Dean Wareham’s “Black Postcards” Reads Like A Song By Luna

There’s not going to be a Luna reunion anytime soon — not now that Dean Wareham has written a funny, candid, rock’n’roll memoir about life in two of indy rock’s greatest bands: Galaxie 500 and Luna. Luna’s other guitarist Sean Eden will likely not forgive him for the portrait Wareham paints, and in fact future collaborators would be well advised to watch their step when working with Dean; he’s not just a gloriously tasteful guitar god, he’s also a really amusing reporter whose now written one of the great chronicles on life in a band that, while providing pleasure to its fans for a decade or more, never quite got to the verge.

When Luna’s final album, “Rendezvous,” came out in 2004, it seemed like Wareham had nothing much left to say.  At least nothing much left to sing: the songs were sonically gorgeous, and his guitar playing was casually perfect; he’s such a naturally gifted musician, he barely had to strain to showcase his chops. But the lyrics at the end consisted of couplets like, “She’s got a rosy future/in her Juicy Couture.” Thankfully, “Black Postcards” shows the Dalton School and Harvard-educated Wareham still capable of writing funny, snarky prose.  In fact, it’s written in exactly the voice we’d expect of Wareham, only with more bite.

This should be required reading for aspiring rockers.  For the one or two bands each year who become big enough to travel in style, there are dozens who bump around the countryside in the backs of cramped vans, hungover and with a crick in their neck, trying to find the next venue.  Luna, who recorded some great albums but never had a hit, were one of the ones touring for life support while the music industry crashed and burned around them.

Here’s Wareham on the dichotomy between being a critical success with Galaxie 500 and having to take a day job to pay the rent: “Sure, I had my photo on the front of the Arts and Leisure section, but I was also broke.  I found a temp job at Italian Vogue magazine, just for the holiday season.  I was one of two administrative assistants in a small office in the Conde Nast building.  The other secretary, a Puerto Rican lady, laughed at me.  ‘You’re in a band? Your band must not be so popular, or you wouldn’t be working here.”

He’s got wonderful insights, harbored and husbanded over years in which he kept good notes.  From why bands break up — mostly because the enforced camaraderie of life on the road makes them so get on each others’ nerves– to why the best drummers tend to come from the suburbs — houses in the suburbs have basements in which you can make a racket.  It’s a wise and entertaining read even if you weren’t a Luna fan (though it helps.)

I was a Luna fan.  A major one.  I saw them a dozen or more times over the years.  For years, “Penthouse” was my favorite album and their live shows were the way we punctuated the calendar.  I once went to a party in my Washington neighborhood where a woman who was identified by her husband as the best friend of Dean Wareham’s wife, told the story about her getting a phone call from her friend.  Wareham’s wife had confided that Dean was having an affair with Britta Phillips, the strikingly attractive bass player who had recently joined the band.  “She said she’d given him an ultimatum: break up the band, or end the marriage.”  

“Omigod,” I blurted out.  “I hope he ends the marriage.”

My wife hit me.  Really hard.

By the end — and I saw Luna’s last D.C. show, a few weeks before they packed it in — the song “Black Postcard”, written at least three years previously, had acquired an elegiac finality. “I’m tired of having no future, and I’m tired of pushing my luck, and I’m tired of waiting for the endgame, watching the stars go black/Throw it all away, throw it all away/I want a holiday.”

It was time.  Thankfully Wareham kept writing down contemporaneous observations, and proved himself as skillful with a keyboard as he is with a fretboard.

 

2 Responses to “Dean Wareham’s “Black Postcards” Reads Like A Song By Luna”

  1. […] guitarist and the writer of some the best songs of the last 25 years — a strong writer is not a surprise to us.  Black Postcards, his autobiography, sits on a nearby […]

  2. […] it as far as they could go (a fact supported by Dean Wareham’s quite excellent 2008 memoir Black Postcards.) By 2004’s Rendezvous, Wareham had seemed lyrically exhausted, even as the songs, and his […]

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