Hitless Wonder: A Life in Minor League Rock and Roll

Overview

Everyone knows the price of fame. Hitless Wonder measures the price of obscurity. What happens when you chase a dream into middle age and, in doing so, risk losing the people you love? This book recounts the two-week tour that forces Joe Oestreich—singer, songwriter, and bassist of the band Watershed—to decide if he and his longtime bandmates still have a future together. In the mid-'90s, Watershed's large Midwest following led to a six-figure deal with Epic Records. But the band never had a hit, and the label ...
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Hitless Wonder: A Life in Minor League Rock and Roll

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Overview

Everyone knows the price of fame. Hitless Wonder measures the price of obscurity. What happens when you chase a dream into middle age and, in doing so, risk losing the people you love? This book recounts the two-week tour that forces Joe Oestreich—singer, songwriter, and bassist of the band Watershed—to decide if he and his longtime bandmates still have a future together. In the mid-'90s, Watershed's large Midwest following led to a six-figure deal with Epic Records. But the band never had a hit, and the label dropped them. Seventeen years later, long after their more famous peers have called it quits, Watershed keeps climbing into the Econoline and touring mop bucket bars. But Joe can't help but wonder: Are he and his bandmates—approaching forty with wives and kids and mortgages—admirable or pathetic? Successes or failures? The tour tests the bonds of Joe's friendships and the strength of his marriage, as he's torn between the lure of the road and the call to finally settle down. An accomplished journalist and creative writing instructor, Oestreich tells his story with humor, heart, and unflinching honesty. Readers—from Baby Boomers to Gen X-ers—will be deeply moved by his voice, while appreciating his quixotic struggle to live out a dream.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This insightful and entertaining story of a band that almost-but-didn’t-quite make it big in the 1990s is equal parts fascinating autobiography and a hilarious and savvy look at the harsh realities of the music industry. Oestreich, a professor and writer, is also a singer, songwriter, and bass player for the rock band Watershed. Formed in high school with his longtime friend guitarist Colin Gawel, Watershed grows from its home base in Columbus, Ohio, to Midwestern regional favorite, and finally gets a recording deal with Epic Records. Unfortunately it’s a brutally quick ride from almost having a hit single to being dumped by Epic—although it is the most fascinating part of the book. But this is not a story of failure, just a different kind of success. Oestreich basically agrees with his drummer that “by most quantifiable standards, playing in a rock band is stupid”—low pay, bad food, and sleeping in a van on “straight nine-hour” drives to gigs—but he just flat-out loves playing his music, and Watershed still makes the occasional and always well-regarded performances. Agent: John Rudolph, Dystel & Goodrich Literary Management. (June)
From the Publisher
"HITLESS WONDER is a thoroughly enjoyable rock and roll memoir—funny, honest, and full of inside dope. I'm sorry Watershed never made it big, but I'm glad Joe Oestreich wrote this wonderful book about a lifetime devoted to music and friendship, a book about a scrappy band that doesn't know how to quit." —Tom Perrotta, author of Election and Little Children "I love Watershed's music so much, I used a lyric from one of their songs as the epigraph for my last novel. Joe Oestreich is a musician and a writer of uncommon skill—a virtuoso of language, a teller of tales, a cultural critic, a man eager to show us where he's been and where he's heading. The first time I listened to a Watershed CD and then saw them perform live, I couldn't get their songs out of my head. Now I can't forget this glorious memoir, Hitless Wonder—a story of rock and roll, passion, friendship, and the communities that sustain us. I dare say, you won't be able to either. Get ready to rock!"—Lee Martin, author of The Bright Forever and Break the Skin "Finally, somebody gets it right: the real story of rock and roll is not about limo drivers and paparazzi; it's about driving all day in a beat-up van to play your ass off in a scroungy dive for gas money, year after year, hoping for that big break. Believe me, Joe Oestreich's superbly written Hitless Wonder is the best and most honest memoir about the thwarted desire for rock stardom that you will ever read." —Donald Ray Pollock, author of The Devil All the Time and Knockemstiff "Zippos up for Joe Oestreich's smart, funny, touching, unputdownable Hitless Wonder—my new favorite memoir and a shoo-in for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame." —Will Allison, author of Long Drive Home and What You Have Left From Publisher's Weekly:This insightful and entertaining story of a band that almost-but-didn't-quite make it big in the 1990s is equal parts fascinating autobiography and a hilarious and savvy look at the