Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Pop Culture Books # 5 Black Postcards - Dean Wareham

Dean Wareham hadn't been an enormously important figure to me personally until reading his personal and musical memoir Black Postcards over the last week. I think he's become so now. Naturally, given that his own tastes chime so closely with mine, I was aware of his records. Particularly those he made during his time in Galaxie 500 who made small waves during their short time together during the latter part of the eighties, particularly in the UK where they were critical darlings. I bought their second album On Fire when it came out and coveted the other two. Listening to that record yesterday and right now, it's a quite magnificent object.

I was less familiar with Luna, the band Wareham formed after the fairly acrimonious split of Galaxie, though their career lasted considerably longer but I've got to know their output much better over the last few days, along with the records of Damon & Naomi, the pair of players who made up the line up of that original group as well as those of Dean & Britta, the records he made with Britta Phillips who became Luna's bassist and eventually Warehams' own partner at the start of the millennium.

Knowing the records probably helps you make your way through Black Postcards. It would be difficult  to imagine a casual reader having the patience and drive to get through the book which is a narrative of tours, time spent in bands, inner-band tensions and record company tribulations, if they didn't at least have a basic background knowledge of the musical tradition Wareham comes from. This is a story of quiet, but chosen under-achievement in the broader, market sense though it seemed to me that his career is a qualified success under the terms and objectives he set down for himself. To be consistently good by his own judgements and to speak to the small committed congregation that makes an effort to seek out these things.

Black Postcards is a quietly honest documentation of Wareham's history. He tries to understand why he fell out with important people in his own life and comes to the conclusion that maybe this is just because he is the way he is. He gives revealing snippets of moments with his therapist which help him to understand basic things about himself. He comes across as uncommunicative but quietly driven, with a wry, understated sense of humour which plays no small part in helping him through his tribulations. 'Luna were becoming Fleetwood Mac', he comments wryly while recording how inner-band sexual tensions threatened at one point to tear the band apart. He records the historical process via which things became increasingly more difficult for a small, jobbing, touring and recording alternative band though he scrupulously avoids this label, or any other hoisted on his bands by the music press or their record companies during their career.

Warehams writing, like his music, is quiet but quietly impressive. He takes small digs at bands he doesn't care for, particularly at U2 against whom he aims a number of sly but telling asides. In the meantime he makes a case for the tradition from which he hails; most obviously The Velvet Underground, but also The Modern Lovers, Talking Heads,Television, The Feelies, Young Marble Giants and early New Order. The book made me go back to the records of his which I knew , and discover ones that I didn't in addition to listening again to those he was influenced by. It's is a great document of the mundane small moments of a musician's life and a compelling case for why they do this and why we should be grateful to them for doing so. I loved the book. It was quite unlike any other music based one I'd ever read before. So March 1st 2017 is Dean Wareham Day on here.

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