Forgotten series: The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Give It Back! (1997)

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by Matt Reynolds

In the mid-to-late 90s, when bands with names like Oasis, Blur, Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam were inescapable on the American airwaves, there was an up-and-coming band out of San Francisco that arguably held more musicianship and all-out rock and roll firepower than all the previous mentioned combined.

However, this particular band never won any Grammys or played to a sold-out Wembley Stadium. It never found itself on MTV or featured on any network late night shows.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre had trouble just getting through a show without an onstage brawl in those days, and signing a big record contract with one of the massive music labels, as it turns out, was never really in frontman Anton Newcombe’s plan.

Closing in on 20 years of existence, the BMJ still remains one of the more complex and intriguing psychedelic-rock bands in world. And after a carousel of nearly 30 musicians shuffling in-and-out of the lineup in that time span, the nine-piece 1960s-revivalist group is now touring with four of its original members.

The BMJ has always been Newcombe’s baby, but the lack of popular notoriety and millionaire status may also rest on the shoulders of this talented-yet-entangled musical giant. But then again, maybe that’s why the band is still oh-so-hip in 2010.

Forever immortalized in the 2004 award-winning documentary “DiG,” the BJM may always be remembered for what viewers saw on that film, which is really tragic and point-on at the same time.

The documentary covers a near-decade span of the story of two bands, the BJM and The Dandy Warhols, and the mayhem and madness that these intertwined, star-crossed rock bands lived.

Newcombe still claims he was largely misrepresented in the film, and it is easy to see how someone viewing the film may come away thinking he completely sabotaged the band’s chances of ever making it to the big time. Obsessive control issues, drug abuse and virtually insane antics are largely what characterized Newcombe in “DiG” — and are also what made the documentary so amazing. Well, that and easily some the best rock music to come out of the 1990s.

Which leads us here, rehashing an album that fell in the period where the BJM was probably in the middle of its musical peak. A time when the band released a staggering six full-length albums in the span of just two years.

The production and recording of the BJM’s 1997 album “Give It Back!” was covered extensively in that documentary that would introduce Anton the Terrible to a whole new wave of music fans.

Of the many mind-bending tracks on this collection are such songs as “Satellite,” a hard-thumping guitar stomper and “Sue,” a 10-minute epic love song that gives you a twisted look into Newcombe’s brilliant lyric ability that is often overshadowed by his extensive and firm handle on instruments.

“Whoever You Are” is the track on the album that takes you over a cliff and gives you wings with its sweeping guitar solo’s and hard base line.

The band has had huge success with “#1 Hit Jam” in Europe, where it is one of the most demanded tunes at their live shows. (Not that Anton gives a damn).

Newcombe’s most beautiful track on the album may be the most somber story in “The Devil May Care (Mom & Dad Don’t)”, the tale of his broken childhood. (Say goodbye to mom and dad, the two best friends I never had to be knowing where I’m going, how about you?)

Also featured on this collection is “Not If You’re the Last Dandy on Earth,” known for being a track targeted at their friends, The Dandy Warhols. Some members of the Dandys took it a little too literal and feared Newcombe had become a Class-A stalker, a claim that Anton still denies and laughs about.

Matthew Reynolds

A veteran newspaper reporter, web designer and editor, Matthew Reynolds has worked for Hanna Publishing, Tiger Rag as assistant editor, the daily newspaper in Monroe, Louisiana, and radio station KMAR. Follow him on Twitter: @mattreynolds10. Contact Something Else! at
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