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Intellectual House o' Pancakes Webdiary

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2009-05-20 - 5:23 p.m.

It’s been a while since I was completely entranced by a book, and it’s strange that the cause of this enchantment is a music memoir by a guy whose bands I was never hugely into...

But Dean Wareham is a lucid, observant writer with a deadpan wit (I have laughed out loud a few times while reading, and smiled a lot), and his chronicle of the East Coast indie scene of the late-80s/early-90s has had me floating in a comforting, bittersweet pool of nostalgia for the past couple days.

Wareham played all the same crappy clubs, recorded and rehearsed at all the same gross studios, dealt with the same obnoxious bookers, had the same frustrating arguments with band members, and worked all the same kind of miserable temp jobs that many of us did in 1992—and saw and played with all the exciting bands of the era. (Although he remains curiously mum about the Pixies, whom he dismisses in one short sentence near the beginning of the book, and hasn’t mentioned again so far.)

But his writing works purely as self-reflective autobiography, too, and the nostalgia/identification factor slips away as soon as Galaxie 500 become international indie-pop stars, anyway.

Wareham is kind of an arrogant guy, but I like that he doesn’t go on extended screeds. He just tersely deems someone an asshole, or some event or band as stupid, and moves on to the next anecdote, and he seems happy enough to praise the things he likes. Further, he seems to have a realistic view of his own talent--competent but not a genius, popular but not a rock star, just a guy who muddles through, asserts himself when he can, and has occasional flashes of brilliance and luck.

This seems just about right. Galaxie 500 and Luna were both, to me, the kind of reliable bands that made me say “Sure, what’s not to like?” They seemed to have all the right influences, made some lovely mood music (and in the case of Luna, occasionally rocked it on out), were generally satisfying to see play live, but on the artist-love scale, they inspired in me the kind of mild affection I might feel for a talented sitcom actor who goes on to make good movies. Like Greg Kinnear. Who doesn’t like Greg Kinnear?

Now that I am reading the book, and inside Wareham’s head, I am going back and re-listening and appreciating G-500 and Luna a bit more. I still don’t think Wareham and his bandmates were great song writers, but I like and miss that deep–space lushness in records of that era, songs that take their time, with audacious globs of reverb, as if they wanted to aggressively smother listeners in prettiness. I also appreciate that Wareham, though not a stellar vocalist, sings like an adult, and that Luna made a very good record (Romantica) relatively late in their time together. Late-career goodness is always life-affirming for me.

The Dean and Britta stuff is a bit too adult for me--that Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazelwood/Serge Gainsbourg shtick does not speak to my heart at all.

I will always fondly recall Britta’s performance as a troubled teen in Satisfaction (I remember at the time thinking “She’s the only one in this wretched movie who seems like an actual musician”), but I don’t care for their current thing.

Meanwhile, my fleeting musical retro-crush on G-500 and Luna will probably last for another few days. Here are some of my favorite songs...

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