Random Book Review: Black Postcards: A Memoir by Dean Wareham


(Penguin, 2008)

I finished this book almost three years ago, and I meant to write about it before now. Maybe I didn’t have anything interesting to say about it at first – maybe I just needed to let it marinate. I don’t know why I started thinking about it again in the shower this morning (that’s where I do my best thinking, by the way), but I figured I’d pull it out and refresh my memory. See, I’m a sucker for these music bio books, and Dean Wareham seemed to be a pretty good subject for an autobiography. I can’t tell you why – it was a hunch. I will tell you something else though – I probably shouldn’t trust my hunches all the time.

Look, Black Postcards isn’t a bad book. But it does the one thing that a biography or autobiography probably shouldn’t do: remove the mystique of its subject to such a degree that not only are they less unique or interesting but also that they are less likable on the whole, to a point that you’re not sure you really want to have much to do with them anymore. I went into it wanting to know a little more about Galaxie 500 and Luna, but I came out with the sense that Dean Wareham is whiny and entitled. I don’t like that version of Dean Wareham.

Does it start with the b/w cover, Dean staring back at me pensively in his black t-shirt, guitar slung over his shoulder? It does now, because I’ve read the book. If you look at that cover, and you’ve listened to a bit of Dean’s bands (also Dean and Britta, more on that in a minute), you have a sense of how this book is going to read, to a fault. Dean is the “hero” of this story, mainly in that deadpan way of his whereby everything comes off as a shrug and there’s no emotional turmoil too deep that can’t be covered over with a narcotic or a drink or a sold-out show. Did you expect that coming into it? Yes, you sure did. I did. Black Postcards … “delivered.”

I feel more like a historian in that I’ve never really been too into Luna or Galaxie, but there’s nothing here that makes me want to go back into their catalog and relive a glory day or two that was never there in the first place. In fact, there’s nothing in this book that really makes me want to think about Dean Wareham ever again – it’s like I’ve been given a lifetime supply of his endless pathos and I’ve overdosed. In fact in fact, if Dean had written this book (or scrawled the notes that he handed to his editor) while on a constant supply of Valium, I wouldn’t be surprised. There’s so little of a person that actually comes through that I’m kind of shocked the man on the cover is nothing more than a meat husk. Yeah, those are dead eyes, on closer inspection.

The writing style wears thin after a while – declaratory sentence after declaratory sentence, this happened, that happened, Damon and Naomi were mad, I guess it was my fault, I tried drugs a couple times, I got divorced, my poor kid, I met Lou Reed, etc. Hit the beats, move on. Drop some names for spice. I mean, come on, dude! You were in a fairly popular rock and roll band. Two, in fact! I hope you had more fun than it comes off. And look, I’m not going to judge Dean, but the whole cheating/divorce/young child in the picture/Britta Phillips thing (after agreeing with everyone in the band that no one was going to try to hook up with her, no less) just totally rubs me the wrong way. What is he, a vampire, feeding off the misery of all those around him? (The relative misery of course – it’s almost not interesting enough to worry about.)

So whatever. Like I said, it’s not a bad book, so if you’re a big fan, you might find some enjoyment in reliving a favorite album or concert or song or whatever. But for me, Black Postcards has succeeded in placing Dean Wareham and his musician pals solidly in my rearview mirror. I gotta wonder, too, what his editor must have been thinking every time Dean turned in a draft. Surely not, “Oh, this is good, but readers need to stay awake when they read your prose.” I have a feeling there was a yes-person in that office at Penguin, probably a huge Luna fan, tongue-bathing Dean’s ego with platitudes about his wonderful book. I hope that person no longer works at Penguin, or at least has gotten better at identifying what constitutes a compelling narrative. Plus, was Liz Phair high when she wrote her blurb for the book cover?


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