Brian Jonestown Massacre : Straight up and down

Brian Jonestown Massacre

It was as 21st Century as it got when it comes the music industry when many listeners got first introduced to the Brian Jonestown Massacre trough the theme song of the series “Boardwalk Empire”. The show started in 2009 started each episode with the main character played by Steve Buscemi looking over the waves as bottles get washed to his feet. The song “Straight up and down” is played as a soundtrack to this. The Show’s creators mentioned that the choice to feature the Brian Jonestown Massacre was motivated by a desire to introduce “the unexpected”.


Brian Jonestown Massacre is a band under the protection and direction of singer and main songwriter Anton Newcombe. Already by the mid 90’s the band was regarded as one of the most important groups in American Underground. The band has made many albums and recordings, many of which are as fascinating as they are dense and hypnotic.

The band’s influences lie mainly in the Psychedelic sounds and image of the 1960’s. Some of their album titles even humorously reference. There is “Bringing it all back home again” (see Bob Dylan) and “Who Killed Sgt Pepper” (see the Beatles for that one). Newcombe certainly continues in the tradition established by the likes of the Beatles and Bob Dylan.

BJM’s recording work stands on it’s own and it’s fans have been strongly devoted through the years. But BJM had another big moment of exposure upon the release of the behind the scenes look of the movie “Dig” (2004). The documentary itself got shown at movie festivals and won some awards. The movie follows the initially friendly rivalry with the soon to be indie stars, the Dandy Warhols. The plot line, whether real or generated by the movie’s director implies that while the Dandies grew in stature, Newcombe’s mad genius has held BJM still. One scene shows BJM at a concert showcase for record labels. A fight breaks out between band members as Anton proceeds to fire each one of them before deciding to carry on playing by himself. It is well noted though that Newcombe’s creative output has been pretty constant until now under the Brian Jonestown Massacre name.

Newcombe himself called the movie largely fiction and the Dandy Warhols mentioned that while the movie is good, much of the plot is created by director Ondi Timoner and implied by the choice of scenes. The movie also shows the irony of a band already considered highly influential, not having nearly as much success as their friends the Dandy Warhols. In the 90’s the Dandy Warhols enjoyed plenty of radio airplay and their music was a soundtrack used at indie discos with songs like “Bohemian like you” and “You were the last high”. The movie plays out the rivalry as a Stones vs Beatles, Oasis vs Blur kind of fight. History seems to vindicate Brian Jonestown Massacre’s legacy though by a rather large margin.

“The Velvet Underground of the 90’s” continued to record albums, with Anton Newcombe relocating to Iceland while continuing the collaboration with previous members like Joel Gion and occasionally Matt Hollywood. The band influenced
countless bands, from former member Peter Hayes’ Black Rebel Motorcycle Band to contemporary psychedelic rock bands like MGMT.

 
Audiences of the period drama “Boardwalk Empire” may have been slightly puzzled by the show’s intro featuring BJM music, but as the show became more successful and moved into it’s following seasons, the show’s theme music become more
recognizable. It was a good opportunity for the band to earn new fans. But it also raises questions about what makes an artist successful in this time and age. For a band that has recorded good music with consistency, larger scale success seemed inevitable. In reality much of the success of the group was brought upon by their notoriety. And their notoriety was started by their involvement in a music documentary that they disowned and a television drama where they featured on the soundtrack.

Anton Newcombe has continued releasing great music. In 2014 Brian Jonestown Massacre released the album “Revelation” (featuring the brilliant “Food for clouds”) and in 2015 the band put out the album “Musique de Film Imaginé” influenced by the movies of Goddard and Truffaut.

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