An hour passed before someone in the audience tossed a piece of ice at him and the rest of the assembled Brian Jonestown Massacre. By the end of the resulting melee, pint glasses lay shattered on the floor, chairs returned from the air, and a quartet of young girls demanded their money back at the front door. Starry Plough owner Mike Naima said he'd invite the band back "over my own dead body."
The Friday, July 25, incident couldn't have surprised anyone familiar with the details of the one-time San Francisco band's disastrous first U.S. tour: Within the context of the last six weeks of gunplay, fistfights, and drugs, the Starry Plough debacle looks like any other dot on the map.
To know the Brian Jonestown Massacre is to know frontman Newcombe. In his band he is the Sun King, the dictator, and the maestro incarnate. Newcombe calls himself a "psychic worm," claims that he hears "orchestrally," and says that he has "psychedelic consciousness" (which apparently prevents him from talking in a logical narrative). He claims he is here to spread love, but he endures a reputation as a fighter and a troublemaker who has been banned from several venues in the Bay Area.
His band, which he started seven years ago, borrows heavily from '60s jangle groups and all things British. Newcombe finished recording the Massacre's sixth album, Give It Back, with money from Interscope before the outfit left on tour at the end of May.
The Detroit concert ended in a brawl, and Newcombe told his manager to kill himself in Chicago -- but the six-piece band didn't know real problems until they arrived in New York. The following tour story, with exceptions noted, is the collective tale told by Newcombe, the BJM's manager of six years, two band members, and a filmmaker who shot footage at several dates.
Newcombe says Manhattan was fantastic. The group sold out CBGB's, Brownie's, and Coney Island High. Newcombe did an interview with a woman from Index magazine who wanted him to drink opium tea and tell her why he was the Buddha. He says he talked deals with big record labels.
But there was an internal problem festering like a cyst. It finally came to a pus-filled head onstage at CBGB's when Newcombe called band manager David Deresinski a leech. "I wouldn't be here without him," he said through the mike, "but I hate him."
After the show, a befuddled Deresinski asked Newcombe to write down what he wanted from him as a manager. Newcombe misunderstood and thought Deresinski was trying to get him to sign a contract. By all accounts Newcombe snapped and fired his manager.
BJM percussionist Joel Gion describes Newcombe as "kind of manic." Guitarist Dean Taylor says that the frontman started the tour off sane and rational, but that he seemed to be losing his mind that night in New York. (Only Deresinski offers a solution. "The guy needs medication -- an anti-psychotic like lithium or something," he says. "At the very least he needs to stop drinking.")
For six years, Deresinski managed the band and watched more than 30 members come and go. He spent $40,000 -- college funds and loans from his parents -- to nickel-and-dime the BJM through five full-length records and several singles. He says he handed tapes to Madonna and Neil Young and set off a frenzy of major label interest. And although there were plenty of verbal agreements in place if a deal came down, Deresinski was working with the band on trust.
Newcombe has a different story. Deresinski was a flailing businessman, "a fucking idiot" who wanted the band to live large like Metallica. "There are a lot of people in the music business that live vicariously through the kind of lifestyle that I create around me," Newcombe says from a phone in Los Angeles. "What they really want to do is drink my beer and party with beautiful blond women who are kicking down backstage."
Deresinski didn't take it so badly when Newcombe fired him. In fact, he actually let the band rent his van for $300 in order to make a 10-day jaunt back to the Midwest to play some shows in Lawrence and Kansas City. Of course, he says, the van was trashed when the band returned it to him, but he could forgive that transgression.
At the absolute last minute, the band needed a ride to Raleigh, N.C., for a show at the Brewery on June 19. With questionable intelligence, Deresinski told them they could take the van, but that he was going to ride along. He picked them up after fixing a flat tire and fiddling with the radiator. The van rolled into town at about 2 in the morning. Newcombe says there were 900 people waiting -- not just any 900 people, but "beautiful girls in tank tops with no bras on. It was nuts." It was also too late for the show, but some unspecified sympathetic folks at the Brewery offered the key to their house.
Around dawn, Deresinski sidled up to sleep on an outdoor couch. Newcombe, still pissed because he missed the show, told Deresinski he was in his bed. Newcombe spat on him. Deresinski began to shout back at him, telling him he was crazy, insane.
Newcombe ran into the house, grabbed the homeowners' .22 rifle out of the living room, and came back to the front door. "Dave, if you think I'm that crazy, if you think I'm a bully and shit, you do not treat crazy, insane people this way, because they will kill you," he said.