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The Nuclear Option: The Brian Jonestown Massacre On Tour
The Quietus , September 29th, 2019 10:13

In an exclusive extract from his new book, Keep Music Evil: The Brian Jonestown Massacre Story, Jesse Valencia recalls the riotous atmosphere of the group’s 1997 US tour

Photo: Brad Artley

Raugust, who seemed to have a lucky power of disappearing before the fights broke out, was showering and getting ready to crash at Ryan Adams’s apartment a couple blocks up from where everyone else was when Dave and Anton got into another fight. Dave had passed out on a couch outside and woke up to Anton spitting on him. “You’re in my bed,” Anton told him, still pissed about missing the gig. Per Stark’s report, Dave told him to fuck off, so Anton ran inside and grabbed an unloaded .22 rifle off the living room wall. Dave roused himself and blocked the front door shut, so Anton went through the back door, came round the side, and pointed the rifle at Dave.

“Get the hell out of Raleigh or else,” Anton told him.

“Go ahead and shoot me,” Dave scoffed, thinking the rifle was a BB gun, “and then I’m going to shove that thing up your ass.” It turned out that the gun was an old replica, so it couldn’t even shoot. “It maybe even had a saw cut in the barrel, and there was no bullets for it,” says Kate. “All he could have really done is hit Dave with it. Of course, Dave did not know that, nor did he know this place or any of these people, so he immediately was like completely paranoid, he’s like, I’m in this house with these Southern rednecks, of course the gun is loaded!”

Realizing the gun was useless, Anton grabbed Dave’s leather jacket off the couch, threw it on the lawn, unzipped his pants, and said, “Have you ever been at a fucking horserace and listened to a horse piss before? For like, ten minutes? Man, this jacket is wrecked.” Apparently, pissing on things was something of a nuclear option for Anton on that tour. Dave stood helplessly by as Anton unloaded his full bladder all over his jacket. Later, once Anton was in a deep sleep, Dave quietly unloaded the band’s gear onto the lawn and took off in the van on his own, back to New York. “When Dave left Raleigh, he headed to Virginia to go to Dave Brockie from Gwar’s house,” Kate recalls. “He had Raugust with him, and the van blew up. One way or the other, they weren’t going to make it.” Dave gave Raugust two options: she could either stay with him, and he would guarantee getting her home again, or she could risk it by going with Anton. She played it safe that round and left with Dave.

The Jonestown were stranded in Raleigh. “They ended up out there in this mansion with this pool in the back,” Kate continues. “One of my friends’ rich parents bought a plantation with actual slave quarters on it, and when Anton found that out, we all turned into Southern belles. He was being a complete dick to my friends; I was nineteen or twenty, full of myself, and I looked right at him and I said, Southern hospitality has its limits, and if you’re not going to be nice, you can go out on the street and figure out things from there. Basically from then on, Anton was like, You’re the only person in the world I trust.”

The party continued for the next few days, and hormones raged. “They were all acting totally insane,” Kate recalls. “I barricaded my girlfriend Margaret and me in our friends’ parents’ master suite—like, put a piece of furniture in front of the door. The next morning we found them all asleep outside in the yard.”

David, Peter, Anton, and Ondi. Photo: Jennifer Brandon 1997

Eventually, Kate and Margaret drove the band from Raleigh to their gig in Charlotte, then down to Gainesville, Florida, so they could meet back up with Ondi. There, Anton called Dennis Pelowski for help and told him all about the fake gun, pissing on Dave’s jacket, Dave taking off, and how he had called Greg Shaw for money but was turned down, reputedly because Greg had given him tons of CDs to sell on the road, but Anton was giving them away instead. (“I could sell it to them,” he explained, “but they’ll remember it more if I give it to them.”)

Then Anton suggested Dennis put out Give It Back! on his Diablo Musica label in exchange for giving the band the financial help they needed to get them through the rest of the tour. Dennis agreed to do so, but he wanted to confirm the licensing agreement in writing. He also had some advice for Anton and the others. “I’ll help get you guys through the rest of the tour, but I don’t think you should do the tour,” he said. “I’ll give you that money to get home, but I’m not going to underwrite a tour, rent a van, get you through the rest of these states, get you guys hotels, ’cause that’s what you guys will need. It’s going to cost too much, and you’re going to be bitter about it later, that you don’t have anything to show for it.”

Dennis flew down to North Carolina and told Anton that both he and Greg would have to sign the licensing agreement for Give It Back! if he were to do any more work with the band. Barry Simons told Anton not to sign the deal, but Greg and Anton were keen to do so. Thinking he’d just scored a sweet record deal, Dennis rented a van for the band in Atlanta – a one-way rental that needed to be delivered to Norman, Oklahoma, by a certain date. The band’s next show was in Athens, at the 40 Watt, so Dennis agreed to meet them halfway, at a hotel in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

Dennis watched on as the band pulled up at the hotel. A couple of them went to check in while the rest of the guys scrambled up the stairs with their gear. “The owner saw them, and he was telling them he can’t have that many people in the hotel,” Dennis recalls. “And they tell him, Oh, they’re just friends – they’re here visiting.” After things calmed down, the band stripped off and jumped in the pool. “The owner comes up and says, I’m calling the cops! I said, You guys, when he says he’s calling the cops, that’s not bullshit – he’s calling the cops! So we scrambled out of there, loaded their gear, and drove to Athens.”

