In the classic baseball book "Ball Four," Jim Bouton writes, "You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was other way around all the time."
Guitars, basses and drum sticks can have the same effect on people.
Long after the dreams of stardom have faded, musicians will pile too much equipment into too small vans to play for too few people for too little money.
Joe Oestreich's new memoir "Hitless Wonder: A Life in Minor League Rock and Roll" ($16.95, Lyons Press) may capture better than any other book the unbridled joy that comes from making music and the countless indignities that must be endured for those fleeting moments.
Oestreich is co-lead singer and bass player for Watershed, a Columbus band whose pursuit of rock stardom looked like it would have a fairy tale ending in the mid-'90s. After building a large, loyal following at home, the band caught the ear of multi-platinum producer Jim Steinman (best known for his work with Meat Loaf) and was signed to Epic Records in 1994.
The first single, "How Do You Feel," had pockets of success, but for an assortment of reasons chronicled in the book, it never became the ubiquitous monster hit it should have been.
After 18 months, one live EP and one album, Epic dropped Watershed.
The band members went from playing for 10,000 people as the headliners for a radio station music festival at Polaris Amphitheatre to slinking back to their day jobs (co-lead singer and guitar player Colin Gawel worked at a Subway, where he occasionally would be asked to autograph the wrapper of the sandwich he just made). It's the kind of rise and fall that would kill most bands. Watershed continues.
''Hitless Wonder'' cuts back and forth between the band's history and a winter tour in support of the live release "Three Chords and a Cloud of Dust II." The first chapter details the opening show in Detroit to play for five people who paid $5 each to get in the door. The band spent $41 just in gas money to drive the van there from Columbus, so it's already in the hole. And Oestreich explains that most tours over the years have been money-losing ventures or at best break-even because one well-paying gig offset the many nights like the one in Detroit.
As the band opens for Heavy Metal Karaoke and listens to lectures from pompous club owners who work pay-to-play schemes on young bands who don't know any better, Oestreich also deals with a wife who is growing less tolerant of these fruitless tours and ponders job opportunities that could take him away from the rest of the band.
Oestreich's writing is bracingly honest. There's stuff in here that couldn't have been easy for Oestreich's bandmates or his wife to read, but the author is as hard on himself as anyone in the book.
The mix of honesty and humor makes it an entertaining read (And make sure to read the footnotes. There's an anecdote about Watershed roadie/friend Ricki C. that is one of the most amazing stories I've ever heard of someone whose life truly was saved by rock 'n' roll). Frankly, music stores should include the book with every electric guitar and bass sold to a wide-eyed kid who sees those instruments as the key to untold wealth and fame.
Watershed released its latest album, "Brick and Mortar," to coincide with the release of "Hitless Wonder," and the band played Youngstown a couple weeks ago in support of both.
The crowd at Cedar's Lounge was better than that Detroit show, but it was still an ''intimate'' gathering.
Watershed deserves better, but it always has. There are a half-dozen songs on "Brick and Mortar" as smart and as catchy as anything the band's ever written, and Watershed played for the twenty-some folks at Cedar's as if they were 2,000 strong.
''Brick and Mortar'' will make you wonder how Watershed is hitless. "Hitless Wonder" will make you understand why Watershed continues in spite of it.
Andy Gray is the entertainment writer for the Tribune Chronicle. Write to him at grayareas@