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Keep Music Evil: The Brian Jonestown Massacre Story

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The Brian Jonestown Massacre are probably best known for their leader Anton Newcombe’s incendiary persona, as captured in the controversial 2004 rockumentary Dig! - which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance  - but what isn’t known is the truth behind the making of the film, or the true story of the band since their formation in early 1990s San Francisco. Until now. Writer The Brian Jonestown Massacre are probably best known for their leader Anton Newcombe’s incendiary persona, as captured in the controversial 2004 rockumentary Dig! - which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance  - but what isn’t known is the truth behind the making of the film, or the true story of the band since their formation in early 1990s San Francisco. Until now. Writer, actor, and musician Jesse Valencia spent ten years uncovering the mysteries of the band and the film, during which time he has traveled from San Francisco to Denver, Portland to Tucson, and beyond, gathering pieces of the band’s history and putting them together, clue by clue, until he found it. Presented as a personal narrative and compiled from hundreds of sources and interviews with key members of The Brian Jonestown Massacre - including Joel Gion, Rick Maymi, Frankie Emerson, Jeff Davies, Dean Taylor, Miranda Lee Richards, and Peter Hayes - as well as members of The Dandy Warhols, Dig! director Ondi Timoner, and countless other figures from both the film and from the band’s greater history, Keep Music Evil is the definitive work on the band and their enigmatic leader. Keep Music Evil also tells the stories of the creation of every album the band have released during their three-decade career, offering insight in Anton and his collaborators’ working methods, and provides an in-depth look at the making of Dig!, giving deeper context to the events as portrayed, correcting misinformation, and deconstructing the film as a whole. It also features rare, candid, and never-before-seen photographs of the band from throughout their career.


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The Brian Jonestown Massacre are probably best known for their leader Anton Newcombe’s incendiary persona, as captured in the controversial 2004 rockumentary Dig! - which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance  - but what isn’t known is the truth behind the making of the film, or the true story of the band since their formation in early 1990s San Francisco. Until now. Writer The Brian Jonestown Massacre are probably best known for their leader Anton Newcombe’s incendiary persona, as captured in the controversial 2004 rockumentary Dig! - which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance  - but what isn’t known is the truth behind the making of the film, or the true story of the band since their formation in early 1990s San Francisco. Until now. Writer, actor, and musician Jesse Valencia spent ten years uncovering the mysteries of the band and the film, during which time he has traveled from San Francisco to Denver, Portland to Tucson, and beyond, gathering pieces of the band’s history and putting them together, clue by clue, until he found it. Presented as a personal narrative and compiled from hundreds of sources and interviews with key members of The Brian Jonestown Massacre - including Joel Gion, Rick Maymi, Frankie Emerson, Jeff Davies, Dean Taylor, Miranda Lee Richards, and Peter Hayes - as well as members of The Dandy Warhols, Dig! director Ondi Timoner, and countless other figures from both the film and from the band’s greater history, Keep Music Evil is the definitive work on the band and their enigmatic leader. Keep Music Evil also tells the stories of the creation of every album the band have released during their three-decade career, offering insight in Anton and his collaborators’ working methods, and provides an in-depth look at the making of Dig!, giving deeper context to the events as portrayed, correcting misinformation, and deconstructing the film as a whole. It also features rare, candid, and never-before-seen photographs of the band from throughout their career.

