CCU professor's rockin' memoir releasedby Brian Druckenmiller
Some of us may have had pipe dreams of superstardom when we were teenagers. The fantasy of fronting sell-out shows, signing record deals, and doing everything else that comes with the rock-and-roll lifestyle is enticing, but what happens when these fantasies of fame are still being pursued well into adulthood?
Joe Oestreich (pronounced A-Strike), assistant professor of English at Coastal Carolina University, has finished his memoir, “Hitless Wonder: A Life in Minor League Rock and Roll,” and it will be released by Lyon Press on June 5. The book invites readers to share his journey as a bassist and front man for the post punk-pop group, Watershed, from two different perspectives: the young aspiring rock-star and a middle-aged family man whose thirst for rock is as strong as ever.
“This book is about having the dream, chasing the dream, and what it costs to chase it,” said Oestreich.
Influenced by Cheap Trick, The Kinks and The Replacements, Watershed formed in 1985, playing shows at local parties and high school dances in Columbus, Ohio. Its first national tour kicked off in 1990 after all four members dropped out of Ohio State University (OSU). Buying the stereotypical van, the group hit the road and played 300 shows over three years.
“It was the best,” said Oestreich. “Even when the shows were bad, it was fun to be a 23-year-old kid playing around the country.”
While the book provides stories from these early years, including signing with Epic Records and being dropped almost immediately by the label, the heart of the work rests in the wiser Oestreich—the one who taught at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., and who now had a wife named Kate.
“His touring was something I appreciated and embraced at first,” said Kate, who is also an assistant professor of English at CCU. “But when he started missing important events in my life—my grandfather’s funeral, my sister’s wedding—it got to be hard for me. When he decided to cancel a much-needed vacation, one he promised me we’d take, that was the icing on the cake.”
The dramatic present takes the audience along on Watershed’s 14-day tour in the late 2000s, where the crowds may have been slim and venues small, but the craving to make music was stronger than ever.
“The book,” said Oestreich, “became more about answering this question: Why is it that 22 years later, having already blown our shot, we still do it when anybody else would have quit?”
Oestreich started writing the book when he went back to OSU to earn his Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. He started it in 2007 for his master’s thesis, which ended up being approximately 400 pages that only covered the first four years of the band’s history. Now, the book is under 300 and covers more than 22 years.
“It was a very tentative draft,” said Oestreich. “I threw almost all of it away.”
The bulk of the writing started during the actual tour that the narrative describes, which is perhaps when the story transitioned from being about the band itself to why dreams refuse to die. The book nearly split the band as Oestreich’s focus shifted from playing and touring to completing the memoir. In fact, the working title was “The Book That Killed My Band.”
“That’s the sweet irony,” said Oestreich. “Writing a book about why the band was still together threatened to break us apart.”
Considering the timing of the book’s release, Oestreich has a busy summer ahead of him. Not only is he giving readings in Ohio, New York and South Carolina, but Watershed is touring to promote its ninth full-length album, “Brick and Mortar,” also being released in June. On top of all this, there is a new Oestreich in the mix; Eleanor MacWilliam Oestreich was born on March 21, 2012. She and her older brother, Beckett, keep Joe and Kate busier than ever, and NOW Joe is hitting the road.
“Joe is a very hands-on dad,” said Kate. “So he will certainly be missed. But we’ll make it work; we’re both very excited for the book and the tour.”
His book/band tour will also hit the Grand Strand. On Thursday, June 21, Oestreich will be giving a reading from “Hitless Wonder” at Barnes & Noble booksellers in Myrtle Beach. The reading starts at 6 p.m. and is free to attend. Following the reading, Watershed will be performing in the area at a venue to be determined. For updates on the concert or more information, visit Oestreich’s website at www.joeoestreich.com.
‘Hitless Wonder” will be available at the reading and booksellers everywhere. The memoir offers a new perspective for everyone regarding the chestnut idea that “dreams are what you make of them.”
“This is not just a book for music nerds,” said Oestreich. “I hope our story resonates with anybody who has tried to do something outside the confines of the corporate world, and the struggles needed to create that life. That’s the universality of it.”