“…Like a rolling stone…”
We all know how that Beatles song, “Dig It,” from the original version of Let It Be sounds like. That track’s title inspired the docu-drama Dig! of the same name of the spiraling careers of two infamous rock bands from Portland and San Francisco, respectively, The Dandy Warhols and Brian Jonestown Massacre. Most people have heard of the Dandys because of their catchy futuristic pop sound, soundtrack work and their songs on TV commercials but the BJM haven’t had the same kind of success or notoriety. The film documents and tries to answer the question of why the Massacre had yet to hit the mainstream. I guess that’s why the band’s lead singer and group founder Anton Newcombe has dismissed the film as a tribute to the Dandy and a knock on his eccentricities and the legacy of his notorious group.
So what is the story behind the B.J.M and their lack of commercial success? Could it be that they have had over forty members since the bands inception? Maybe the answer is in Tepid‘s liner notes when Newcomb says, “I don’t want to compromise…” And if you listen to the music of the Massacre you will know why To me, there are two bands, out of time, that I think would fit perfectly in the psychedelic trip fest that was the sixties. One is the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and the other is the Brian Johnstown Massacre. Both bands play uncompromising music that lifts to shock and shake you to their renowned timeless sounds. Spencer’s bluesy rock has had moderate mainstream success but Newcombe’s road has been nothing but notorious. Newcombe’s Massacre’s ode to the now deceased ex-Rolling Stone member and the aesthetics of the sixties psychedelic sound a-la Stones, Beatles, Donovan and the Velvet Underground. That’s not anything you are likely to hear on commercialized Clear Channel anytime soon. Some may dub the Massacre’s sound “21st Century hippie rock,” but what it is is a post-modern head trip that any die hard music fan must discover.
Tepid is a retrospective coinciding the release of Dig! on DVD. The goal of this double CD extravaganza is to reintroduce a new generation of slackers to the Brian Jonestown Massacre. How many people know that the Massacre have released ten albums since the early nineties? Tepid showcase the highlights behind the mad genius that is Anton Newcombe. I think if you cloned the DNA of Syd Barrett, Lou Reed, Brian Wilson, John Lennon and Phil Spector all in one soul—the result would be Newcombe.
This double CD showcases not the hits, because they haven’t had any, but the musical highlights of the last ten years of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Disc one has some of the greatest songs that Newcomb has ever put to vinyl. There’s the hippy-prophet vibe of “All Around You (intro)” as first heard on Their Satanic Majesties’ Second Request. Some of my personal favorites are “Open Heart Surgery,” which sounds like vintage Robert Smith, of The Cure, fronting the Velvet Underground. Then there’s “Stars,” the song that Courtney Taylor of Dandy Warhols covered, a beautiful acoustic classic featuring the obsessive/tortured musings of Newcombe as he sings, “I thought I could touch the stars… my face explodes tear drops into tears/and every second I’m not with you well it seems like years.” You also need to check out the Phil Spector inspired “She’s Gone” where Newcomb uses the wall of sound to reflect the echo of heartbreak in a symphony of sorrow and splendor.
Disc two mixes some more rarities like the amazing one chord, Lou Reed inspired “Sue” which is the best song the Velvet Underground never wrote or recorded; a playful jab at the Dandy Warhols called “Not If You Were the Last Dandy on Earth,” The Dylan inspired “#1 Hit Jam;” Newcombe claims in the liner notes that this song distills everything Dylan tried to say in two words—”hey you;” and a handful of live cuts recorded live on WFMU radio.
So if you’re a Dandy Warhol fan or have just seen Dig! and want to check out what all the noise about the BJM is about, you need to check this out. There’s a lot here for the novice Massacre fan who wants to discover the brilliance behind the man they call Anton Newcombe. What I found while listening and dissecting this incredible double CD is that there is fine line between genius and madness, if you want to hear which sides of the artistic plain Newcombe lies than you need to invest in Tepid. What you will soon realize is that the Brian Jonestown Massacre is a drugless music trip that you will not soon forget.
The Rolling Stones – Hot Rocks
Dandy Warhols – Dandys Rule OK?
Yo La Tengo – Prisoners of Love