30 review for Keep Music Evil: The Brian Jonestown Massacre Story

  1. 4 out of 5

    Alan

    Also, to better understand the recording process, it is not a bad idea to study the history behind some of your favorite records. However, I recommend this only if the information is easily available through online, print, or archival material. Otherwise you may end up writing a book. —Jesse Valencia, Footnote, p.61 Pandora opened the box: I was introduced to the music of the Brian Jonestown Massacre—one of the most influential rock bands you've (most likely) never heard of—by Pandora's "Music Gen Also, to better understand the recording process, it is not a bad idea to study the history behind some of your favorite records. However, I recommend this only if the information is easily available through online, print, or archival material. Otherwise you may end up writing a book. —Jesse Valencia, Footnote, p.61 Pandora opened the box: I was introduced to the music of the Brian Jonestown Massacre—one of the most influential rock bands you've (most likely) never heard of—by Pandora's "Music Genome" algorithm, rather than by any concert poster, fannish accolade, or physical recording. I haven't even seen the documentary Dig!, which came out 'way back in 2004. What actually happened was... I noticed that I always seemed to notice when the Brian Jonestown Massacre came up in my stream—from songs like "Anemone" from 1995, for example, which is the first tune mentioned by name in Keep Music Evil, to "Vad Hande Med Dem," one of the newer tracks in the BJM's discography (from 2014's Revelation). "Vad Hande Med Dem" doesn't even get mentioned in the book until p.276 (and even then the song doesn't appear in the Index for some reason), but it's become one of my favorites. And this is why the Brian Jonestown Massacre's music keeps grabbing my attention: "I'm into one-note minimalism with continuous drone notes going through. {...} All my songs have a continuous note, whether it's cranked in the mix or totally buried." —Anton Newcombe, p.18 Of course, not every song I like needs to work that way, but I do tend to favor music with long, slow background notes overlaid by quick foreground changes, a common characteristic that Pandora's algorithm seems to have teased out of the other songs and artists I'd added (such as Menomena's "Taos") to the station I call "Lovely Black Sea Rocket Power." How do you afford your rock'n'roll lifestyle? —from the song "Rock 'n' Roll Lifestyle," by Cake If Jesse Valencia had focused only on Anton Newcombe's musical craftsmanship and the minutiae of composition, though... well, Keep Music Evil could never have justified its title. The unholy and eternal triumvirate of sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll... the Brian Jonestown Massacre partook of all three and more, gathering a reputation (not always warranted, according to Valencia) for hair-trigger anger at hecklers, rivals and industry flacks. The photograph of Valencia on this book's back cover flap looks so uptight to me, but he has no trouble digging into the grit and grime of the band, even so. Moreover, he does so in a way that seems fairer than the movie Dig! is purported to be. The Brian Jonestown Massacre were the Haight's last real psychedelic export before Silicon Valley choked the life out of it. —p.23 * Keep Music Evil is written very boyishly, it's true—with great enthusiasm but also consistently atrocious copy-editing, awkward constructions, redundancies and some outright errors. The one tiny bit of Portland lore I could easily fact-check turned out to be inaccurate, for instance: {...}in Southeast Portland above Kelly's Olympian{...} —p.224Kelly's Olympian is (and has been, for more than a century) downtown, in Southwest Portland, Oregon. Here are just a few more examples, ones that really stood out to me: {...}Anton wasn't trying to emanate their music so much as he was taking after their founder. —Intro, p.11It's not "emanate," it's "emulate." {...}the Crash Palace on Divisadero, which was owned{...}by this guy she was dating, now called the Independent. —p.50Pretty sure it's the club, not the guy, that's now called "the Independent." And "an antennae" (p.55) should be either "an antenna" or just the plural "antennae." Et cetera. Maybe not so many tabs (of acid) and more returns (to the dictionary)? Heh—gotta love typewriter jokes. And then there are the meticulously-traced connections among friends-of-friends-of-industry reps-of-bandmates... sometimes this stuff got a little hard to follow, like one of those rambling stories you hear from your aunt about second cousins you've never met:The Dandy Warhols had the ear of the A&R reps, Mark Dutton had been doing all the BJM's mastering there, and Anton had recently befriended one Frankie Emerson, whose girlfriend, Krista Crews, worked for Perry Watts-Russell, who signed the Dandys to Capitol, as well as Everclear and Meredith Brooks. —p.146Got all that? * Despite its flaws, though, Jesse Valencia has put together a unique, lively and readable history of a musical group that hasn't received nearly as much attention as it deserves. Sure, Keep Music Evil has some rough edges... but without a few rough edges, you know, it wouldn't be rock 'n' roll...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mauberley

    Anton Alfred Newcombe may be the most important musician alive and those who listen to and adore his music will be grateful for this, the first full-length study of the great man and his band. The heart of the book is really a commentary on 'Dig', the film that did so much to bring the band to popular consciousness and to shape our thoughts of the way that he and it seemed to work. As AAN did not participate with the author, we have a series of sketches of the man that is long on 'exterior' with Anton Alfred Newcombe may be the most important musician alive and those who listen to and adore his music will be grateful for this, the first full-length study of the great man and his band. The heart of the book is really a commentary on 'Dig', the film that did so much to bring the band to popular consciousness and to shape our thoughts of the way that he and it seemed to work. As AAN did not participate with the author, we have a series of sketches of the man that is long on 'exterior' without being able to penetrate deeply into his soul. The most poignant moment in the book (and there aren't an awful lot of them) describes the night at the Troubadour when AAN's sisters arrived to tell the man of their father's suicide while the band and their hangers-on watched through a glass window upstairs. This is not the final book on ANN and BJM but the author has done his job, 'holding the torch high that others may see.' It was somehow significant that Roky Erickson passed away during the weekend that I read this.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    Overall a great book about the band and their leader. Highly recommended for any fan of the BJM or of music biographies in general. Part 3 felt a bit rushed. I would've happily read a few hundred more pages. My only gripe is there was no detail about Anton Newcombe's schizophrenic breakdown around 2014.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michael Augustine

