• Reel Reviews

Sing Along, The Cults Are Here

written by: on August 3, 2011

The Lennon/McCartney dynamic is either a pure construction of the music media or one of the most powerful pathological forces in pop music—there is no middle ground. Nowhere is this conflict more evident than in “Dig!,” the documentary about the conflict between The Dandy Warhols’ frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor and resident nutcase/genius Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Archival, psychedelic footage captures the crucial period when Taylor-Taylor and Newcombe began to phase change from collaborative friendship to a smoldering mixture of hatred and cocaine, but the real revelation of “Dig!” is what spawned from that conflict, a pure new scene whose inception “Dig!” unknowingly chronicled.

The period that “Dig! covers in the history of the two bands spans The Dandy Warhols’ somewhat meteoric rise from Come Down to 13 Tales From Urban Bohemia. Their post-Oasis smack is all over “Dig!,” simply because it is living proof that what the Dandy’s were creating at the time would prove the sonic foundation for one of the greatest music shows of all time, “The O.C.” When Taylor-Taylor and crew begin to blow up, the movie is saturated with their biggest hits, “Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth” and “Bohemian Like You.” While both explicitly deal with unnamed antagonists to the effeminate Taylor-Taylor, the lyrics are most obviously about Newcombe. At the time, Newcombe was only beginning to be the chaotic and malevolent force he would morph into, but Taylor-Taylor, being so close to the man himself, could see the destructive force that was coming. Taylor-Taylor famously refers to his band as “well-adjusted” in contrast to Newcombe and his mania, but the mere idea that Taylor-Taylor was taking his well-chronicled jealousies of Newcombe out in musical ways with the band’s two biggest singles was something of a stab in the face.

“O.C.” bands, or at least the bands that would frequent “O.C. mixtapes, would adopt this direct, half-veiled cynicism that the background music of “Dig!” is filled with, but it is, obviously, Newcombe’s drugged out genius that would create a sea change in the way intelligent, maladjusted frontmen would treat their narrative subjects. The film’s more dangerous sections are filled with Newcombe’s music: When the bands are getting arrested, when Taylor-Taylor barges into Newcombe’s decrepit recording space/home to take a label-sanctioned photo shoot.

Perhaps the greatest indicator of what would become of Newcombe is seen when, in front of a camera, he proudly demos an out-of-tune version of what would become “Ballad of Jim Jones,” from Thank God For Mental Illness.

Possessing the same quasi-religious religious inflections as Charlie Manson, the jangle-pop of ’60s happy-folk, Newcombe crafted a menacing statement—“there’s nobody cleaner than me or than him.” He was at once combined with the religious figures he sang to and member of the earthbound communion.

He was special, and even though future bands wouldn’t adopt his stony preacherisms, acts like Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground or Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s would adopt the hazy romanticism and effortless pop songsmanship of a genius like Newcombe. While “Dig!” catalogued the breakdown of one of the most potential-filled bands of the last 15 years, its soundtrack would be CliffsNotes for a scene that saw themselves just as important as Newcombe, and capable of the same “righteous” battle against the evil forces of the record industry, immortalized by Courtney Taylor-Taylor.