“Waking their latest triumph, ‘Penthouse,’ from its mordant and mellow foundation, Wareham and Sean Eden’s wall of swirling, simmering guitars blared a full-tilt, cosmic radio clamor.”
That’s my review of Luna’s September 1995 Tramp’s performance. I especially like the phrase “cosmic radio clamor.” I wanted to be Lester Bangs so badly.
That concert review was one of my first for Rolling Stone Online. I didn’t know the band terribly well at the time, though I had a copy of their new CD, “Penthouse,” and had heard their “Luna Park” debut. So Chris and I were dubious when the band took the stage. I don’t remember much (surprise! we got super monkeyed before the show), but I do remember bobbing my head and smiling. I remember being swayed by frontman Dean Wareham’s deadpan. And I remember leaving suitably impressed. We’d been converted.
Thirteen laters, now, comes Wareham’s memoir, “Black Postcards: A Rock & Roll Romance.”
Wareham’s book joins Semisonic drummer Jacob Slichter’s “So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star,” and Jen Trynin’s “Everything I’m Cracked Up to Be” in a small but compelling canon of ’90s alternative rock memoirs. Their stories are rock ‘n roll cautionary tales. And though Wareham tosses in a taudry affair with his gorgeous bassist, I, for one, appreciate the major label reality check.
See, when I was in college and Smokey Junglefrog was sufficiently successful to be deluded enough to think we could release records and play rock shows for a living, there was only one way: get signed by a record label. We sent our cassettes to anyone who would listen (or claimed they would), dreaming of the day when we’d sign our names on a dotted line, climb aboard our custom Eagle tour bus, and end up with a handfull of Grammys.
“Black Postcards” effectively takes a long, sharp needle to the bloated balloon that is the rock ‘n roll fantasy. In 324 pages, Wareham dispatches it in short order. Not surprisingly, his prose reads like his lyrics: short, sharp, and bone dry.
“Total attendance at the in-store was four Luna fans. Two of them were infants in strollers, wheeled in by their mom, who couldn’t believe that Luna was playing at the mall. One other Luna fan worked upstairs at Abercrombie & Fitch, and happened to see a sign in the store window that morning.”
What Wareham describes is prolonged adolescents. There’s coke and Ecstasy, booze and groupies, short days, long drives, and late nights.
“You wake up when the tour manager tells you to wake up. You eat lunch when the tour manager tells you to eat lunch. And you show up for soundscheck when the tour manager tells you to soundscheck.”
Sure, Wareham sold out The Fillmore, played Conan, and was the subject of an outstanding rock doc (“Tell Me Do You Miss Me”). But his Electra Records deal ended with the band $1.2M in the hole. His marriage was over. And he never did get that Grammy.
It’s a great read. I tore through it in just a few days. And in the end, I began to think that maybe this rock ‘n roll career of mine has unfolded pretty well, even if it hasn’t unfolded as I’d planned.
Dean would probably say the same.
We should all be so lucky.