Lizard Lounge, Cambridge
March 21, 2008
As the former frontman of Galaxie 500 and Luna and currently one half of Dean & Britta, Dean Wareham has become known for a certain kind of highly literate, glacial pop. His new memoir, Black Postcards (subtitled “A Rock & Roll Romance”) finds an intriguing tonal centre between the cerebral and the libidinal. Pulling no punches when it comes to the emotional consequences of endless touring (atrocious food, boredom, distracting female attention), the book is both analytical and immediate —far more satisfyingly in-depth than your average rock & roll tell-all. (You know the ones: they’re printed in huge 12-point type and include the words “As told to” somewhere on the title page.)
Black Postcards begins with Wareham’s idyllic childhood in Wellington, New Zealand, and follows his musical career from the formation (and eventual splintering) of Galaxie 500 to the final days of Luna.
The book’s dramatic centerpiece concerns the hiring of Britta Phillips as Luna’s new bass player. Both Dean and Britta try to play down their mutual attraction but fail to stave it off for long. (Clearly, the way to Dean’s heart is to read Musil’s The Man of Qualities in the tour van.)
Cue recriminations, divorce papers, and band chaos. The usual stuff of rock n’ roll memoirs, true, but Wareham’s version of excess is miles away from the Nikki Sixx school. He comes off as far too eminently sensible to go over the edge.
Rather, the book’s most refreshing quality is its candor: Wareham’s most damning assessments concern himself, as he wrestles with a turbulent marriage, the ups and downs of his musical career, and the perils of touring. Throughout he retains his trademark dry wit and his eye for telling detail.
At Friday night’s reading, Dean picked some of the book’s bawdiest passages to read to the packed crowd, including an account of a tour-van game of “Who’d you open for?” that mutates into one of “Who would you fuck?” (Spoiler alert: Bowie and Natalie Merchant figure prominently.)
Afterwards, Dean and Britta played some stripped-down songs, just the two of them. Dean’s ode to his Dodge Dart, “Blue Thunder,” and the shimmering cover of Jonathan Richman’s “Don’t Let Our Youth Go To Waste” got an airing, marred by muddy sound but still sounding as crisply optimistic as a spring day.
While Dean & Britta’s gorgeous harmonies suggest a fertile (and ongoing) musical (and personal) partnership, let’s hope this isn’t the last time that Wareham adds Writer to his already-extensive resumé.
Galaxie 500, “Don’t Let Our Youth Go To Waste (a Jonathan Richman cover fromCopenhagen, Live 1990)
Dean & Britta, “You Turn My Head Around (a Lee Hazlewood cover from Back Numbers, 2007)