Almost Famous: Two Indie Bands Struggle to Survive the Industry and Each Other


In 1994, Minneapolis’s City Pages ran a cover story about the “privileged poor”—bohemian kids moving in from the burbs to haunt midsize-city coffeehouses. The ’90s economy hadn’t yet bubbled, and a Slacker aesthetic encouraged an off-the-grid communalism of band houses and barter networks. But you always knew who could buzz home for extra cash and who was really flying solo. Spanning seven years starting in 1996, Dig!, Ondi Timoner’s kinetic tale of the love-hate relationship between the Dandy Warhols’ Courtney Taylor and the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe, captures the essence of that split, one that extends beyond the circumstances of one retro-glam band that got lucky versus a retro-psychedelic one that did not.

What started out as a doc about young bands in the music industry changed course when Timoner met Newcombe, whom she caught beating up band member Matt Hollywood onstage during a major-label showcase. Footage Timoner shot the next day finds Newcombe unfazed, announcing that he’s taking over her film to document a two-band music revolution. Thereafter, we watch as the friends’ courses diverge—with the Dandys anointed as the U.S. answer to Oasis as BJM sink into a heroin-soaked morass.

Timoner simply allows the impeccably coiffed Dandys to be the even-keeled fun-lovers they are—at one point they declare themselves “the most well-adjusted band in America.” Though attracted to Newcombe’s analog zealotry and disarray, Taylor’s band rides the crest of the zeitgeist from junkie chic to Gen-Y industriousness. Despite a rep as a musical “genius,” Newcombe’s never stable enough to play the game. The maestro of Thank God for Mental Illness and his sidekicks don’t go quietly, though, playing sardonic not-coms to the Dandys’ dotcoms—cracking wise as the scrubbed ones use the trashed BJM house for a photo shoot, and raising eyebrows while noshing free food at the Dandys’ Spinal Tap-ish David LaChapelle video shoot.

Taylor’s self-deprecating voice-over balances Newcombe’s flameout charisma (he has disavowed Dig! as “Jerry Springer–like vilification”), but Timoner’s delving, including interviews with Newcombe’s estranged mom and eventually suicidal dad, adds class commentary. These flashes push Dig! beyond recording-industry kvetch, causing it to stay with you longer than either band’s ephemeral music.