I remember when The Dandy Warhols‘ song “Not If You Were the Last Junkie On Earth” came out. I was in high school. I remember thinking, “Wow, this is a good song.” But then I saw the video and the song became (relatively) big and I basically wrote-off the band as sell-outs and copycats and the like. I also remember people (who these “people” were I cannot remember — DJs, journalists, whatever?) suggesting that the song was inspired by Kurt Cobain’s drug use. (Does anyone else remember when every alt. rock song was inspired by Cobain’s suicide? I’m thinking of “Mighty K.C.” by the For Squirrels and one or more songs by Imperial Teen.)
After watching Dig! — easily the best music-oriented documentary I’ve ever watched — I am certain that the song was not written about Kurt Cobain, but that it is most likely about Anton Newcombe and/or his band The Brian Jonestown Massacre.
For some stupid reason I opted not to see this movie at SIFF last spring (mostly because I thought I still hated the Dandy Warhols), but now that I’ve seen it on DVD, as I said above, it is an amazing music documentary. I’m not sure how they did it, but the creators of the film basically followed both the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre (BJM) from their inception to present day. (Although I guess the film only followed BJM through 1997.) In the beginning, the bands were great friends and inspired each other, but then once the Dandy Warhols sold-out by signing to Capitol Records, BJM decided that the two bands should feud a la the feud between Blur and Oasis. So once the bands break ties with each other, the film follows the divergent paths of the two bands.
The film raises a lot of interesting questions about what it means to be an artist/musician, whether “selling out” is really selling out, how the record industry markets bands, etc. The documentary makes it pretty clear that, for the most part, Anton and BJM are the music geniuses and that the Dandy Warhols, while talented, are basically just another rock band that makes good music and tries to be successful doing so. Toward the end, when I felt like the filmmakers were endorsing that decision, Anton gets another chance to speak and it totally shifts the message.
One of the things that the Dandy Warhols said a few times that really bothered me was that they were a “functional” band and that all of the band members’ parents were still married and that, by 2004 or whenever the film was made, all of the members were married and that the BJM were a bunch of dysfunctional “fourteen year-olds” from broken families living in the ghetto. The whole statement seemed rather arrogant and privileged, but in a way where that privilege wasn’t acknowledged, really, or that the privilege was being taken advantage of by the members of the Dandy Warhols.
Enough about Dig!, though, because I also want to mention two other things:
First, the reason I watched Dig! was because I recently realized that I might actually like the Dandy Warhols. I first downloaded the song “Bohemian Like You” a few months ago when my friend Troy heard it on the Six Feet Under soundtrack and asked me to find out what the song was and download it. I must admit, the song was catchy and I didn’t delete it after I played it for him. Apparently the song was really famous from some television commercial, but I wasn’t aware of that. Then, after watching 9 Songs last weekend and downloading the Dandy Warhols’ song from there, “You Were the Last High,” I figured the band might be cool. I read about Dig! and decided I had to watch it.
Second, 9 Songs was an interesting movie. The reviewers who have called it soft-core porn are not wrong. Although the title is 9 Songs, the songs play a relatively minor part in the film. 9 Songs is about a couple exploring their sexuality and having fun (lots of fun) doing it. Interspersed with the sex are live music performances by groups I love such as Franz Ferdinand and Primal Scream (and, apparently, the Dandy Warhols). I tried to find thematic connections between the music and the sex/state of the couple’s relationship, but the only song that seemed to struck a chord in me was the Dandy Warhols’ “You Were the Last High.” The song is quite melancholy and, as I recall, played during one of the more tender sex moments or during/before/after a fight.
In addition to “You Were the Last High,” I also loved the live performance of “Slow Life” by the Super Furry Animals. As for the non-life music, when the couple plays Franz Ferdinand’s “Michael” in the car it’s totally awesome, and Goldfrapp’s “Horse Tears” comes at a particularly touching moment, as well.
In comparison with other sex-based movies I’ve watched, this is one of the better ones. I think the live music performances really help, as they give the characters another interest besides sex. A common theme seems to be self-destruction/lack of care for the outside world/retreating into a two-person life of sex, and 9 Songs breaks that mold, a little. In the end, however, as can probably be predicted, things don’t work out. But unlike other movies, I really don’t think the sex is what destroys the couple. Nor do I think “destroy” is the right word, in the first place. The romance fizzles out, which, I think, is much more accurate than the dramatic and traumatic endings most erotic movies fall prey to.
Where does this leave us? I think both Dig! and 9 Songs attempt to break the mold of very formulaic film genres. Most band documentaries either follow bands to success or destruction. Dig! shows us both and challenges the typical definitions of “success” and “destruction” when it comes to art. Likewise, 9 Songs takes the typical sex-based erotic “artcore” movie, adds some music, and makes the characters less self-absorbed. In 9 Songs, sex is fun — it’s not some artistic expression or brutal exploration of the soul or something.