Indie-rock icon recalls life in the studio and on the road.
Wareham begins with a chronicle of his childhood and early adult life. Born in New Zealand, his family moved to New York City in 1977. While attending the exclusive Dalton School, he frequented CBGB’s, Irving Plaza, the Palladium and other venues, catching performances by the Clash, the Talking Heads, the Ramones, Pere Ubu, Television and many others. In 1981, Wareham enrolled at Harvard and soon after started his first band, Speedy and the Castanets: “[We] sucked. We were clueless and talentless. And yet we felt we were the only interesting band on campus. So what if we couldn’t play? If nothing else, we had our arrogance.” Such sentiment colors most of the narrative, as the author offers frequent asides about music, philosophy and the art of performance—some enlightening, others trite, but all unflinchingly honest. On a particularly poor Bob Dylan show: “He had that dolt GE Smith on guitar. GE Smith was the bandleader on Saturday Night Live, and he was best known for making too many rock faces. Maybe his playing would be tolerable if he put a paper bag over his head.” While living in Boston in the early ’80s, guitarist and singer Wareham founded Galaxie 500 with two friends. The band toiled in the small-club scene for a few years and then gradually built a loyal fan base touring across the United States and playing a few international rock festivals, including the Glastonbury Festival in England and Roskilde in Denmark. Though Galaxie 500 eventually developed a cult following, Wareham quit in 1991 and went on to found Luna, the band for which he would become best known. After releasing Lunapark, the band embarked on their first tour, landing an opening slot for the Screaming Trees. A second album, Bewitched, followed, but it was their third album, Penthouse, on which “Luna really hit its stride musically…we had learned to appreciate the subtleties of one another’s playing.” The author provides a highly detailed, if occasionally scattershot, account of his life—including the addition of bassist Britta Phillips (“the best visible panty line in rock”), with whom the author had an affair, then eventually married—and he tosses in enough pointed musical and cultural commentary to satisfy even the most jaded rock-bio fan.
Wareham may not demonstrate the sharpest narrative focus, but his memoir is refreshingly confident and unsentimental in its exploration of life in the indie-rock trenches.