In Athens, Dennis tried in vain once more to convince Anton to end the tour. “Nope, we’re doing the tour,” Anton told him, but again, that night, the band walked away with only twenty bucks. On their way to the next show, in Asheville, they passed a farmhouse, and right there on the lawn was a van that was perfect for them, so they stopped to check it out. “Cargo space in the back,” Dennis recalls. “Great shape. You could tell the owner loved it. I think he wanted $2,700, and we talked him down to $1,800. We were like, Look, if you want to sell it, this is what we can pay you. We don’t have the money. I was going to wire it to him, but that had me going back to Minneapolis.”

The owners couldn’t make a decision, so the band carried on to the gig in Asheville, where Joel pleaded with Dennis to stay with them. “You gotta stick with us,” he remembers Joel telling him. “You gotta keep trying to convince Anton. We all want to leave. We’re starved.” Dennis tried again to convince Anton to end the tour, but Anton insisted that he wanted to go back to get the van they’d spotted at the farmhouse.

Dennis explained that his kindness had run out; he was still willing to help, but from this point forward, if he were to contribute anymore, he’d need Anton to sign the contract. They went back to Athens to give the van one last look. Dean checked it out, gave it the thumbs up, and Anton signed the contract.

Dennis promised to wire the money for the van the next morning, but the farmer told him no, he needed the money now, so Dennis gave him $900 in cash on the spot, then flew back to Minneapolis from Asheville, while the Jonestown stayed in Athens, at the home of one of Colfax Abbey guys’ uncle. Dennis wired the rest of the money the next morning, then things got weird. “Everything was chill until Anton signed that contract, and then there was suddenly this suspicion,” he recalls. “I put a clause in there, because Barry was telling him not to sign it, and the clause I put was, Your attorney was given this agreement two weeks ago, has reviewed it with you, and has instructed you not to sign it. You’re acknowledging this, and you’re acknowledging that you’re ignoring your attorney’s advice. I made him initial that, and after I did that, I just felt like, Fuck.”

The band drove their old rental van back to Atlanta, where they had a gig at Smithe’s Olde House, and then they went out to pick up the new van. Ondi and David had met up with the band in Atlanta, but they couldn’t all fit in one car to go retrieve the van. Moments after they left, the farmer called Dennis. “Apparently they just ripped up over the guy’s lawn,” Dennis recalls. “The guy said they left like there were cops after them! And I was just like, Ohh, fuck!”

That night in Atlanta, the band were transferring their gear to the new van when Anton jammed a finger, blamed Peter, and started pummeling him. Later, at their hotel, Anton, frustrated with their dwindling funds, asked Brad to pitch in. “Ask someone else,” Brad grumbled, then Anton pulled him off the bed onto the floor. Joel stepped in to break it up. The next day, as we now see in the movie, the band and filmmakers headed along Highway 85, and then Route 441, where they drove head-on into a drug and alcohol checkpoint in Homer, Banks County.

Without thinking to ask Ondi if she was clean, Anton waived his rights and invited the checkpoint officers to search them. Ondi was caught with a quarter hit of acid and some pot and booked for possession, while Anton was issued a ticket and arrested for driving without a license. Barry bailed Anton out, while Ondi had to wait in jail until her brother David could bail her out. This was the last straw for Dean and Brad, who flew back to California. Matt didn’t have the money for a plane ticket, so Joel talked him into staying on the tour, as he was the only one with a license. Dennis flew back to Atlanta again to help Anton pay his ticket, and they all carried on back to Florida.

The next day, sixty miles out of Atlanta, the van they’d just bought off the farmer threw a rod and coasted into a gas station in Butts County. “For like a day and a half, they had to stay in this truck-stop lot in Butts County,” Dennis recalls. “Hot as fuck. They were like, Goddamn Brad and Dean. They were smart. They left. It was Anton, Matt, Joel, and Peter, and I think that was it. People have seen the film, but this is a period of time when Ondi was in jail. There’s no film of this shit.”

The band found a nearby salvage yard, where they were offered a few hundred dollars for the van. One last time, Dennis tried to convince Anton to quit the tour, but the band still had dates that Dutcher booked for them, so they hauled over to Birmingham – to the shittiest club Dennis had ever seen. He could see they weren’t going to make any money. “Anton, spend this money wisely,” he said of the cash they’d just got for the van. “You’re going to burn a lot of it getting through these gigs.”

