Vent house

Luna's Dean Wareham is cooler than you are -- just ask him

If there is any humor in Wareham's interviews, it's likely only private jokes he shares with himself; cut it any way you like, and you'll never find the punch lines. The whole process seems to amuse and disgust him at the same time. He owes it to his new label, Jericho Records (which is distributed by the WEA Manufacturing group, the company that also distributes records by Elektra Records, the label that dropped Luna after four albums), to promote The Days of Our Nights. And he owes it to himself to be himself while he does it. If no one likes him, he doesn't seem to care.

Fortunately, the album Wareham is promoting doesn't need much help in that regard. The Days of Our Nights is quietly beautiful, raising its voice on only a few occasions ("Seven Steps to Satan" and "U.S. Out of My Pants!" among them). It's all music-box melodies and Wareham's flat voice, deep breaths and slow burns. And every once in a while, the lyrics are clear enough to offer actual insight. Early on in "Math Wiz," Wareham seems to be describing his troubles being understood: "I wrote a speech to my dad, 21 pages long," he sings. "He twisted my jokes and swallowed their meaning."

Not that Wareham gives you much of a chance to understand him, or even be on his side for very long. Every effort bounces off him the way a raindrop would deflect off his permanently waxy hair. Complimenting the way Luna's unironic treatment of Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine" on The Days of Our Nights reveals the song to be heartfelt and heartbreaking -- a great song lost amid Axl Rose's snaky whine -- leads only to a curt response. Wareham practically disowns the recording, dismissing it as something the group tossed off in a couple of hours, along with a pair of other covers -- Kraftwerk's "Neon Lights" and the Rolling Stones' "Emotional Rescue" -- destined to end up as B-sides. And empathizing with him over the fact that Luna will likely never escape the Velvet Underground comparisons that have dogged the band throughout its entire existence and surrounded Wareham since his days with Galaxie 500 is only asking for his subtle form of abuse.

Why isn't this man smiling? Luna's Dean Wareham, second from left, is more than happy to tell you.
Michael Lavine
Why isn't this man smiling? Luna's Dean Wareham, second from left, is more than happy to tell you.

"It's kind of silly," Wareham admits. "But, uh, whatever. Rock critics aren't necessarily smart. I mean, you might be. Some of them are. What are the qualifications for that job, anyway?" He laughs, a kind of smug snort. Then he sighs, as he walks through it, yet again. "It's a reference point, obviously, among many others. I guess, for me, what started me getting real excited about music was the New York punk and new-wave scene. All those bands looked back to the Velvet Underground and the Stooges and the Modern Lovers as well. But that was back when Television were punk and the Talking Heads were punk. Now punk is sort of a straitjacket: You gotta sound like Green Day or something to be considered punk. It would sort of be historical to consider yourself a punk now. That was then -- it was 20 years ago. It's silly to try to strike the same pose."

Of course, Wareham has been accused of striking that same pose throughout his career, pretending it's either CBGB's in the late '70s or Andy Warhol's Factory a decade earlier. There is more than a little merit to the charge: Luna's five albums (which also include 1992's Lunapark, 1994's Bewitched, 1995's Penthouse, and 1997's Pup Tent) all graduated from the Reed-Cale school of thought, the Velvet Underground present less as a reference than as a definition. Wareham's raspy murmur and the gentle backing by the rest of the band -- drummer Lee Wall, bassist Justin Harwood, and guitarist Sean Eden -- led to obvious answers and inescapable conclusions. Even when the group updated the sound, they only ended up with Television reruns, songs that moved forward only a third of the way to the present.

Yet those albums were enjoyable in their own way; there are hundred of bands stealing from the same sources, but Luna is one of the few that can pull it off. Wareham agrees, in a rare moment when his stuttering, stammering guard isn't up. He admits that he isn't fond of everything he's done as a musician -- Wareham regrets recording Lunapark because he doesn't "really feel like Luna was even a band when we did that," and isn't a fan of most of Galaxie 500's output -- but he's happy with the rest of the results. He doesn't care that Galaxie 500 is worshiped by some people while Luna is merely appreciated, and he scoffs at the notion that he's put himself in a position of competing with himself. Wareham knows what he likes, and that's all that really matters.

"Well, Galaxie 500 might be a better band to some sad people," he says. "I mean, you know, there are some people that like Galaxie 500 more than Luna, and there are some people that like Luna more than Galaxie 500. Especially in Japan -- there's a lot of Galaxie 500 fans. And some people like both. Whatever. I certainly don't feel like my best work was in Galaxie 500. But there are some songs that I really love. I really like the last three Luna records a whole lot, especially Penthouse. I think of all the records I've done, that's my favorite. I don't know why, really. I don't know why some records turn out better than others. It's not a science."

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