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While Luna [LAS feature] is hardly the first band, or even the eightieth, that music fans think of when the term "Rock & Roll" tabled, the more specific "Romance" is quite a different story. As such, it's fitting that indie rock luminary Dean Wareham measures his touring life in relationships, first with his own sullen annoyance at playing third wheel to Galaxie 500's Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang, and then with his own midlife crisis in Luna and subsequently ditching his first wife and second band for the more efficient partnership he found in Britta Phillips that combined music and marriage.
His memoir, Black Postcards: A Rock & Roll Romance, was penned primarily for Luna fans, who Wareham rightfully puts first, not Galaxie 500 cultists, who may see red. Of the days spent as a member of the latter band Wareham posits himself as a puppet, of not just the two-against-one rhythm section that panicked at solo outings and spotlights, but inadvertently, Kramer, the Shimmy Disc label owner and producer who hit on Wareham's then-girlfriend and limited his vocals to first takes in the studio. Those of us who shrug off his juvenilia now know why - that his collaborators were limiting his growth as a performer (witness his quavery falsetto grow rugged and handsome legs once he shakes off his first band). That and he describes his life in Luna as the way he came to develop his signature song style: laying details out in front of him, he blinks but never cracks, smiles but never jeers. He jokes with dry bemusement and displays just as much urbane charm as fans always knew he had in him, maybe more. In other words, he absorbs an encounter with Flavor Flav on an airplane or a psychotic Japanese fan (known only as "S") much in the same way he takes in an afternoon drink or a Chinatown cab.
One endearing characteristic of the book and the author is Wareham's blunt, funny critique on his own music. Unlike most artists, he gets his best album right (1995's gorgeous Penthouse) and knows a dud if, not when, he hears it, at least with a few years to think about it (I always suspected "Dear Diary" was kind of stupid myself). It's hard to fault Wareham's shrugged, logical approach to marketing his own records either. How's the dude in the uncommercial band sane enough to tell Elektra Records, of all companies, that their pick for a radio single is uh, missing a chorus? He never comes out and makes any grand statement that the music industry is fucked - that's Steve Albini's job - but in keeping with any of his other work, forefronts all the right notions to keep the obvious answers visible, and at a sexy distance.
Considerable time is spent detailing interpersonal band dynamics for the curious, like the guitarist who won't quit crowing about his original home demos even after the album's done, or the drummer who waives band member status to retain a sessioneer title and the consistent salary that comes with it (which is sent home to his suburban North Jersey family). But like any "Rock & Roll Romance," there's enough juicy stuff for the Luna legend to hang with those of crazy bands twice their junior, from sordid road affairs with Spanish flight attendants to a friend in A&R whose life turns to shambles under the weight of a heroin habit. If you can call that juicy. Being family men even as they cheat on their wives, there's hardly a moment Wareham warms over without some kind of feeling, even those of humility, guilt and regret. You can feel a lip bite by the time when, leading up to 9/11, Wareham can't decide between a life with his wife and young son and a life with the sexy new bassist who understands the life he's carved out for himself. For a "romance," the reader genuinely gets the idea that Wareham's new happiness didn't arrive without a price. It's admirable in its candidness at a time when most aging rock stars are either cleaning up or embellishing their stories for Vh1 to option and adapt into reality format. And if the story is too "rock & roll" for you, Damon & Naomi are still together and making albums. SEE ALSO: www.deanandbritta.com
SEE ALSO: www.penguin.com
Dan Weiss is the music editor for LAS. Formerly an editorial intern at CMJ and creator of the now defunct What was It Anyway?, his work has appeared in Village Voice, Pitchfork, Philadelphia Inquirer, Stylus and Crawdaddy among others. He resides in Brooklyn where he enjoys questionable lifestyle choices and loud guitars.
See other articles by Dan Weiss.
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