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Hitless Wonder: A Life In Minor League Rock And Roll Paperback – June 5, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“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.’ ”

From the Back Cover

Every band chases a dream. This one can’t stop.

We all know the price of fame. Hitless Wonder measures the price of obscurity. Years after getting signed—and dropped—by Epic Records and watching their more famous peers call it quits, Joe Oestreich and his band, Watershed, keep climbing into the Econoline and touring mop bucket bars. But Joe can’t help but wonder: Are he and his bandmates—torn between the lure of the road and the call to finally settle down—admirable or pathetic? Successes or failures? And most importantly, in their quixotic struggle to live out a dream, do they risk losing the people they love?
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Lyons Press; First Edition edition (June 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0762779241
  • ISBN-13: 978-0762779246
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.2 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (137 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #386,246 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joe Oestreich's work has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Creative Nonfiction, Ninth Letter, Fourth Genre, and many other magazines and journals. He's been awarded a fellowship from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, honored by The Atlantic Monthly, and shortlisted in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007, The Best American Essays 2008 and 2009, and The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses 2010 and 2014. He teaches creative writing at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, SC, where he is nonfiction editor of Waccamaw.

His second book, Lines of Scrimmage: A Story of Football, Race, and Redemption (co-written with Scott Pleasant), will be published in 2015 by the University Press of Mississippi.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jill on May 14, 2012
Format: Paperback
This book taught me two things: #1 Joe Oestreich is a hilarious and entertaining writer and #2 that the business of rock is cruel and relentless. Oh, how you want Watershed to be huge, but each set back makes the story even more compelling.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Peter on May 16, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Hitless Wonder: A Life in Minor League Rock and Roll
The book is written by a master of culture and events, both current and past. Every sentence has meaning for the reader whether hip or not. At the deeply felt emotional level, the author creates a crescendo that makes us care about all of the characters and remember that music carries with it a slag of every aspect of life.
Drugs, sex and rock and roll all make hefty appearances. One wonders if the book would have had as much juice had the band found themselves one day in Yankee Stadium. Probably not.
Read it for the craft, the clever storytelling and the soulful mood you will find within yourself as you travel cramped in the Ford Econoline van with the boys of Watershed.
By the way, the music is easily available and well worth a listen. Start at Joe Oestreich (key word) or
The key word of this review is Wow.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Heather N. Kirn on May 10, 2012
Format: Paperback
This book is phenomenally entertaining. It's equal parts an engaging personal story of die-hard underdog rockers, and a hysterical, insider's glimpse into the bizarre world of the music biz. You read to root the band on, and you read to laugh at the madness of minor league rocking. Oestreich's voice is quintessentially his own--honest, punchy, clever, with sentences that are blade sharp. Among all the "Behind the Music" stories of inevitable success, it's about time someone told the other tale--of the band you know and love that never made it "big" but somehow made it their own.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By DrunkleNick on May 27, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of Watershed's music but never have seen the band perform live. After reading this book, I find myself scrambling to try and see them on their upcoming summer tour. I know live out West and the tour won't come anywhere near me, yet I feel the need to see this band after reading this book. That should tell you something. This book is powerful and makes the reader feel as if he has a connection with the author and band. Kind of like the band's music, only this is better. It hurts me to say that as Watershed has made great music over the years (I recommend all four full-length studio releases and the second live CD).

I purchased this book with the hopes of getting the full story of what happened to Watershed and how they quickly went from the next big thing to sort of a rock and roll nobody outside of Columbus, Ohio. I got that but also a whole lot more.

Instead of a chronological blow by blow account, the author brilliantly weaves story lines from the present and past all while thoroughly entertaining the reader. There are times you laughed, and others you cringed and thought of Spinal Tap and Anvil. Most of all, you appreciated the honesty of the author as he let you into his deeply personal feelings as the 20-something-year-old tale unfolds.

The writing, much like Watershed's ridiculously catchy rock/pop songs, is spectacular. The author hooks you with the premise of the book right off the bat and keeps you reading and wanting more. It took me about five hours to read this book, which was good and bad. It was good because I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was bad because I enjoyed so much I could have read another 300 pages. It's no wonder he now teaches creative writing at the university level.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By David F. Howe on June 21, 2012
Format: Paperback
Two weeks ago I'd never heard of Watershed. Perhaps, as is declared during a debate in "Hitless Wonder", there is an East Coast bias when it comes to music. I grew up in NY, live in CT, and have spent a grand total of three nights in Ohio. That being said, after finishing Joe Oestreich's fantastic memoir, I downloaded Watershed's live album "Three Chords and a Cloud of Dust II" and can now proudly deride an entire state by singing "I don't give a damn 'bout the whole state of Michigan. We're from O-Hi-O!" Yes, I've become a fan of this band with the rabidity of a Buckeye who's just attended his first OSU football game.

A highlight for Oestreich and fellow singer Colin Gawel is when one of their songs is played before an OSU game. This portrays perfectly how popular Watershed is at home and how gratifying it is to be reminded that somebody loves their music. Oestreich handles scenes like this with subtlety and humor and by the third or fourth chapter if you're not rooting for Watershed, you simply have no heart. They are not a band to be pitied, however. Never sounding like a name dropper, Oestreich describes touring with The Smithereens and Ben Folds, getting backstage passes for a Meatloaf show, being wooed by the team that made stars of the Spin Doctors, and earning a spot at South by Southwest. When he rubs elbows, he isn't a gawking fan but a fellow musician with some serious street cred. Oestreich speaks reverently of both the famous and the not-so-famous (when will Willie Phoenix come to NYC?!?). Like a hangover, nights of glory are balanced out with painful wake-up calls. The "headlining" show at CBGB's combined with the debacle at Epic would break most men's hearts...

Anyway, I got the book and I read the book. And when the book was done, I bought a Watershed album.
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