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Friday, October 22, 2004
The top 6 things I learned while watching DiG!
Here's a list of the top five things I learned while watching DiG!, the new rock documentary on the rivalry between the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre.
#1: If your band has a clutch gig at the Viper that could lead to a major label contract, don't start a brawl on stage.
#2. If you're going to get caught with marijuana while on tour, it had better be in France instead of Georgia.
#3. Dropping $400,000 on a tongue-in-cheek video about heroin complete with dancers dressed in syringe costumes is never a good idea.
#4. When a singer invites you up to the stage because he wants to kick you in the head, don't go.
#5. When your friends hit it big, don't write a nasty song about them and follow it up with a care package filled with shotgun shells wrapped in pretty pink paper (with their names on them).
#6. Never join a band fronted by a junkie with a messiah-complex.
The film did well at Sundance, is receiving great reviews and some are calling it the best rock doc ever made. Is it really that good? If it isn't, it's damn close, despite the hometown advantage. DiG! follows the two bands, unknown amongst mainstream audiences but popular in Europe and legendary here in Portland, through six years of various pitfalls and triumphs. The Dandys, with their hardworking ethos ride a major-label gravy train to mild success and their own arts complex while Massacre crashes and burns against the jagged cliffs of the music industry.
The chief difference between these two bands? It's not the music itself, which is rooted heavily in '60s-era pop on both sides. The Dandy's are fronted by the relatively clear-headed Courtney Taylor who spends the majority of the doc on the phone with employees at Columbia and obsessing over music videos. Massacre, on the other hand, is headed up by Anton Newcombe, a brat prince convinced his band will conquer the world. As he babbles on camera about revolution, there isn't a hint of irony in his voice. As one interviewee describes him, "he's like one of those guys that wanders out of the desert and claims he's just spoken with God."
As the Dandy's shake hands and play festivals overseas, their colleagues inject heroin and throw punches at one another. At one point while on tour in Detroit, Massacre's manager abrubtly quits and wanders off into the night.
DiG! is filled with intimate moments, morbidly funny scenes and the downfall of the talented but troubled Newcombe is genuinely touching. Maybe the Chicago Tribune's Allison Benedikt put it: "After watching your [Anton's] tantrums, abuse and addiction in DIG! I went straight to the record store to buy [his] music. And that's something."
The film debuted on only a handful of screens around the country. With any luck, word will spread fast. You know a film like this is special when someone like me breaks out a phrase like "genuinely touching." The only criticism I can lob at DiG! is that, even at 115 minutes, it's too short and the editing is too frantic at times.
9.5 out of 10
POINTLESS ANECDOTE: I first heard about the Dandy Warhol's in 1997 after reading an article in the Oregonian. It included a bit about Taylor's penchant for stripping on stage. Knowing nothing about the band, I assumed Courtney was actually back-up singer Zia McCabe. I didn't discover the truth until a show at La Luna a few nights later. Zia kept her clothes on, Taylor didn't and this is how I discovered that "Courtney" is one of those names that swings both ways.