order to really dig DIG!—an intimate, warmly detailed portrait of the decade-long love/hate thing between Courtney Taylor (of the Dandy Warhols) and Anton Newcombe (of the Brian Jonestown Massacre)—you have to buy into the idea that Newcombe is a genius. It’s important, this, and just about everyone onscreen testifies to it sooner or later: Newcombe is a GENIUS. He pushes the boundaries, burns with a hard, gem-like flame, is monstrous in his talent, must be compared with Manson, God, Hitler and Lou Reed, and so on. It’s the one point on which this otherwise swinging, confident movie insists a little anxiously.

The Dandy Warhols and the BJM were, very briefly, artistic confederates. Fellow retro-ites and stylists, they played together, swapped ideas and—doubtless—pairs of trousers, and their careers advanced in parallel for about two minutes before the Dandys got the major label deal which still eludes the BJM. Thereafter, the two bands were each other’s nemeses. Anton Newcombe became the unrewarded GENIUS raging in obscurity, Courtney Taylor the limelit, slightly guilt-afflicted music-biz hustler. DIG!, narrated by Taylor (because history is written by the winners), covers just about every key point in the relationship, from Newcombe’s innocent rhapsodies about “this really rad band, the Dandy Warhols” to his first anti-Dandy song “Not If You Were the Last Dandy On Earth” (a riposte to the Dandys’ radio hit “Not if You Were the Last Junkie on Earth”) to the moment he sends the band a box of individually wrapped shotgun shells with their names on them.

Success, in our imaginations at least, is just success —static, constant,some sort of white-lit plane, like heaven. Failure on the other hand is many things, a very mulchy and soulful state, and so DIG is inevitably more interested in the disastrous trajectory of the BJM, about whom the first thing you notice is not the blurting and blustering Newcombe—“I play 80 instruments. Yeah! Weird fuckin’ Chinese shit!”— but the amazingly pointless Joel Gion. Gion (hairstyle, cigarettes) is one these extra or ‘trophy’ members that a lot of your more berserk bands seem to have, to signal the sheer anarchic superfluity of their energy—like Bez in Happy Mondays, or almost any of the Butthole Surfers. In Gion’s case he implements the BJM aesthetic by standing at stage-front looking down his nose and half-arsedly wagging a tambourine. A very pure artist, untainted by actual creation, Gion’s main job seems to be keeping his balance after monster ingestion of drugs. On his little Chelsea bootsoles he teeter-totters, sneering. His clothes are black, his hair is classic through-a-hedge-backwards, and on his pear-shaped face is that expression of somnolent haughtiness we associate with Dr Seuss characters; in fact the longer you look at him the more Seussian he gets—remote, effete, insolent, with tassels for hands, and a name like the Fazoon or the Sprong . ‘Do not look long on the infamous Sprong/ The tilt of his chin is wrong wrong wrong’…

Anyway, Gion turns out to be a witty fellow and quite undeluded—the yang of BJM, if such a thing could be said to exist. Newcombe on the other hand has no sense of humor—none. You can’t be a megalomaniac perfectionist and have a sense of humor.

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