Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre--and the star of the award-winning documentary DiG!--wants you to know something: He is not a film. However, he is a hair-trigger hippie with a messiah complex, a scattershot attention span and a college freshman's grasp of philosophy. Some people might even call him a self-destructive half-talent hack who has managed to convince himself that necrophilia is the same thing as making music.
Not me. I'm more forgiving than that. For me, Anton Newcombe is the aborted lovechild of Syd Barrett and Charles Manson. The vomit that Keith Moon and John Bonham choked on. The single most ill-tempered motherfucker in rock 'n' roll history. If you doubt, you can either ask the 60 or so musicians who have passed through Brian Jonestown Massacre since its inception, or you can simply read on.
For years, Newcombe toiled in indie obscurity, releasing some 14 records including the great And This Is Our Music, a regurgitative Summer-of-Love fest that both the band's namesake and master impressionist Rich Little would have adored. But thanks to the release of DiG!, Anton Newcombe and the Brian Jonestown Massacre are finally in the spotlight, making the world safe once again for sitars, fake English accents and on-stage temper tantrums that would force Axl Rose to blush if the flesh in his cheeks hadn't already been deadened by Botox.
Recently, I interviewed Newcombe via e-mail--his preferred method of communication. The interview immediately got off on the wrong foot when I asked him about his portrayal in filmmaker Ondi Timoner's DiG!, and his love-hate relationship with former rivals the Dandy Warhols, who share screen time in the film with the Brian Jonestown Massacre: "Let's cut the shit right here and get serious for a second. This creature (Timoner) has been doing interviews all over the commonwealth saying things like, 'Before I finished editing the film, they were playing to like 10 or 15 people.' What would possess a lesser humunculoidal demon to act like this, to sabotage her own hard work in such a clumsy manner? I've read the works of the greats immortal. This is greed. Plain and simple," Newcombe said. "I could give a flying karate penis kick about any of this in light of the fact that the disciples of Leo Strauss and his ilk are steering this great ship to the reef. I mean to say, I have so many dear and true friends in the U.K. and how would you feel if your world was turned upside-down? I am understanding that we shall work together, or we shall die together. You just can't work with this person. Fecking bitch of six mangy strays."
When asked what sort of impact the movie has had on his career, Newcombe replied, "Korea? That's a proud and handsome country."
The evasion continued when Newcombe was asked if he takes pride in the fact that, regardless of the how he is portrayed in DiG!, no one who watches the film comes away wanting to emulate Dandy Warhols singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor. Newcombe is the star of this picture, plain and simple. His response: "Pride? Lions? Ghosts? This is pedestrian at best."
Asked whether the popularity of the Brian Jonestown Massacre owed more to the band's reputation as dysfunctional hellions than to the actual music itself, Newcombe became even more incensed. "Do you know that god is a baby? You see, he is a baby because he does not want to baby-sit. Dig that, baby," Newcombe said.
Later in the interview, I asked Newcombe what his personal attraction is to late-'60s rock and what bands from that era the kids these days should be listening to. Honestly, I expected to him to blabber something about vocal harmonies, sitars and messages of peace and brotherhood while urging youngsters to pick up records by the Zombies, Spirit and Love. Instead, he asked if I had graduated high school and threatened to get me fired.
I was called a "fucking idiot," "a fucking wage slave" and a "fucking worthless turd." And I had enough. It was time to toy with the bastard. It was time for a second round of questions.
I asked him if God needed to have his diaper changed. I asked him if he wasn't already blessed with a porn-star name, what porn name would he like to have? I asked him if he thought that Carl Bernstein, while banging out copy on the typewriter with Bob Woodward standing over his shoulder, gazing longingly at the text on the page, breathed deeply and imagined a midnight tryst at the Watergate hotel? I was just finding my groove.
Newcombe was not.
As the second round turned into the third, he replied one last time and called it quits. His final message: "You go fuck yourself now." I accepted the surrender and went about my business a happy man.
A version of this article originally appeared in Boston's Weekly Dig.