This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
Peeps across Europe will no doubt be familiar with Yankee garage-rock types The Dandy Warhols, if only from Vodaphone’s career-making saturation media coverage of ‘Bohemian Like You’ on their ad campaigns a few years back and the bizarre video for their earlier breakthrough ‘Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth’. While their profile apparently isn’t so high in their native lands, their hardly unknowns. The Brian Jonestown Massacre, henceforth known as the BJM for the sake of my keyboard on the other hand might be eliciting blank looks and raised eyebrows. Not being tremendously ‘in’ to the little rock enclave both bands sprung from, the story of the close friends turned sort of enemies as the BJM languished in relative obscurity as the spotlight that seemed destined for them turns away.
There’s little point recounting how each band got to where there are today – that story has been told in more detail and more competently than I could ever hope to relate, not least by this very film itself. Director / archivist Ondi Timoner follows both bands on and off between 1996 and 2003, producing a frightening amount of material to cram into one hundred odd minutes. It’s remarkable that everything plays out at a measured place without seeming to miss too many vital details along the way, and something that bears the hallmark of some accomplished editing, also by Timoner who was apparently at the front of the queue when talent was being handed out.
Praise is more reserved for the subjects of the work, although again the film is structured in such a way that even if you couldn’t give a monkey’s uncle for either band it’s still an entertaining diversion. The BJM come in the form of a fairly diverse and numerous group with the nucleus firmly around singer/songwriter Anton Newcombe. Anton Newcombe, we must point out for the record, is a complete git.While it’s clear the man has no short supply of talent and the means to back it up, calling him his own worst enemy is merely a polite way of calling him a smack-addled whiner with no sense of personal responsibility. It’s not difficult to see why his band members frequently grew frustrated to the point of attacking him, and I defy anyone not to walk out of this seething quietly at the way Newcombe blames everyone from his parents to his managers to faceless record company execs for his own shortcomings. Although admittedly many of the talent scouts interviewed here sound like they’re from Mars anyway, the sort of people who’ll call something ‘modern retro’ and compare Newcombe to both Jesus and Hitler in the same sentence.
The rest of the BJM guys come off as being far more grounded, sympathetic characters, although this is only really by comparison. Sending affable, impressively be-mutton chopped band mascot / tambourine player / ‘voice of the revolution’ Joel Gion to sign a record company contract in place of Newcombe because he’s far more less drug addled that Newcombe would seem utterly unbelievable for anyone not privy to Newcombe’s ample destructive side. Gion himself is the reason you’ll like this film. While he might appear to be the garage rock version of the Happy Monday’s Bez on first impression, he’s perhaps the only one in either band truly aware of the inherently ridiculous nature of the business they’re in. Genuine and genuinely funny, it’s be easy to see the BJM tearing themselves apart far sooner than they eventually did had he walked out early doors.
And tear themselves apart they did, Newcombe’s J-Lo-esque diva behaviour causing both John Lennon lookalike Matt Hollywood and Peter Hayes to quit in disgust, Hayes going on to lead the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club to arguably greater acclaim than either of the bands featured here. As for the Warhols, while the BJM stagger along they continue a far more measured path along the rock and roll road. While hardly the overnight success their label seemed to envisage, they’ve knocked out a few decent albums and are staple touring fixtures at festivals worldwide. I’ve no doubt their tunes will stand up well enough to avoid being remembered as ‘that band where the keyboard player sometimes played with her norks out’. While inherently less interesting than the BJM story, the breakdown in the relationship between the two bands caused by Newcombe’s ill advised attempt to try to replicate a Blur / Oasis rivalry is instructive in showing how misguided Newcombe had become, if nothing else. Incidentally if any of out American chums are reading this, I’d like to apologise on behalf of the U. K. for Oasis. We’re not quite sure what we were thinking, we’ll try not to let it happen again. They seem to go away if you ignore them.
DiG! is often entertaining in the same way a car crash is. Just when you think Newcombe’s got as misguided and delusional as possible he finds new depths to plumb, in ways that would have us shaking our heads saying, “that’s not believable” were this a work of fiction rather than a documentary. Nonetheless it would be nice to have some sort of concluding statement from Newcombe, given as the fact that Warhols frontman Courtney Taylor (who at some point seems to have adopted the double barreled surname Taylor-Taylor in the interim, which we can only hope was intended as a joke) narrates the work as well as being presented in a comparatively good light cynics might be smelling a smear campaign. Still given that anecdotal evidence from other sources confirms Newcombe’s status as a git and also that Timoner shows that Tinker-Taylor-Taylor-Soldier-Spy isn’t exempt from moments of talking his own press a little too seriously negates this somewhat, and besides it’s only rock ‘n’ roll, ain’t it?
While there may be little reason to watch DiG! again if you’re not a fan of either band, there’s more than enough of an insight into the comparative workings of a struggling and successful band to make this flick worthy of recommendation if you’ve even a passing interest in music. Perhaps that’s Timoner’s greatest achievement – taking a fairly narrow scope and widening it to have far broader appeal than the two bands have any right to. It seems This is Spinal Tap didn’t quite kill off the ‘rockumentary’ after all.