Interview with Dean WarehamPosted by Goodreads on September 18, 2008
Cult rocker and prolific songwriter Dean Wareham, formerly of Galaxie 500, Luna, and now part of the duo Dean and Britta, talks to Goodreads about writing his memoir, Black Postcards: A Musical Romance.
Goodreads: What compelled you to suddenly change gears and write a book? Goodreads member William admits, "Black Postcards made me want to pick up my guitar and hit the road." In contrast, Matt says, "This book gave me a lot of closure and effectively extinguished any lingering fantasies about running off to be a rock star." Is Black Postcards a rock and roll love letter or a cautionary tale?
DW: I wasn't intending to send messages to young musicians, more to be entertaining and maybe figure things out for myself. But perhaps the message is that it's hard to be in a rock and roll band, that it's not as glamorous as it might seem, and that it takes its toll on your home life. As for why I wrote the book...after Luna had broken up, for the first time in twelve years I was free (or unemployed, depending how you look at it) — I didn't have band members pushing me to get back into the studio and make another record, so I actually had time to complete a book.
GR: As a longtime songwriter, can you discuss the transition from writing songs to the process of writing a book? Was it easier or more difficult, or simply a completely different beast?
DW: Writing songs is hard, but a piece of cake next to writing a memoir. Songs don't have to make sense, you can take an idea and run with it, mix your own life with something you see on TV, and no one knows or cares. Putting real events down on paper — and trying to make it all entertaining — was far more challenging.
GR: Unlike so many self-congratulatory celebrity memoirs, Black Postcards feels rooted in honesty, including some unflattering stories about you. Can you explain your thought process as you crafted these stories, warts and all?
DW: Unflattering, maybe, but probably just par for the course for a touring musician. I guess I thought that telling the truth about life on the road would be more interesting, and resonate with readers, even if it was embarrassing at times. I have read a bunch of rock memoirs and thought I could tell when the writer was holding back, not telling the whole story. I wanted the book to be something more than a puff piece about the bands I was in, or how great it was to make the records and travel the world playing shows. I wanted to talk about the humiliating moments as well as the fun ones.
GR: Have you always had a compulsion to write? Do you keep a daily journal?
DW: I think I would rather read than write, so I wouldn't say I have a compulsion to do it. But I keep a daily journal when I'm on tour. Other times I just remind myself that I ought to be keeping a journal. However, those tour journals came in handy when writing the book.
GR: The title of the book is also the title to a song, "Black Postcards." One line from the song states, "If I had to do it all again, I wouldn't." Would you do it all again? Is there a connection here? Why did you choose the title?
DW: Hmmm. I borrowed that line from a poem. This is a technique Bob Dylan mentions, taking one line from someone else's song, but then writing your own song around it. Would I do it again? The answer probably depends what kind of mood I happen to be in on a given day. I could go back and not make certain mistakes, I suppose. But good things have come from my mistakes (that's how I feel today, anyway). Black Postcards as a title seemed to fit with what I was doing, telling stories from my travels, and they're not all fun and games.
GR: Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what artists were on your playlist while writing this book?
DW: I generally wrote in silence, but if I did allow myself to listen to music it was instrumental stuff (so as not to be distracted by lyrics)...Beethoven, Vince Guaraldi, George Delerue, Ennio Morricone...
GR: When writing songs, which comes first, the music or the lyrics? Or is that like asking about the chicken and the egg? Does one come easier than the other?
DW: The music comes first for me, and writing the music isn't all that difficult, though it doesn't happen all by itself. So you start with a melody, and the hard part is trying to organize the words and cram those syllables into the melody. And writing a chorus is always harder than writing a verse.
GR: Your Harvard education no doubt prepped you for many things, but probably not a career in rock and roll! When you started Galaxie 500 in 1987, what would you have said to someone who told you you'd still be a musician 20 years later?
DW: I started a band with my friends, because I loved music and I didn't particularly have anything else I was passionate about. But I didn't dare to think that it could be an actual career — the odds are not good there. Our aims were modest — to record an album and get a gig at the Rat on a Saturday night. But one thing led to another, people liked the records, and I found myself actually making a living doing this.
GR: Goodreads member Tim compared getting an advance copy of Black Postcards to scoring an early album demo: "But I'm talking about back in the days, before these things got leaked on the Internet every other week, back when you'd hold that tape in your hands, and meet up with friends in a dorm room somewhere and all listen to it in the dark." The Internet is transforming the music industry. You've witnessed so much turmoil during your career — do you have any predictions for what will happen next? Are you taking steps in a new direction? What's the best way for a new musician to get his work heard?
DW: I have no idea what will happen next. I do know that the music business was built on the spending power of affluent Western teenagers. They are still affluent, but they don't spend their money buying records and CDs anymore, so the companies trying to sell music are in trouble. That's the world we live in. Maybe setting up on MySpace is the obvious way to get your music heard, but there is still something to be said for putting together a live band and being able to entertain people that way — that is something that the Internet cannot replicate.
GR: Finally, what are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books?
DW: I am making my way through Tony Judt's Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, also just started Josh Alan Friedman's Tell the Truth Until They Bleed, a collection of essays about the history of rock and roll. Some favorite books are Great Jones Street by Don DeLillo, Memoirs of a Revolutionary by Victor Serge, Contempt by Alberto Moravia, American Pastoral by Philip Roth, The Age of Extremes by Eric Hobsbawm, Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It by Geoff Dyer, and anything at all by Raymond Chandler.