The House of Philistines is All Right
Or: Anton Newcombe Ain’t Jesus but He May Have What It Takes to Save Rock N’ Roll
always wanted to lock myself in a dark room with a stack of Brian Jonestown
Massacre records, get loaded on whatever's available, and see exactly how long
it'd take before I get struck by a bolt of lightning...
See, I think it's only fair to confess that I've been totally obsessed with the
Brian Jonestown Massacre ever since I saw Dig!, the 2004 documentary that
captured the rivalry, calamity, and death march of both the BJM and Dandy
Warhols over the course of seven volatile years. What struck me most about the
film (besides coming to the conclusion that the Dandy's are a group of
over-glorified posers disillusioned by their own smug sense of vanity and at
most, one decent record, and the quality of the BJM's music which is the purest
extension of '60's pyschedelia since the swingin' sixties) was the BJM's charm.
Specifically, it's their penchant for pulling the pin on themselves at any given
opportunity: fist fights, drunken rambling, drug busts, petty squabbles, droppin'
out of tours and the band itself, the whole shebang, all of which, I should add,
undoubtedly passes for charm in this crazy adolescent/hostilities-driven reality
of rock n' roll schmaltz. And the BJM are up to their ears in it. They do all
but puke blood and slit their wrists. The stench of rock n' roll martyrdom is so
pungent with these young fellers that it's a feat in itself that they're still
walking on their own two legs...
Just so we're crystal clear here, I'm not suggesting that behaving like
plum-wild cretins a la Keith Moon the Loon is comparable to makin' good records,
cause it ain't, and never will be. But it does make for some good copy.
Criticize all you want but you know it is the cosmic truth. Besides which, it's
kinda invigoratin' to see an uncompromising rock n' roll band lay it all on the
line, only to get smacked down quicker then Whitney Houston at the Grammy's,
then see 'em get right back up on their hind legs and lay it all on the line
I suppose we could chalk it up to that Cool Hand Luke thing called integrity,
somethin' that's been sorely lacking in nearly every atrium of pop music since
the inception of MTV and the idea of image over music. Well, that, and its fun
to see a bunch of wired jackasses run full-speed into concrete walls. Except it
ain't funny, cause these hep cats are probably too dumb to see that their
conduct is not only ridiculously clichéd, it's also about as significant as a
bad punchline. But perhaps you gotta be a little short-sighted to get into that
upper-echelon of uber-cool. Most so-called hipsters beat on their chests to the
tune of self-destruction cause there ain't nothin' hipper then ridin' the
tightrope edge that separates us from the vast unknown Void. But that's rock
stardumb for ya. It starts in the mind and before you know it, you'll be rollin'
with all the other hotshits, smokin' dope, livin' fast and pretty, then dyin'
young and stupid, while leaving a good-lookin' blah,blah,blah, and all of it
happens in a blink of an eye. 'Cause if I'm not mistaken, Cool Hand Luke dies a
pretty pathetic death at the end of the picture, and I'm not exactly sure even
he knows why.
But that ain't the Brian Jonestown Massacre. They may be a little soft and dull
in their heads but they got enough sense to prioritize. Which means music comes
first and the pursuit of numbness second. The proof is simply in the fact that
all the members of the BJM are alive (and that's including the 30+ ex-band
mates), which is nothin' short of divine intervention, considering they've been
around for 16-odd years. Or maybe they simply refuse to let industry
bloodsuckers rip em' off and tarnish their memory like they did to the ghosts of
ol' Jimi, Janis, Brian, Sid, etc...
So anyway, the question yer probably all askin' yourselves by now is: who the
hell are the Brian Jonestown Massacre? Well, to be honest with ya, I'm not sure
I can properly answer that question...
I do know it has somethin' to do with Anton Newcombe — chief songwriter,
shit-slinger, maniac mastermind, and only unexpendable member of the BJM, which
pretty much makes him the alpha and omega- the sun, moon and Earth as far as the
BJM are concerned. Besides that, however, all's I know about Newcombe is he
always appears half-dead, turns into a nasty troll when he drinks (as seen in
Dig!) which is often, and has a god-awful penchant for being an emotionally
unstable control freak (which explains why there exists 30+ ex-band mates).
Charming combination, eh? Brings new meaning to the term triple threat.
Also, and here's the kicker, I have a sneaking suspicion that Newcombe may very
well be a maniac/genius mystic-shaman of the caliber of Carlos Castaneda. He
claims to have hitchhiked to Crescent City and snuck in Pelican Bay State Prison
to collaborate with Charles Manson on a song or two, which is probably a load of
horseshit, but nonetheless makes for some pretty savvy myth-making. And not-for-nothin',
I've always had trouble distinguishing the line that separated the art of
telling bald-faced lies from the ether of good myth-making. For the exception of
the Clash and Woody Guthrie, I can't think of another great songwriter that
isn't also a lying reprobate. And the fact that Newcombe had the gall to feed
the rock press such blatant jive with a face so straight I'm surprised it didn't
crack makes him, in my opinion, all the more compelling. Added to the fact that
here's a kid that by all accounts seems incapable of feeding himself nutrition
on a daily basis, yet, has single-handedly written, produced, and recorded four
stellar records in the span of one year. Hell, even Bob Dylan wasn't able to
pull that off, and he was the Muhammad Ali of lies...
Ultimately, however, I think the reason why the BJM is potentially one of the
most important bands of our time — never mind the fact that they exist almost
entirely in complete obscurity — is simply because we've been waiting for
decades for a good ol' rock n' roll band to kick the doors off the hinges like
the days of old. It is undeniable that the true spirit of rock n' roll lost its
driving pulse decades ago. Moreover, the current state of rock is about as
vibrant as a twenty-pound sack of dirt. Sure, we get flashes from time to time,
but by-and-none, rock is dead, y'all. How else would you explain the phenomena
of people shelling out hundreds of dollars to see the Rolling Stones perform
"Jumping Jack Flash" live for what could possibly be the last time? Shucks, I
know I'd pay whatever it took to even get a glimpse of Keith Richard's track
marks. Hell, I might even offer my girl to Mick for a night for an opportunity
like that. And I know that's excessive (however true it may be). Be that as it
may, if there were a genuine and vibrant rock scene in our current music
industry, there would not be a need for such extremes. Really, if there were a
genuine & vibrant rock scene, I wouldn't be writing this goddamn article. Which
is reason number one why you should check out the BJM. Rock is in a state of
emergency, folks. We can't live on the old standards forever, and Neil Young
ain't gonna be around forever. There's some righteous noise out there, as
there's some fine spirit too. Unfortunately, rarely do the two continents meet.
Needless to say, brothers and sisters, the BJM have both qualities in spades.
Which is exactly what it takes to keep this animal called rock n' roll liberated
and truckin' for another good decade.