Anton put the money in his pocket, and Dennis returned to Minneapolis. “We rented a U-Haul, and we were staying in the back of this fucking U-Haul,” Joel later recalled. “Our next gig was in New Orleans, so we drove there, and there was this lightning storm. First thing we did when we got in town was get drunk, and then we played our show ... that night at the hotel we were trying to sleep, but there was this lightning going off, striking across the street, and we couldn’t.”

Anton locked the guys in the back of the truck and left the group in front of the Howlin’ Wolf Club after the gig before going off in search of women and booze. They got themselves out somehow, when Dave, who was on his way back to California from New York (having fixed the van and turned the trip into a vacation), miraculously spotted the rest of the band waving him down in New Orleans as he drove past the venue at around one in the morning.

Anton woke up the next day alone. The band had quietly loaded the gear out of the U-Haul and into Dave’s van as he slept. Anton called Dennis. “Now I’m fucked!” he told him. “Those guys ditched me!” Dennis called up a friend to find a place for Anton to stay in New Orleans until he could book a flight down. His license suspended, Anton met Dennis at the airport and they drove to Austin.

There was a show booked there at Emo’s, with the Minneapolis band Like Hell also on the bill, but when ‘The Brian Jonestown Massacre’ took the stage and it was just Anton, people started booing. There was another band from Dallas on the bill too, their name now lost to history. “They were like, Look, you’re gonna get the same shit tomorrow night, and we’re playing with you again in Dallas. Why don’t you teach us your songs, and we’ll back you up?” Dennis recalls. So off they went to Dallas. Anton hadn’t slept for three days, but he sat there trying to teach the band his songs. Of course, when showtime arrived, it was a total disaster.

“That band sucked,” Dennis continues. “They couldn’t play. Anton was losing it. I was like, That does it, dude. We’re done. Whatever dates Dutcher has you playing, you’re not. You’re going home.” Dennis drove Anton to Norman, Oklahoma, so they could turn in the U-Haul. Anton had previously set up a showcase for Colfax Abbey back in Los Angeles at the end of July, so the Colfax guys made a plan to come and pick him up on their way out West.

Somehow, Adam Shore and Steve Gottlieb from TVT had found out where Anton was, and called him at his hotel in Norman. “Steve’s telling Anton, You’re going to be a big star. We have to have you,” Dennis recalls. “And I keep hear Anton going, Hang on a second, someone else is calling. Hello? Warner Bros? He was pretending he was in an office where there was a bank of phones, carrying on these fake conversations, then he gets back on the phone with TVT: Gotta go! Someone else jumped in line ahead of you!”

Anton put down the phone and turned to Dennis. “It’ll ring in five minutes,” he told him. “You pick it up. When they ask for Anton, you say, Anton who?”

Photo: Jennifer Brandon

If that tour had any single characteristic to it, Dennis says, it was that Anton was collecting data and intelligence to confirm his theories – a sort of research and development. Everyone was telling him he’d done what he needed to, that he should go back to LA and start planning a more organized tour, but he wasn’t having any of it. “I have a lot of people I need to prove wrong,’ he told Dennis. ‘I’m not going to cancel any shows, I’m finishing this tour.” He kept his word. “I saw them all fall, in twos and threes, and there he was, driving a U-Haul with no driver’s license from New Orleans,” Dennis says. “His view was that his willpower overcame the circumstances. It was the most superhuman feat I’ve ever seen. Anton understands people’s behavior so well, he can heap abuse on them because he wants them to be better. Every time I saw him criticize someone, he was right.”

Not long after returning home, Dennis says he received a letter from Barry Simons saying he was going to report him to the California State Bar, and alleging that Dennis got Anton doped up on heroin and coerced him into signing the contract.

You fuckers are going to play this game, huh? Dennis thought to himself. As far as he was concerned, Barry was a putz. “He’s fucked so many bands, it’s not funny,” he says. “That’s what I kept trying to tell Anton: You can’t have these fuckers. They’re not respected. You’re going to get screwed over and over again.”

Dennis sent a letter back to Barry’s partner, David Stein, threatening to sue all of them for defamation. “David’s a good lawyer,” Dennis continues. “He’s the opposite of Barry. I told him, You guys have one hour to retract that letter and if you don’t, I’m suing you, and I’m suing you today. No room for fucking discussion. Retract that letter right now.” David Stein retracted the letter, fired Barry, then called Dennis to apologize. Next, Dennis called Greg Shaw. “Why’d you let that happen, Greg?” he snapped. “That’s why I had you sign the contract too!”

Greg explained the way he worked with Anton to Dennis, deflecting in any way he could: I put his music out, I do everything he says, I pay him money. I’m not doing this to make money. He’s got a great vision.

Though he ultimately lost his bid for Give It Back! following his fall out with Barry and Greg, Dennis nevertheless went away impressed with Anton. “That guy does not know the meaning of the word surrender,” he says. “All this shit, and all the crap I was going through ... you’re lucky to run into someone like that, and to see it.”

Keep Music Evil: The Brian Jonestown Massacre Story by Jesse Valencia is published by Jawbone Press