It was Dean Wareham’s birthday a few days ago, so here’s a hug of a tribute to the man. I’m one of those who hold his work with Luna far closer to his heart than the Galaxie 500 records, but suspect I’m in the minority with that.
In any case, we’re going with the band’s first single, which Magnet – in declaring it the band’s most overrated song – still had to concede:
Wareham also thinks fondly of the song, telling The Quietus in 2010:
‘Tugboat’ is a sliver of a song, two chords, a couple of interesting lines perhaps, but the recording has something magical to it.— Dean Wareham
And in case you didn’t know – though I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you did – the song is (kind of) about Sterling Morrison’s post-Velvet Underground career as a – wait for it – tugboat captain in Houston.
The song came with an official video on its release in 1988:
And amazingly, video footage of the band performing the song in a Boston high school gymnasium in 1989 exists:
Less vintage but still antique is the song making a Luna set list at The Knitting Factory in New York in November 1995:
Fast-forward 22 years and the band are again playing the song in New York – this time, Brooklyn Steel – at the end of a tour in November 2017:
The song remained in Dean’s set lists between Luna incarnations, both when performing as Dean & Britta and solo under his own name (and surname). Here’s the former in session for KEXP in October 2010, and the latter in Sydney, Australia a year later in October 2011:
And as songs that kickstarted a scene/genre are wont to be, it has been covered a lot. I swear I’d heard this version by longtime Wareham associates Mercury Rev somewhere else before, but who knows where. Probably a Napster-era MP3.
When legendary British label Rough Trade turned 25 in 2003, they commissioned a tribute album to themselves, with current artists covering past artists. British Sea Power drew the “Tugboat” straw for Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before…:
And proving the song remains evergreen, decades later, rising Toronto jangle-pop outfit Kiwi Jr recorded a version as part of 20-20-20’s “20 Bands Cover Galaxie 500 in 2020″ video series last year. Which I actually didn’t know existed until now.
Happy birthday, Dean!