    This is a really engaging book about a band (musician?) that has always been something of an enigma. The author did a terrific job taking a chaotic history and piecing it together. I'm a little over half way through and I look forward to going back to read more every evening. Any fan of music who is even remotely familiar with The BJM or have seen (or want to see) 'DiG!', this needs to be the next book you read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    A good read about the friendship/rivalry between BJM and the Dandy Warhols, as well the beginning of how the band formed in the early 90's in San Francisco. The drugs, rotating casts, etc. all plays into this story as well.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Man

    First of all, as a long time fan of the band in question, i was looking forward to this book since it was first announced with different publishers many, many years ago. Unfortunately, this book is plain and simply rubbish. Firstly, the whole book is barely readable. It comes across as the worst of an undergraduate research paper or a beginners writing class group. This is not the writing of a professional author, but rather someone undertaking a project to make credits for a part-time degree. It' First of all, as a long time fan of the band in question, i was looking forward to this book since it was first announced with different publishers many, many years ago. Unfortunately, this book is plain and simply rubbish. Firstly, the whole book is barely readable. It comes across as the worst of an undergraduate research paper or a beginners writing class group. This is not the writing of a professional author, but rather someone undertaking a project to make credits for a part-time degree. It's like a rewrite of Wikipedia by a 6th grader who only has a set of pastel paints to write with. Secondly, and most offensively is that the book does not appear to have been proof-read in any way, shape or form. Atrocious spelling, grammar, typographic and layout errors are all the way through the book. To just list a handful of grammar/spelling examples: 1 "offering no further comment further" 2) "eschatology - the science of last things" 3) "Phillip John, director of Downtown Abbey" 4) "Nothing is even remotely close to what I knew was a kid" Even worse though, and destroying any integrity the book could have had, are blatant factual errors, which are not just differences in peoples memories, but easily fact checkable information, such as show lineups or dates or names. If you can't understand how to spell Delia Derbyshire's name and accurately place her position in the history of this band, why bother? The author also seems unable to distinguish between minor players in the bands story, giving them pages and pages of self aggrandising time, yet ignoring other key people who definitively made the band what it is. The author lacks any filter to develop a "truthful" narrative and throws all opinions at the wall. Unfortunately this more or less reads as: "Person A says this." Then the very next line is an opinion piece by the author STATED AS FACTUAL INFORMATION. The book falls apart on this, as a casual reader is simply unable to determine fact from fiction, as the author is unable to articulate the difference between the opinion of an interview subject and his own opinion. Finally, the author's attempts at a Hunter S gonzo style are frankly pathetic and embarrassing. All his talk of himself "frying" on LSD, and others as "tweeking" and "fiending" come across as childish and immature with a deep lack of understanding of the cultural resonance of these things to the band and associates. Let alone his references to his own "making love to beautiful women" and desperate attempts to place his own unknown band within the narrative. Contrast this with the amazing writing and story told by Paul Drummond in his book "Eye Mind: The Saga of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators, The Pioneers of Psychedelic Sound" If you want to read a great book on modern psychedelic music, try Jim DeRogatis "Turn On Your Mind: Four Decades of Great Psychedelic Rock" or his "Staring at Sound: The True Story of Oklahoma's Fabulous Flaming Lips". Even David Brownes "Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth" is an incredible example of how this book could have been written by a real writer. What a disappointment! Don't go near this book. Seems one of the band members is publishing something soon, you'd be much better waiting for that.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    As a big fan of the BJM since 2003 or so, I was excited to read this book. It does offer a lot to the hardcore fan, but ultimately it is poorly organized and conceived and, as a result, cannot be seen as the definitive statement on the band. Valencia performed quite a lot of research in the writing of this book - obscure magazine interviews, blog posts (by Anton and others), and interviews he conducted with some (but not all) of the key members of the group provide a lot of fascinating micro-det As a big fan of the BJM since 2003 or so, I was excited to read this book. It does offer a lot to the hardcore fan, but ultimately it is poorly organized and conceived and, as a result, cannot be seen as the definitive statement on the band. Valencia performed quite a lot of research in the writing of this book - obscure magazine interviews, blog posts (by Anton and others), and interviews he conducted with some (but not all) of the key members of the group provide a lot of fascinating micro-details to the hard-core fan. Indeed, Valencia seems to have spoken a lot with Jeff Davies and Matt Hollywood (but not Anton), and their memories of key periods and events are worth their weight in gold. Still, even for such a hard-core fan, the book is a slog - Valencia bogs down in the prosopography of the revolving door of the band and its friends/hangers-on. Sometimes, I dare say, it doesn't really matter which band one of Anton's temporary girlfriends played in (and we hear about all these obscure groups). That is to say that Valencia often gets lost in the dense mass of details he has assembled, and his book lacks a controlling narrative or argument. To be sure, given the tepid reaction of some fans to the narrative presented in Ondi Timoner's film, Dig!, it might be wise to think hard about pushing a particular narrative structure onto Anton's strange genius. But, ultimately, that's what biographers and writers must do, and for Valencia to default to an album-by-album, band-member-by-band-member approach whose only glue seems to be Anton's dictum 'Make Art Every Day', inevitably deprives the book of a central, guiding spirit. So, as noted above, those already fascinated by Anton Newcombe and the BJM will find a lot of interesting detail to round out the picture of the band. But the definitive history of this epochal group remains to be written. [final pet peeve: Valencia seems to think that he's doing 'new journalism' a la Tom Wolfe. He isn't. Merely reporting that he 'took 4 tabs of acid' and listened to the band, or attended a few shows in the 2010s, does not push him into the realm of participatory new journalism. In fact, the sections (especially the end) in which Valencia does inject himself into the story are the weakest. ugh.]

