I Stood in Line, and Ate My Twinkies
Having grown up reared on punk-rock, when Dean Wareham started making his own music —as frontman of cult acts Galaxie 500 and Luna— he did it in the punk spirit: keeping things simple, down-to-earth, and honest. Just as punk came as a rebellion against music's excesses, so, too, is Wareham's memoir, Black Postcards: A Rock & Roll Romance, a rebellion against the regular rock-celebrity autobiography. Like any good touring tell-all, Black Postcards serves up drug-use, infidelity, and band tensions, but it never even hints at turning such into a mythology.
Wareham's career chronicle is more of a pulling-back-of-the-curtain, revealing the sad, mundane, often humiliating realities of being in a 'cult' band. Shoe-string tours, bad clubs, people trying to rip you off, depressing drives from one town to the next. Wareham talks about the dudes of Luna trying desperately to pick up girls, but being constantly undermined by the fact that they've got to load gear, or are sharing a hotel-room, or have about an hour before they're leaving town. Drugs are more of a subtext: ruining people's lives in the margins, never impinging much on either band.
This is a world writ not in bright lights and glamorous successes, but smelly clubs and modest victories, not in drug-busts and famous flame-outs, but smoking pot in lounge-rooms and petty intra-band bickering. "My tour diary... was now a list of petty annoyances," Wareham writes. "'Damon said he doesn't like me walking in front of his drum kit—it throws him off. I didn't tell him to go f**k himself.'"
An Affair to Remember
The full title suggests Wareham is writing of love as well as music; dishing, perhaps, the dirt on falling for his, uh, photogenic current wife, Britta Phillips (with whom he now plays as Dean & Britta). And, sure, Wareham comes clean on their courtship, which began as clandestine affair after Phillips joined Luna. But Wareham's grand Romance isn't with Phillips, nor even with his first wife, Claudia Silver, with whom he once made a rather Dean-&-Britta-esque record as Cagney & Lacee.
Wareham's life-long love is, of course, rock'n'roll itself; he forever wedded to whomever was in his band at the time, married to the touring musician's life. Befitting such, Wareham's life mirrors the history of 'alternative music' itself.
After Wareham came of age in the heady days of punk-rock, Galaxie 500 take-off during the staunchly-underground '80s, and sign to English label Rough Trade during UK music's indie heydays. The birth of Luna finds Wareham inking to a major-label in the post-REM, post-Sonic Youth alterna-rock 'buy in,' then battling with a bloated industry expecting every underground band they sign to shift as many records as Nirvana. His band lives to see the major-labels start collapsing with the digital epoch, and then Wareham feels the indie spirit born anew with the rise of The Strokes and the democratization of the on-line age.
It's a neat narrative that gives the memoir form, and works surpisingly well. Wareham's quiet confessions and wry observations will happily hook those who know nothing of underground music as those well-versed in its lore.
Release Date: 13 March 2008