DiG! follows the shifting fortunes of two alternative rock bands, The Dandy Warhols, and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, over the course of seven years. This documentary is told predominantly from the viewpoint of Courtney Taylor-Taylor, lead singer of The Dandy Warhols, who narrates, and features the gradual breakdown of his personal friendship with Anton Newcombe, leader of Jonestown. DiG! takes footage from concerts, video shoots, interviews and fly-on-the-wall observation to compile the story of The Dandies’ acceptance of major-label money, the realities of big-business involvement in music, and the Jonestown’s rejection of the same values, and their subsequent implosion.
On its DVD sleeve notes, DiG! is described as ‘the perfect parable of the 1990s music industry’ and, viewing this documentary, it is easy to see the aptness of this statement. We witness The Dandy Warhols cross over from their status as touring indie alt-rockers to mainstream darlings of MTV (they found particular success in the UK, thanks largely to massive coverage in the music press and radio play). Simultaneously, Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre succumbs to a breakdown of such proportions that we feel we are witnessing the death of rock ‘n’ roll itself: Newcombe rejects the corporate mainstream in favour of an anarchic and self-destructive series of stunts, intended to sabotage any chance his band had to find an international market. The first of the two acts to garner major-label interest, Jonestown’s eclectic mix of psychedelia, Americana and alt-rock showcased Newcombe’s precociously-affective songwriting talents, as well as reflecting the destructive, self-absorbed side of his drug-dependent personality. Whereas The Dandies are also shown to have talent, this is not the same raw, unkempt kind of skill that Newcombe possesses but is a talent that seems to be etched out of hard work, relentless touring and song-craft, and an attitude that comes to accept the high-end production values associated with major-label recording.
It is not so much that Timoner is attempting to glorify one band leader (Taylor), and demonize the other; in fact, Newcombe does an excellent job of this himself in the course of his disturbing behaviour, and his sometimes violent attitude towards his band, fiancée and friends. Witness the scene in which Taylor plays the finished version of ‘Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth’ for Newcombe, en route to Capital Records. As the song plays on the car stereo, Newcombe’s face is a blank and, in subsequent scenes, he lambasts Taylor for ‘selling out’ to the majors, or somehow otherwise betraying their friendship. Through a series of confessional rants, pranks and violent episodes, he is seen to sabotage what was once a happy and productive friendship, opting instead for creative antagonism. What is clear here (although Taylor’s voiceover only ever hints at this) is the profound professional jealousy that Newcombe feels towards Taylor and co – and the artistic tragedy in the way that Newcombe squanders his natural talent, succumbing to heroin abuse and self-absorption.