Like many of our staff, I have been a fan of Joel Gion and the Brian Jonestown Massacre (BJM) for many, many years. Seven years ago, I saw Joel play live without the BJM for the first time. He was performing as Joel Gion and The Primary Colours. The band performed in my hometown of San Jose, California at a local venue. It was a groovy night, in an intimate open space with bar and dining. I recall The Primary Colours were tight – flowing with jangly pop sounds and melodic psych vibes.
I was digging Joel’s new music, and I asked him after the show, “How long had his band been performing?” Joel looked at me and said, “This was our first time.” I sensed that night that Joel’s Primary Colours were more than ready to fly off to other shows and music festivals. And they did! From local shows to music festivals, Pow Magazine followed Joel for three-years. To date, Joel has released two full length records: “Apple Bonkers” (2014), “Joel Gion” (2017) as well as one ep, “Goingion” (2011).
Ever the clowning front-man on stage, Joel Gion is a very serious writer. Accessible through the web app, Patreon, Joel shares his personal experiences with the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Joel documents his travels and tales with rare pictures and vivid tidbits.
I am a supporter of Joel’s amazing writing. This led me to approach POW’s BJM devotee, John Callahan, to report on Joel’s Patreon adventures. The whole approach grew into more than just an interview.
Joel will be our guest contributing author to POW Magazine! We are proud to share this candid, first-person literary account of his experience with the Brian Jonestown Massacre.
We welcome Joel Gion and his first feature article on POW. — Dennis Gonzales, Founder POW Magazine
Anton, Sophie and I pull onto Larga Avenue in the Atwater Village section of Los Angeles. The neighborhood is very suburban and lined with every walk of single family architecture, kind of like a trip to the DMV for houses, with all of them looking very different while crammed together side-by-side and uncomfortably, only because they have to be there. Craftsman’s, Spanish style, English Tudors and other ranch, cottage and bungalow variations. It’s easy to pick out the ones that have been waiting a long time from those that just got here but probably have an appointment and will get to go before them.
“3261 Larga right there – we’re here.” Anton pulls sharply into the driveway of a white job with aqua blue accompaniment.
I walk up the three small steps to the main side-entrance of the house and open the flimsy screen door. The shades are closed and the room is dark where Greg Shaw is standing with hands folded in front of him. His manner and current pose give him an air of an elder thinker wise sage wizard dude in his long blond hair with sharp-chop bangs and t-shirt with comfy jeans combo. His eyelashes flutter a flurry of rapid blinks as his mind’s start/stop system kicks back in from seemingly being in “sleep” mode where he’s been standing still like that for who knows how long. He then acknowledges me “Where’s Anton?”
“Oh, hi! He’s right behind m—
“Hi Greg!” Anton says from behind and I side-step out of the way.
“Hello there.” He says with a calm yet genuine looking smile, “C’mon, I’m saving you the big room in the back.”
They leave me standing there and then Sophie comes in. “They went thattaway…” I say hitching my thumb towards the hall.
I scan around the immediate area consisting of living room, attached bedroom and joined kitchen and it’s like weird suburban flashback to my childhood neighborhood in San Jose. Like a lot of the different styles of architecture around here, it’s early century but this one had a redo probably in the 70s so whatever old-Hollywood charming ways it had originally are now just old-fashioned family-friendly boring. Perhaps there is a skeleton of an old supper club performing mentalist buried in the backyard or an escape artist who’d suddenly lost his touch one day and is still buried inside one of the walls. If that is the case perhaps there will soon be back there with him between one and seven musicians and/or an extremely tall manager who looks hard rock but would rather listen to The Cure unless you have some Eazy-E.
I do a round of the five-bedroom house and settle on the one back in the front connected to the living room. I double check the door to make sure it, first, shuts, then that it locks properly. I’ll take it.
Just then Dave’s van pulls into the driveway with Matt riding shotgun. They come inside and do their own rounds of the house. Afterwards Matt’s all done with the math and reports back his findings. “There’s only five bedrooms, so some of us are going to have to share. Can I be in a room with you?” Despite having been dreaming of my own door that shuts for so long, how could I stay no after all the times I’d crashed at his apartment in San Francisco? Besides, now in some weird way I was doing him a favor just by not being a jerk.
