Monday, October 04, 2010

Notes on The Brian Jonestown Massacre

They're from San Francisco and real good – much better than their once-friends The Dandy Warhols, who were loads more successful than BJM. They are the subject of DiG!, a 2004 documentary by Ondi Timoner, exposing their lead singer, Anton Newcombe, as a passionate and charismatic yet somewhat crazy and self-destructive individual. BJM have had nearly as many personnel line-ups as The Fall, and like lead singer and songwriter Mark E Smith, Anton Newcombe has been the only consistent band member over the years.

They have released twelve albums and numerous EPs over the last two decades (they formed in 1990), the latest being this year's Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? All their albums are pretty good, and they've been steadily getting more experimental.

They got their name from two sources: Brian Jones, guitarist with The Rolling Stones, who drowned in a swimming pool in 1969; and the Jonestown Massacre, where the Rev. Jim Jones, cult leader of the Peoples Temple, persuaded his almost 1000-strong congregation to drink Kool-Aid poisoned with cyanide and commit mass suicide (in the end 918 people died). This was in Guyana, a tiny country in South America in 1978. There's a good documentary about it called Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple.

They've named-checked as many bands as musical styles they've used: their band name and album Their Satanic Majesties' Second Request (The Rolling Stones); Bringing it all Back Home Again (Bob Dylan); My Bloody Underground (My Bloody Valentine and The Velvet Underground); Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? (The Beatles). Their musical style has been a combination of psychedelic rock, shoegaze, folk rock and experimental.

A few years ago they were giving away all their albums as mp3s on their website (I don't think they are any more, but they do post radio shows and demos from time to time). I downloaded most of their albums but still haven't listened to them all yet. A few weeks ago I got a BJM compilation in Oxfam, 2004's Tepid Peppermint Wonderland: A Retrospective, a double album which is a good introduction, containing songs from throughout their career as well as live performances and a few rarities.

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