  8. 4 out of 5

    brother_rebus

    Follows a chronological narrative of the BJM focused mostly on Anton. Lots of wide ranging input from many tidbits of their history from a bunch of hanger-on’s & key players alike. Realistically the book could have been a bit shorter by excluding the author’s personal narrative to the epilogue or prologue, cutting out anecdotal ramblings from friends of friends of friends, or bouncing jumbled events that ultimately carried less than no worth. Kind of felt like I read the same thing a few differe Follows a chronological narrative of the BJM focused mostly on Anton. Lots of wide ranging input from many tidbits of their history from a bunch of hanger-on’s & key players alike. Realistically the book could have been a bit shorter by excluding the author’s personal narrative to the epilogue or prologue, cutting out anecdotal ramblings from friends of friends of friends, or bouncing jumbled events that ultimately carried less than no worth. Kind of felt like I read the same thing a few different times over the chapters. But the aforementioned gripes could help a neophyte reader reflect the chaotic nature of the band & it’s history.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Smith

    Very telling

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    Jesse, thank you. It can’t be said enough for putting to page the things that happened. The pure will and amazing amount of research that went into this account can’t be discounted. Anton’s missing in action account is felt as a literary conceit rather than an omission or missed opportunity, so congrats on that. But as you know Aton's story, is only part of the story. Even in a one man band. And as ever, that’s what makes the band so great. Omission, as much as collaboration, is art. The notes y Jesse, thank you. It can’t be said enough for putting to page the things that happened. The pure will and amazing amount of research that went into this account can’t be discounted. Anton’s missing in action account is felt as a literary conceit rather than an omission or missed opportunity, so congrats on that. But as you know Aton's story, is only part of the story. Even in a one man band. And as ever, that’s what makes the band so great. Omission, as much as collaboration, is art. The notes you don’t play are just as important. My constructive criticizism is that this book reads a lot like a bunch of notes compiled in order over 10 years, as opposed to an ode, as you admit to full-fledged band-crush. I was missing the feeling and emotion of that band love. You say it. But I didn’t read it. I was missing the passages of flowery language, or an occasional flourish or swish of your magic typewriter. This book was more Cormac Mccarthy's The Road than a book. "This happened. This happened next. Then this happened. But before that happened this other band member did something to make this happen. Which relates to the next thing." Hard to follow. And hard to keep interest, especially for the uninitiated bjm-know-nots. It’s like you were trying to write it as an impartial journalist, which you’re not, and avoiding the deep introspection of a cultural attaché, which perhaps you are. Or which perhaps got edited out. That said, if anton/mat's revisionist lawsuits are any sort of lantern, I’d say you can rewrite and update chapters of the digital copies of this book for the foreseeable future. And when you do, I’ll take a slashy on the credit.

  11. 5 out of 5

    John Dimoia

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bing VanGorden

  13. 4 out of 5

    John Fetzer

  14. 4 out of 5

    V

  15. 4 out of 5

    Carlos Campos

  16. 5 out of 5

    Vlado Nosal

  17. 4 out of 5

    MacKenzie

  18. 5 out of 5

    Chris Calhoun

  19. 4 out of 5

    Isaac

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jan Skjerven

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lukas Evan

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tom Hawkins

  24. 5 out of 5

    Reid Ritter

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jesse Valencia

  26. 5 out of 5

    Crispin Kott

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mike Books

  28. 5 out of 5

    Walker Miller

  29. 4 out of 5

    Marco

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

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