Released in 2004, directed by Ondi Timoner, shooted during seven years and winner of the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, Dig! is a direct entrance into the relationship between The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols. The story of two bands that are not so well known regardless of the hit single “Bohemian Like You” may seem a musical document as many others, but this is one of the best analysis ever filmed on the eternal question: Mainstream or Underground?
If you were an underground defender before, this is probably not going to change your mind, either if you were a supporter… but maybe this will make you understand which are the real demons that genius and even phonies need to struggle with day by day.
The story begins in 1994 while The Dandy Warhols took their first steps as a band while The Brian Jonestown began to establish them as the new hope of the American underground. From similar sound patterns grounded in revival psychedelic rock, their personal stories of the bands are diametrically opposed. While TDW come from ordinary households with some totally middle class stories, TBJM are a collection of stories taken from “how could my family be more fucked up”.
Like first sight love, they just needed a night of booze and narcotics to seal a friendship that influenced and even marked their paths during the following years. Anton Newcombe (TBJM) and Courtney Taylor-Taylor (TDW), leaders of both bands could be the perfect definition of “Frenemies”. Anton firmly believes that they and the Dandies are “the best bands in the whole world, the ones that will bring salvation to a fallen world dominated by grunge and alternative rock”. Courtney processes divine admiration to who is able to record 3 albums during the same period of time he used just to make only one. This brotherhood is based on an uncontrollable passion for 60’s rock music and drugs that brought them across the U.S. in an upward spiral that seems to fulfill Anton’s prophecy, leading them to be considered the two most promising bands in the country.
That’s when we start to discover the differences between the band’s frontmen.
Anton Newcombe: The Misunderstood Genius.
He’s amazingly talented. He’s aware about that and tells everybody…but he’s also aware that, probably because his non existing relationship with a father who abandoned him and a mother who got tired of his constant trouble with the cops during his adolescence, he lives in a bubble of permanent auto discredit. He sabotages every opportunity even when his friend Courtney provides him a meeting with a major label as Capital. He is a dictator who corrects his own comrades in the middle of a show just to end most of their gigs fighting on stage or even with the crowd.
Many questions rise at this point. Does he really believe in this creative freedom that underground gives everything has a determined pattern inside his head? If he is such an egomaniac who is unable to let his band mates record their own parts, what is the point of releasing them under the name of a band? Why does he think date lines inside major record labels are so overwhelming if he has at least one musical release a year in the last two decades? If you really believe in passion over money how can you spend 30,000$ that an indie label is willing to invest on you, just wasting it on banality stuff? Why talk about world domination if you definitely cannot stand this corrupted world of music?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: The False Prophet.
He wants to have fun. The music is part of the plan, of course, but also the holidays, the coke, the hotel suites…the good life. He is vain, but not stupid. He does not want to transcend and definitely he’s not concerned by criticism, sometimes overly harsh with his work. He wants to help his friend Anton. He believes that, despite he will never be the one who will transcend in musical history, his friend could be this guy. What a greater demonstration of passion for music than risk your own credibility with your record label trying to support your psycho junkie friend. He sees what’s behind the curtain, how they choose your singles without asking, how they take the most unreal fancy picture of you creating a dispensable essence for the band. He tried to fight against that, but then, he decides just to write music and be happy…like Anton, but earning money with that. Some will said that this could be selfish, but some will crucify you just driven by envy, seen how great is to be a rock star.
And then…”Not If You Were The Last Band on Earth”.
This would be a perfect title for the movie, an example of the lack of communication between this couple of friends. It all starts with TDW’s song called “Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth”, a great ironical pop song about people’s absence of personality. This song is Courtney’s assert on the pointless determination of what is or what is not “cool”. But Anton and his cronies didn’t take that very well, especially the line “I never thought you’ll be a junkie because heroine is so passed”. From the first listen in Courtney’s car, Anton took that as personal affront and decided to respond straight to them with the song “Not If You Were The Last Dandy On Earth” where he brand them as poshy stupid brats.
From this point both bands took different paths. While TBJM were touring the US on a van, TDW flew across Europe on their big tour. Anton ended up in jail when he gets caught with some weed, in the mean time Courtney took pictures with the police man who did not even confiscate his drugs. “It’s just a matter of luck”, Peter Holmström (TDW) throws the same old topic, but it’s true. This is not just about creative freedom and talent…this is way beyond.
Music industry is a unique business like Adam Shore says, where “you lose money with 9 out of 10, so you’re always looking for that one to compensate a 90%”. The difference in between our characters is that Anton isn’t willing to be this kind of money maker, even when he says he wants to dominate the world. Courtney knows that he maybe doesn’t have the talent, but definitely he is willing to assume the risk.
So what’s the choice? Be straight, tell the labels that “they could go and fuck themshelves for killing the spirit of music” (Anton N.), struggling every day with the hardships of getting money or even colleagues with whom you develop your ideas? Or stop fighting against the music industry, enjoy your time and burn fast as rock’n’roll has supposed to do? Probably none of them are the right answer.
The passion of making music should be always the artist’s first goal but…why not waste money having fun on the way my friends?