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.”