the enduring allure of rock
or recovering Rock-Star wannabes will be amused, entranced and maybe
ashamed by Ondi Timoner's documentary, "DiG!," which chronicles
the changing fortunes of a Bay Area musical-miscreant band, the
Brian Jonestown Massacre, and its vastly more successful Portland
little brother, the Dandy Warhols.
"DiG!" at first appears to be a simple documentary of
the troubled psychedelic rock band, BJTM (in rock-crit shorthand),
led by crazy genius Anton Newcombe.
righteous rockers or deluded fools?
Newcombe possesses skills to churn out beguiling if not derivative
(note the apropos mutton-chops-and-flares name-check in the band's
moniker) folksy space-rock at a frightening pace.
His music is rooted in the tradition of LSD-scarfing San Fran musos
of past decades and, like any good guru, he's able to convince like-minded
players to buy into his vision enough so to inspire this
He's even so devoted to the psycho-delic cause that he introduces
Timoner to another emerging band of similar ilk the Dandy
Warhols. While Newcombe's move sparks a truly fascinating, overwhelming
picture (one that took seven years to create), it may have been
Lay back and watch Newcombe's fascinating, self-destructive, self-defeating
behavior. Meanwhile the Dandies take over the world (well, Europe,
It's hard to tell who's the more righteous rocker (or deluded fool)
Is it Jonestown's alcoholic enfant terrible Newcombe, the fisticuff-favoring
front man who'd rather beat the crap out of his bandmates on stage
than approach the possible corruption of success?
Stardom: What's it all about?
Or is it fop-about-town, cruelly talented Courtney Taylor-Taylor?
He's the Dandy's engine-that-could, a guy who (perhaps arrogantly,
yet empirically) states he can sneeze out pop songs that will hypnotize
even the staunchest anti-hipster.
While the success-phobic Newcombe (perhaps subconsciously) avoids
monetary legitimization of the arrested adolescence we call Rock
Stardom, in the end we ask: "What's it all about?"
Is it really just about the music, about Newcombe's ability to
record five albums in one year, or is it about fully buying into
a righteous but untenable bad-boy image fueled by self-hate?
On the other side, what happens when you become a money-making
machine founded on the same Dionysian myth? What happens when the
hundreds of thousands who adore you as Taylor-Taylor intimates
demand you continue fulfilling their fantasies of arrested
adolescence while remaining fresh, new and sane?
How do you keep it real, man?
"DiG!" can't provide any real answers. It can only start
to tell Newcombe's story and then watch out as he's steamrolled
by his "favorite new band," which massively eclipses him
Perhaps the only lesson comes from mysterious BJTM member Joel
Gion the diffident, rakish tambourine player who calmly
observes the proceedings, comments wryly (while stealing the show
from everybody with his affable good nature), then celebrates his
own post-BJTM success. He gets his own apartment, a good job at
Amoeba records and the honor of recording a commentary track on
it real: Is it just about the music?
Though it (embarrassingly) took me until the recent excellent two-disc
release of the movie to actually see it, I'm certainly amused and
enraptured at how Timoner's warts-and-all documentary captures the
enduring, confounding allure of Rock Stardom. "DiG!" is
thrilling for pedestrian viewers and lovers of pop music.
It may also be depressing, disillusioning, empowering or deluding,
depending on where you find yourself in the Rock-Star food chain.