harsh realities of the music industry. Oestreich, a professor and writer, is also a singer, songwriter, and bass player for the rock band Watershed. Formed in high school with his longtime friend guitarist Colin Gawel, Watershed grows from its home base in Columbus, Ohio, to Midwestern regional favorite, and finally gets a recording deal with Epic Records. Unfortunately it's a brutally quick ride from almost having a hit single to being dumped by Epic—although it is the most fascinating part of the book. But this is not a story of failure, just a different kind of success. Oestreich basically agrees with his drummer that "by most quantifiable standards, playing in a rock band is stupid"—low pay, bad food, and sleeping in a van on "straight nine-hour" drives to gigs—but he just flat-out loves playing his music, and Watershed still makes the occasional and always well-regarded performances. From Kirkus Reviews:"From obscurity to music's majors and back again with the Ohio band Watershed. . . .Oestreich has an eye for telling nuance, and his knowing recounting of life in an ascendant band in 'the Pros' is juicy stuff. He's equally adept at depicting day-to-day humiliations in music's minors, like a pay-to-play gig with a bunch of no-name Baltimore acts. . . . To quote another rock memoirist, Mott the Hoople's Ian Hunter: 'Rock 'n' roll's a loser's game / It mesmerizes and I can't explain.' "
Kirkus Reviews
From obscurity to music's majors and back again with the Ohio band Watershed. Oestreich (Creative Writing/Coastal Carolina Univ.) looks back on the long, checkered career of his power-pop group, which he founded in Columbus, Ohio, in his early teens after attending a Cheap Trick concert with pal Colin Gawel. The narrative seesaws between the band's salad days--local gigs, indie releases and, finally, a major-label contract with Epic Records--and city-by-city details of a grind-it-out 2007-08 U.S. tour. Watershed never hit it big: Despite a devoted local following and growing airplay, the band was dropped by Epic after a live EP and an expensively produced album. The book follows the band's fortunes as they regrouped to cut independent releases on shoestring budgets and drive their van from town to far-flung town. The narrative climaxes with a kind of Pyrrhic victory: a rapturously received hometown show in a less-than-half-filled hall. Oestreich has an eye for telling nuance, and his knowing recounting of life in an ascendant band in "the Pros" is juicy stuff. He's equally adept at depicting day-to-day humiliations in music's minors, like a pay-to-play gig with a bunch of no-name Baltimore acts. He's candid about the toll the rock life takes on relationships; his long-suffering mate Kate emerges as the most sympathetic figure in the book. But the author fails to supply a compelling answer to the question almost certainly on every reader's mind: Why would a bunch of men pushing 40, with families, day jobs and mortgages, continue to haul their gear in and out of run-down rock clubs, often playing for a loss, long after success has eluded them? Oestreich compares Watershed to "an old battleship that doesn't easily change course," and offers a few homilies about friendship, brotherhood and sheer love of the game. But neither he nor his sketchily delineated musical comrades-in-arms offer the reader a true understanding of why they continue to ceaselessly travel the rock 'n' roll road. To quote another rock memoirist, Mott the Hoople's Ian Hunter: "Rock 'n' roll's a loser's game / It mesmerizes and I can't explain."
The Washington Post
Watershed never had a hit but, man, they wanted to have one and their guilt-free swan dive into the record industry's next-big-thing machinery—a now extinct world of managers, A&R reps and in-studio sushi dinners—is as fascinating as any critically beloved punk band's more angst-ridden ride.
—Aaron Leitko
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780762779246
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/5/2012
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 525,645
  • Product dimensions: 5.62 (w) x 7.76 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Joe Oestreich, the bass player and singer for Watershed, has published essays in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and elsewhere. He teaches creative writing at Coastal Carolina University.
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Table of Contents

Prologue: Columbus, Ohio vii

The First Leg

1 The Headliners Detroit, Michigan 1

2 Happy Days Milwaukee, Wisconsin 17

3 Busload of Faith Chicago, Illinois 36

4 Racing in the Street Columbus, Ohio 50

The Second Leg

5 Going Mobile Cleveland, Ohio 74

6 Rock and Roll Professionals Toledo, Ohio 97

7 The Call Up New York, New York 119

8 The Majors New York, New York 150

9 Left of the Dial Baltimore, Maryland 186

10 It's a Long Way to the Top Charlotte, North Carolina 211

11 Celebrating the End of Hope Charleston, South Carolina-Raleigh, North Carolina 239

12 The Best Is Yet to Come Columbus, Ohio 265

Liner Notes 288

Credits 292

Acknowledgments 293

About the Author 294

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