Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

A World Where Everything Is Cool: Joel Gion’s Baker’s Dozen

From carrying a Marvin Gaye cassette in his pocket to reciting the entirety of Easy Rider, and the glory of Psychedelic Brazil to the real Beatles, Joel Gion of the Brian Jonestown Massacre talks to Harry Sword about the 13 records that mean the most to him.

Joel Gion. Photo by Andreas Turau

One of the most dogged, idiosyncratic and hard working bands around, over the past 30 years The Brian Jonestown Massacre have operated almost as a genre of one, tireless keepers of the underground faith. Steeped in self-referential late 60s/early 70s rock & roll mythology, shoegaze and roughshod, shambling psychedelia, they’ve always had a stubborn rawness: even in their most melodic moments there’s a ragged edge. Band leader Anton Newcombe is notoriously outspoken and, for a while, not least because of the (recently re-released) notorious 2004 rockumentary Dig!, which followed the band’s relationship with The Dandy Warhols – they were, for a time, seen as a ramshackle, brawling, self destructive whirlwind. However, the sheer sprawling breadth of their discography, the endless tours, their devotion to the subculture have ensured that they’ve not only long outgrown such reductions but also many of their original peers, inspiring a wild, cult-like devotion amongst a die hard underground fanbase.

And keeping time? Who’s the man with the hat? The sunglasses, the sideburns, the tambourine, the immovable presence? That’ll be Joel Gion. Setting out after seeing a flyer in downtown San Fransisco giving the bold yet not insensible instruction to ‘take acid now and come see The Brian Jonestown Massacre’, Gion embarked on a lifetime of adventure with Newcombe and many others – he’s played tambourine with the band for the past 30 years. A vital anchor amidst a churning psychedelic sea, Gion has seen it all go down and then some. His forthcoming memoir In The Jingle Jangle Jungle is – like The Brian Jonestown Massacre – a riotous, yet strangely graceful walk through a life of deep bohemian adventure.

Indeed, it really does feel as if you’re walking alongside Gion. This isn’t the typical ‘album tour album tour ad infinitum’ type memoir, slavishly following a predestined ‘Wiki writ large’ esq. timeline. Rather, Gion provides a pleasingly sideways trawl through the shady backstreet deals, the drug warehouses, the ever rotating eccentrics that made up the collective insanity of the 1990’s San Francisco underground. He’s a journeyman, a head in the truest possible sense, decrying the man and fuelled by speed, cigarettes and bottom shelf vodka as The Brian Jonestown Massacre take flight amidst the crumbling tenements, foggy mornings and seedy greyhound bus terminals.

“I kind of discovered writing late in life,” he explains. “Because, with my life, it was forever about being in a band. From watching The Beatles movies on TV when I was a kid, to when Psychocandy came out, y’know? I never tired of the idea of it. So I was living this lifestyle in San Francisco with BJM, just living that whole thing. And that’s what I wanted to write. I wanted to write a proper memoir, not just ‘Hey! I’m here because I’m a musician!’ I didn’t want to have the book where the fan is in it just because the writer is in a band and the writer is just kinda… grocery listing what happened, ticking it off. I mean, that’s great – and I love that – but I needed to dig a little deeper. Y’know, you can read a book by an 80-year-old woman who has sat in a rocking chair and watched the world go by on her porch and that can be every bit as compelling as what Vince Neil is going to do! That was kinda where I’m coming from. Where it could all be in the writing.”

Joel Gion’s In The Jingle Jangle Jungle is published by White Rabbit on 29 February 2024. To begin reading his Baker’s Dozen click on the image of him below.

First Record

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