Next Ondi and David show up with cameras out and start filming all of us in the new house. These invited home invasions will become a regular part of the daily ritual for some time to come as well as after add-on escape routes. My first in the series to be going with David to pick up Jeff at LAX while Ondi and Anton go off to do something else, which would be later be revealed as going to the same place to pick up Courtney. I guess they were keeping the footage missions separate for the sake of some to be revealed later real-life narrative.
I’d thought Jeff was arriving from Las Vegas, but when we get there I’m told he’s coming in from Ohio for some reason. Here he comes now exiting the gates and my first thought is he’s looking strangely buff. Not that he’s packin’ a six’r or even has acquired normal body mass, but definitely beefier than his usual emaciated wooden cross-pumping Jesus as a personal trainer look.
An hour and a half of traffic later we pull up to the new BJM house and the gang’s all here, signified by the additions of Brad’s Thunderbird and Peter’s van. I follow David who’s filming Jeff as he goes room by room looking for a personal space to claim home. He’s on a somewhat frantic search in that way you do when you’re the last to show up to something and you know all the best bits are already gone but maybe there’s somehow a chance so even if you haven’t seen all these people for a long time you still don’t waste a second more b.s.ing than you have to along the way while acting like it’s just a casual browse and nothings going on but inside you’re personal agenda has got you going a mile a minute. He finally makes it all the way back to Anton and Sophie’s suite where he then runs out of option road. The last unoccupied room is a cross through room designed for a pre-privacy aged child that can be be entered from both sides and it is in fact a requirement to do so to get from one end of the house to the other. He decides his need for personal business space is so great that he will take nearby closet instead. A little advice to anyone out there who might be looking to rent a house for a bunch of band guys, despite what the term “band” implies, they are all going to want their own privacy just as much as a bunch of solo artists that have all decided to move in together would.
And so the BJM map of the stars house tour reads like this: Joel and Matt off the main living room, through the kitchen and first door on the right is Brad, on the opposite left from him is Peter, who is also solo but with spare bottom bunk because nobody else wants bunk beds or to room with a new guy we don’t yet know for sure isn’t “weird”, then down at the end of the hall is a medium-sized room to rehearse in (which also includes the closet that Jeff lives, so it’s also by comparison his extra large receiving room), then the walk-through baby’s room which is now gear storage plus party pen, and finally Anton and Sophie’s suite featuring its own bathroom, kitchen, laundry and private backyard. Dave has prearranged to take a tiny guest house attached to the garage, which will be kept locked up so tight I would never even see inside it once. Not once. I swear.
Greg Shaw’s wallet wasn’t going to go as far as furniture, so we did a lot of standing around the house on that first day. Then, a couple days later, Anton, Matt, Jeff and I were cruising some errands in the little white beater Subaru…
“Holy shit yew guuys, lookit all that stuuff just sitting there!” Jeff exclaim-drawls out long and lispey while rubber necking from the back seat. We’d just passed a particularly over the top Salvation Army on Hollywood Boulevard, it’s church-like storefront facade replete with a protruding skyward holy cross and a big “A Center For Worship & Service” sign over the doors.
What had generated so much interest from Jeff was about ten industrial sized black garbage bags filled with mystery donation treasure, some random small furniture and even an easy chair. Better still, the charity shop wasn’t open today and so the rest of us enthusiastically joined in on the fantasy that we would now decorate our empty house with all of what surely must be ultra-cool vintage retro furnishings.
Anton quickly spins the car around and in the flash of an eye is pulling the e-brake now in front of the store as Jeff, Matt and myself simultaneously fling open our doors all at once. First bag: crap. Second bag: crap. Third bag: crap. This was taking too long. “Just grab the easy chair” Anton instructs in a voice echoing all of our frustration. Matt leans over while Jeff bends down with his knees to each grab an end of the chair when suddenly —
We all look up. There’s a chubby twenty-something sweaty faced security guard holding a walkie talkie to his ear and in the other hand pointing what looks to be a taser at us. Brow furrowed and squinting in the hot sun he is outwardly shaking and clearly must be new to the job or maybe to him we look like crazed Manson weirdos pillaging a La-Z-Boy recliner chair.
