When he was asked what the difference between a prophet and a visionary was, Anton Newcombe, the frontman of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, said, “a prophet has to be realized but a visionary can go about changing the world unnoticed.” He thought of himself as a visionary – and he had the chance to be noticed. He just didn’t take advantage of it. He clashed with his band onstage, he got arrested in the middle of a tour and he clashed with his band in the studio while he had a drug-addiction problem.
Newcombe thought of himself as somebody who fought the system. He didn’t want to go to a major label because he was afraid of being ripped off. He was afraid he would lose his creative freedom. “He was so afraid of being taken advantage of that he took advantage of everybody else and when you do that, you become as corrupt as what you’re trying not to be corrupted by,” said Matt Hollywood, a guitarist on the band whom Anton clashed with many times.
Nina Ritter who was an A&R Rep for Elektra Records wanted to sign The BJM. She took her boss to a show in Los Angeles where they played and it turned out to be a disaster. In the middle of a song, Jeff Davies, the guitarist for the band, played a chord wrong and Newcombe started kicking him and yelling in his face. Then Joel Gion, the percussionist, dropped a mic and Newcombe got in his face too, telling him to pick it up. Gion wouldn’t do it so Anton tried to fight him but they were broken up and the show ended right there. The chance to get a $1 million deal with Elektra Records ended right there too.
At one time, even Capitol Records took interest in the BJM. They (Capital Records) offered the band a record deal and Newcombe agreed. He had his manager Michael Dutcher go to represent him but within an hour, he called off the deal and BJM didn’t get signed.
The BJM was going on their first American tour from Los Angeles to New York. The problem is they never made it to New York. They made it to Georgia where cops stopped Newcombe’s van. He consented to be searched when he really didn’t have to and the cops had them all get out of the van. They found about half a ton of marijuana in the back and the band got arrested. Luckily, Anton had a friend who bailed him out that same night but the tour was over. The band split and Newcombe had to play solo all the way back to Los Angeles.
Adam Shore, an A&R Rep for TVT Records, was impressed with BJM, especially with Anton. TVT Records offered BJM a deal and instead of having Newcombe himself go to the meeting, his manager Michael Dutcher, made up a story about how he had an ear infection and couldn’t get there – he feared he was going to ruin the deal. Joel Gion, the percussionist who he had tried to fight on stage for not picking up a mic, was sent instead. He signed the deal and soon, TVT bought a studio for Newcombe and the rest of the BJM. They also paid for the band’s Japanese tour which turned out to be the most success the band ever saw. The problem started when he came back to New York. He started injecting a lot of heroin as BJM was making Strung Out In Heaven, the most important CD of their careers. The manager of the band hired an engineer to help out because he didn’t think Anton was in any shape to record – Newcombe kicked the engineer out. It is like he wanted to fail.
At the end of the day, Newcombe was his own worst enemy because he thought being successful and having credibility were 2 different things. He wanted so bad to be different that he deluded himself into thinking he didn’t care about the money and that it was the best thing in the world to perform in front of 10 people in bingo halls. Newcombe has been called a revolutionary for how retro and futuristic his music sounded but his name has never been out there in the mainstream. He’s the visionary who had to go about changing the world unnoticed.