No. 58: ’90s Alt-Rock Memoirs

Michaelangelo Matos | December 15, 2008 10:00 am

There was a whole lot of ’90s nostalgia this year (no, this is not the last time 80 ’08 (and Heartbreak) will be addressing it), and it’s fair to say that the recent spate of one-hit ’90s alt-rockers penning memoirs of their times in the major-label alternative trenches (almost called this one “Indie-Rock Memoirs” until I remembered my own modest proposal from a while back) isn’t exactly new. In fact, Jacob Slichter, drummer for Semisonic (“Closing Time,” No. 1 Modern Rock, 1998), kicked it off in 2005 with his wry So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star.

The baton was taken up again in 2007 with three more books. Published in the UK only (and out in the US this year in paperback) was Bit of a Blur, by Alex James, bassist for the just-reunited Blur (“There’s No Other Way,” No. 5 Modern Rock, 1991; “Girls and Boys,” No. 4 Modern Rock, 1994; “Song 2,” No. 6 Modern Rock, 1997). Yank-wise we saw Everything I’m Cracked Up to Be by Boston singer-songwriter Jen Trynin (“Better Than Nothing,” No. 15 Modern Rock, 1995), which earned wide praise, and Petal Pusher by another Minneapolis rocker, Laurie Lindeen of Zuzu’s Petals.

The trend continued apace in 2008. The two already extant by Minneapolis band members are now balanced out by a second Boston singer-songwriter’s memoir: When I Grow Up, by Juliana Hatfield (“My Sister,” No. 1 Modern Rock, 1993), which I’ll probably devour it if I ever lay hands on a copy—though the fact that I haven’t yet probably means I won’t for a while. (Unless someone wants to present a case in the comments—one that doesn’t involve the Truth About Evan, please.)

The one I did read, and rather enjoyed, was Dean Wareham’s Black Postcards. That’s not surprising: I’ve long loved Luna (and preferred them to Galaxie 500), not least because while his lyrics in that band often veered into whimsy, Wareham has always struck me as a good storyteller, and on the page he is.

But the major reason is that Wareham’s got the best, or anyway most dramatic, story to tell. Not about his career or his dealings with major labels or his humble origins—about falling in love with Britta Phillips, who joined Luna in time for Romantica (No. 15 Independent Album, 2002), while still married to the mother of his son. Wareham lays out the tale with clipped aplomb, sticking to the facts and not sensationalizing—an instinct that seems to be at the heart of these books coming out all at once. That, of course, and ’90s nostalgia.

80 ’08 (and Heartbreak)