Anton, taking a hostage negotiator tone tries to help him, “It’s ok, don’t freak out. You are not in danger. Take a deep breath and just try to relax.”
“O-okay. But you guys gotta go right NOW,” he pleads “I’ve already notified the police!”
“Ok, we’re leaving. C’mon you guys, let’s go” Anton instructs to us calmly but with enough outward direction to show the security guard we are acting the rest of the scene out as promised. On our way to the car we see some cops pulling up. Anton brushes up to me and whispers, “You’re driving. You’re the only one here with a driver’s license and the cops are here”.
“But I can’t drive a stick” I inform him from the corner of my mouth, thinking surely he’ll just have to get us away from here quickly. He ignores this and I watch as he gets in on the passenger side. The L.A. Police cruiser pulls right up behind us and I also get in. “Fuuck man…” Matt mutters as I begin to mentally prepare for the big house. The security kid goes up to the cop car window and they start talking. The two cops remain inside listening and after a very long brief exchange, they all turn their heads towards us in unison. They’re just watching like they’re waiting on us. Anton suddenly brings me into the reality of the situation, “Start the car, they’re letting us go.”
Like I already told Anton, I’ve never driven a stick shift before in my life, but if I can’t drive us away from here right now the police will proceed with the pending bummer scenario on hand. I start the engine and then begin to herky-jerk the shifter stick in a few different directions while also pumping the clutch up and down with my foot like I’m starting up a time machine from a 1940s film. For some reason this hasn’t caused the car to stall so I gently begin to push down on the gas pedal and somehow it slowly moves forward, but then begins to jerk and then rumble some and then jerks and stops. I grab the shifter again and start playing it like a video game while giving the clutch pedal another pump routine, which gets the car to start vibrating and lurching sporadically like an automotive free-jazz sax solo and by no skill of my own the car does manage to crawl further away and in what actually does take forever I eventually get us car seizured down the street and around the next corner and out of view of the cops. I throw my door open and Anton and I switch seats before instantly blazing away from our botched heist job.
“Maan, that was a nice chaair”, Jeff laments from his rear seat.
We get home later that day to find a large television in the corner of the front living room and an arrangement of some milk crates positioned in front of it. The milk crate furniture staging job implies someone thought we might all like to sit around the T.V. like a kind of miniaturized milk crate drive-in movie theater. The sight of this gets us into some conversational commotion causing and suddenly Brad and Peter appear from the hallway.
“Hey you guys!” Brad says looking excited to see us.
“Running from the cops” Matt says only half joking while some take a crate to a corner while most of us just flop where we are on the carpet. That is all except Jeff who continues on the winds of intent through the house and presumably back to his closet hang.
“What’s going on?” Peter now transmits from outer perma-spaced. We are learning that the signal has a customary three-second delay.
“Look! A friend of Dave’s brought us a TV,” Brad announces.
“Great, now all we need is a cement truck,” Anton sighs.
“Now you can watch Seinfeld, Joel.” Brad jokingly adds, referring to a comment I’d made in an interview recently about people becoming brainwashed and just wanting to stay home to watch Seinfeld instead of going out to shows.
We have come here to LA to do or die, and this is our life now. Here in L.A. we had band friends, connections and hookups. We had fans. We had people who recognized what we had going on and wanted to be a part of it. I’d get along just fine until we got some label suit’s ink on paper. Then I’d have my own money. I’ll probably even have to get a bank account. I haven’t had a bank account in five years.
“We should practice soon.” Someone says with words like silent raindrops fell and echoed in the wells of silence. Anton gets up and heads for the practice room while the rest of us linger just a little longer, each one zoning out on a different section of white wall while smiling far-off smiles kinda like the ones in the final shot of The Graduate…