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The Elliott Smith Mystery: Anton Newcombe Is Gotten To by Alyson Camus and Iman Lababedi

“What, if push comes to shove is your all time favorite album?

Tough question, but you know I love the good fight. I love side two of Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence. And there’s Rubber Soul, Revolver, Pet Sounds, The Bee Gees’ First…..I’ll quit fucking off and say Scott 3 by Scott Walker. Or Harry Smith’s Folkways stuff…….OK, Either/OR and XO by Elliott Smith. He was among my very best friends, I think of him everyday, with every breath I take.”

That was Anton Newcombe, front man of the Brian Jonestown Massacre (BJM), in a 2005 interview published in Mojo magazine. I am not sure about the last part since Anton has a tendency to exaggerate things. I don’t doubt he knew Elliott of course, but “among my very best friends”? This is left to be seen.

You have to know, Anton is a wild character, well known for his outbursts of anger on stage and his violent behavior. He has fired tons of musicians, basically everyone who has ever played with him, and he is well known for slamming other musicians… some of his boastings on Clapton and Dylan: “People talk about Eric Clapton. What has he ever done except throw his baby off a fuckin’ ledge and write a song about it?” …”Which musician, other than yourself, have you ever wanted to be?”… “Bob Dylan but with talent.”

In 2008, he was arrested in London for an alleged stabbing of a member of his own band! He and Frankie Emerson (the other musician) began rowing on stage when Emerson swung a microphone and broke it. Anton responded furiously, saying Emerson would have to pay for its replacement, then, some fight happened backstage. He was however later released without charge.

If you have seen the documentary Dig! you know what all this is about. Of course Anton was mad as hell when the movie was released and even said in an interview that “Ondi Timoner (the director) is a fucking greedy cunt, a liar and I wouldn’t piss on her if she was on fire. In fact, I wouldn’t weep if her and her ilk were hit by an asteroid.”

I don’t know where is the truth in all this Anton Newcombe myth, but to have seen the BJM live a few times, I can say there is always some kind of drama at one point, some kind of crazy ranting from Anton’s part on how one of the musicians is a fucking looser, or worst… the show turns into an emotional meltdown, and Anton becomes a sad parody of himself. To summarize, he is truly a charming guy with a perverse charisma.

Anyway, a few years ago, when reading his comment on Elliott shortly after his passing, I decided to contact him in the hope of getting an interview. At that time, some other people and I were looking to interview musicians in the Los Angeles area who would feel Elliott’s music had made an impact in their life. And I had an interesting exchange with Anton Newcombe.

To my surprise, he answered to my email on May 28th 2005:

“i would be more than happy to provide factual insite into my friends great work. here’s the thing if it seems to me that this is a good project i may be able to provide access to some people that were very close to him and know the truth. provided they wish to talk and as i implyed,you are on the up and up.
keep in mind i have been misled by movie makers.
best wishes,
anton alfred newcombe”

It was very promising, but there was obviously a very intriguing part in his answer, the “I may be able to provide access to some people that were very close to him and know the truth.” Keep in mind I had not mentioned the mysterious circumstances and the whole controversy surrounding Elliott’s death in my email, I had just presented the project as an attempt to see Elliott’s influence on other musicians. So what was the truth he was talking about?
Then I wrote to him again to see when he was available and I got this quick note early June 2005:

“how do we move forward?”

Then nothing happened for months despite me saying we would be available anytime. I wrote to him again on October 23rd 2005 and he replied this time, with a complete different tone:

“I live in nyc.ihave to tell you that if you think you will just dance on up to. mysel or friends,you will fial.
I don,t know you and you donT seem to have youR shit together. now excuse me. as I am on my way to hong kong. I really also believe the way you contacted me to be selfish.
good luck.

So what can be said beside the fact that he seems to have his own way of using the keyboard? Why did he back up suddenly? I know this guy is a nutcase, but he has his moments. It may not have been related to Elliott’s death, but to this day, I will always wonder what was this truth he wanted to reveal.

Iman Lababedi had this to add:

In 2005, I was producing the TV show and one of my contributers, Christine Babiak, was a big Brian Jonestown fan -as am I, and decided to email him a list of questions to his private email address. Anton replied and we filmed it with actors portraying (I know: we once had Bob Nevin portray Hillary Clinton!)
Here is a question for Anton: why was Christine cool and Alyson out of line? Fuck you Newcombe, you’re a flake only when it serves your purpose and fuck you again you arrogant dick. Yeah, we can go up to whoever we want to ask ask whatever we like. Who made you keeper of the flame of cool?
The entire rock community make me sick. One of their own and they blow it off and Newcombe, Smith’s “best friend” is at the top of the list.
It doesn’t need a nation of millions Newcombe. It takes one man to stand up. Put down the fucking crack pipe and say something.

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