Wednesday, June 14, 2006

laid up

Sweet release!! I never thought I would be so happy to be at work however this morning marked the first time I have left my apartment in the last three days. I don't care that I'm in the office, I'm just glad to not be at home. On Friday I was pressed into manual labor in order to move a gang of lab equipment (and trash) for a forthcoming office relocation. Trying to hurry through it so I could bug out early I ended up recklessly lifting a lot of large heavy objects by myself. Sunday morning I paid for this by having my lower back lock up and put my ass down for the count. I'm still on the mend but thank the gods I am mobile and out of the house.

My last three days have been a massive bore with me killing a lot of time Rear Window-style; watching my neighborhood through an open window. The other main activities were of course surfing the net, fiddling with my guitars, and watching lots and lots of television. One of the things I will thank Comcast for (although I still think they are bastards for not carrying MASN) is On Demand which allows subscribers to cue up a large selection of movies and cable television series (Entourage and Band of Brothers being my current top rerun choices). Yesterday I decided to watch the compelling documentary Dig! since it had been a couple of years since I last saw it.

It covers the "rise and fall" of two blips on the indie radar, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols, over a seven year period and in some respects serves as a handy guide on How And How Not To Succeed In The Corporate Music Industry. However what the film really is about is what a fucking lunatic Anton Newcombe (of BJM) is, and the perception/definition of brilliance when it comes to art and the artists who create it. As the film unfolds it follows the bands in parallel as the Dandy's land a major label contract and make $400k music videos and BJM wallow in squalor as Newcombe churns out song after song, album after album, all the while sabotaging every chance the band has at some measure of success.

In terms of a storyline, the two main protagonists are Newcombe and Dandy's frontman Courtney Taylor. Both are egomaniacal singer-songwriters with near-total control over their bands. In the beginning they both believe that they are part of some indie rock revolution against the corporate music establishment but as time marches on the Dandy's find success within the establishment (at the cost of selling out?) while BJM never evolve beyond being cult figures (but maintaining their cred?). Both of these outcomes are a direct effect of the respective bandleaders' efforts. Despite his rebel posturing, Taylor very much wants to be a pop star. He's concerned about his image, writes far hookier tunes than Newcombe, and has a driven work ethic when it comes to distributing and promoting his songs. Newcombe on the other hand is much more concerned with all of the misplaced glamour associated with being a junkie artist. As a songwriter he is certainly prolific but when it comes to being sober, getting through a performance, maintaining focus, or anything else required of "making it in the business," he is completely hapless.

What I think is most interesting about the film is that Newcombe and Taylor are somewhat paired as the indie rock Lennon and McCartney, respectively. Interviews at the beginning of the film portray the two as friends, almost collaborators, and sharing a similar vision for the kind of music they were separately creating. As things progressed the relationship began to fracture with Newcombe getting farther and farther out there in what he was doing in the studio and Taylor becomng more consistent (if not a little predictable). In the end the Dandy's are finding their biggest commerical success to date with the release of Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia and BJM have disbanded after losing their record deal following a series of Newcombe's freakouts. Looking back Newcombe is still perceived as a genius by hipster obscurantists even though BJM's catalog is wildly erratic and at times unaccessible. Taylor, on the other hand, is despised by many (not Evan Dando-levels of hate but not well liked) and considered a sellout for signing to Capitol Records yet wrote some pretty catchy pop tunes that are more likely to resonate than Newcombe's sonic schmeer.

People used to say that you could tell anything you needed to know about someone by their answer to one of the following questions:
  1. Beatles or Stones?
  2. Lennon or McCartney?

Maybe Dig! gives us the new indie rock equivalent. Dandy's or BJM? Taylor or Newcombe? The pop star (relatively speaking) or the fucked up "genius?"

As for me? I'll always take a good hook over something someone has to explain as to why it is brilliant. That it is why I hate Bright Eyes...


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