BY: SARAH SWEENEY
PHOTOGRAPHS: MICHEAL LEWIS
I first heard Luna when I was thirteen years old and living in my hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina. It was a Saturday, and I had persuaded my father to drive me to the college area of Greensboro to shop at a funky vintage store by the name of Time After Time (R.I.P.). Luna was the perfect soundtrack for my youthful shopping escapade—my father waited outside in the car drinking beers while I meandered around the store picking a grey pair of vintage Levi’s corduroys, a men’s bowling shirt, and costume jewelry galore. It was a magic time in my life matched by the new jangling sounds playing overhead. I asked the shop girl what was this music and she held up a sparkling copy of Penthouse—I still remember the blurred skyscraper cover, it looked like how I imagined my life to be, romantic and cosmopolitan. Luna, I repeated to myself, Don’t forget their name. I didn’t, and the next weekend, armed with a small budget of my allowance, I bought a Luna EP from the local Best Buy to take with my on my class fieldtrip to Washington, DC. I listened to it the whole ride up I-95, touring the stalagmites of Luray Caverns, and before I went to bed in our shabby Days Inn motel room in a Virginia suburb.
Over a decade later, I email Dean to chat it up about what it’s like to be a rock star making his foray into memoir with his book, Black Postcards.
How is it different writing a book than writing lyrics? Both are innately personal, and with a lot of potential for embarrassment. Is there anything particularly cringe-worthy for you in the book? Do you feel that way towards any of your songs?
Song lyrics are personal, but they are also cryptic. I can start by writing about myself and then in the second verse include someone else’s story. Or I can write down a dream and sing as if it really happened, or pull lines from a fashion magazine and put them in a love letter. In the book, on the other hand, I had to express real feelings and explain myself, not in clever poetry, but in accurate prose.
In writing memoir, there’s a big push to be exact and accurate, lest you be stoned in public for embellishing (James Frey, et al.). Is your memory really so astute? How much research and interviewing did you have to do?
I drew on the journals that I kept on the road. And I also had tour itineraries, with the names of clubs and hotels, and there is even a website online (HeadFullofWishes) that has a list of almost every show I played with Galaxie 500 and Luna. I usually found if I could remember the club, then I could remember something about that day, especially if something interesting had happened. And certain incidents and nasty arguments just stick in your brain. And the songs themselves often trigger memories of what was going on in my life.
Were you surprised by anything you wrote? Did you bury any memories/stories and remember them again?
No buried memories. I was scalded with hot water as a baby, but I have the scars to prove that it happened.
How long did it take you to complete the book? When did you find the time to write? As a writer myself, I’m always curious to know what time and where did you write?
It took me about a year and a half, but I did not have a regular routine. I procrastinated for months. The most difficult thing was just to sit down at the computer and open the file, it could take all day to get into writing position. But once I got into it, I could easily work for six hours. And it all got more intense as I neared the end, I found myself working long hours and enjoying it. As for where, right here in a little room in my apartment in the East Village.
Do you have any routines to get you in the mood or do you just self-start? I’m always listening to music to get in that zone, to stir the pot of memory. I’m particularly inclined to Van Morrison because I listened to a lot of him—through my parents—during my childhood. Is there any music you listened to in order to remember?
Well sure, I went back and listened to the music I was writing about, and music was useful to help me remember things. But if I’m trying to write, I prefer music without lyrics, so as not to be distracted.
Has writing a memoir, overall, been a difficult thing? Why did you decide to write this book? How have you dealt with the aftermath or, should I say, has there been an aftermath, or backlash from those involved?
I got serious about writing the book when an editor at Penguin Press contacted me about doing it. I showed him some of the things I had written, and he was quite sure that I had the makings of a good book. Yes, it is a difficult thing writing a memoir, especially with most of the characters in the book still being alive. At a certain point I took a long hard look at the manuscript, and thought about removing every little line that might bother the various characters in the book. But then I wouldn’t have had a very interesting book. Being in a band is about conflict, and to talk honestly about the band experience I felt I had to go into some of that. It’s only my opinion; I’m only telling things the way that I saw them.
I think it takes a certain level of narcissism to write a book all about one’s self and one’s life. I don’t mean this in a bad way, as I’m certainly guilty, but did you ever enter into some self-loathing phase where you questioned the relevance of your book?
I will say that I am quite sick of talking and writing about myself. But it’s not all about me – the book is also about indie music in the 80s and 90s, and about what it’s like to be in a band.
Now that you’ve made your foray into writing, is there anything else you plan to write? Have you always enjoyed writing or did this project, should I say, “find you”?
Writing is hard work. Some days are enjoyable, others are torture. I used to write for the Luna website occasionally, and that was fun, but writing the book was of course far more difficult than entertaining someone for five minutes while they peruse your website. As for another book, right now I am ready to get back into making music for a bit.
Who are some authors you enjoy?
Paul Auster, Don DeLillo, Geoff Dyer, Isaac Deutscher, Eric Hobsbawm, Alan Furst, Nick Flynn, Sam Lipsyte, Alberto Moravia…
Finally, you reported meeting Lee Hazlewood before he died. What is your favorite Lee song?
“My Autumn’s Done Come” – a great song about getting old, which he wrote when he was all of 31 years old.
Dean Wareham’s memoir, Black Postcards: A Rock and Roll Romance is available now. Their newest EP Variations is also available. For more information on Dean Wareham or Britta Phillips visit their website at www.deanandbritta.com.