Watershed / Joe Oestreich – Brick and Mortar CD / Hitless Wonder Book
So I came across this little oddity – a CD and a book. How do you review that? Is it a “making of” book about a CD? Is it a soundtrack to a book? Yes. No. Kinda.
If this is a “making of” book, then the book would not have ended before the recording of the CD began. If this is a soundtrack to the book, then the songs talked about in the book would have been on the CD. They don’t. Yet, you almost can not have one without the other.
First, I’ll talk about the CD by Watershed – Brick and Mortar. It’s the seventh CD they’ve released since they were signed to Epic in the 90s. Well, I got that from the book, and how they got signed, and how they got dumped and went on tour with the Smithereens, Insane Clown Posse, and…..
Ahh, there I go, mixing the book and CD. Back to the CD. It is full of three minute pop gems that would have made their heroes, Cheap Trick, proud. The first song, “Little Mistakes” is a punch in the guy power song with an undeniably catchy chorus that Green Day, Blink 182 and other younger bands would drool over. The lyrics are so familiar to anyone in a long term relationship “No matter what I do / It’s never enough / Those little mistakes / Don’t add em up”. With the right kind of label push, this song would be huge this summer. But they don’t have a label. You see, Joe Oestreich, the bassist/singer of Little Mistakes, details in his book that…… STOP IT! I’m writing about the CD.
The next track features the other lead singer and guitarist, Colin Gawel, on “Set The World On Fire”. It’s a track that is as solid a piece of understated and brilliant acoustic songwriting as Paul Westerberg could have done.
From those lofty beginnings, the CD goes on to feature both Gawel and Oestreich leading songs about love (“Never Could Have Made It”), relationships at crossroads (“Words We Say”) and straight out rocking about rocking, porn and alcohol (“Manifesto – What I Like To Do”). “Manifesto” features one of my favorite lines from the CD, “I take coffee like my women / both full of alcohol”. Besides being a great line that finishes with a surprise, it is especially funny because the singer/songwriter Colin now owns a coffee shop. I got that tidbit from the book, not the CD. And the “Never Could Have Made It” track is clearly about Joe’s wife Kate who was fifteen when they started dating.
See, somehow this book Hitless Wonder and CD Brick And Mortar are intertwined. But I am convinced both are enjoyable on their own. In fact, I’d say each is a frontrunner for my top ten of the year.
The book Hitless Wonder itself is a gem for anyone who has played in a band. You might not have been signed to Epic, or played to 10,000 fans. Yet, if you’ve ever piled into a van with some instruments, and any slight dream of stardom, this book can be a mirror to your experience in a way you might never be able to write. Oestreich does a masterful job weaving the experiences of one tour with the history of the band. Along the way, he tells three love stories. His love of rock. His love of a woman. And his love for his best friend and co-founder of Watershed. They are separate stories which can’t exist without the others.
Unlike many rock memoirs, Hitless Wonder is literate without being academic. Gritty and honest without being childish. Passages of poetry masked as prose fill the spaces between a Cheap Trick concert in the 80s, up until a music conference showcase a few years ago. Amongst the tales of band van pizza vomit, toilets at CBGBs, and record label exploits, you’ve also got real world advice for wives/girlfriends and a shockingly true breakdown of what money a signed band makes from a CD.
Get the book or the CD. Get both. I did. Then I went back in Watershed’s catalog and was shocked to see just how many great songs this band has made. I mean shocked to the point that I pulled off the side of the road.
I plan to take a half dozen of their songs and add them to my summer playlist. Then when people ask me “Who is that band I’ve never heard before? They’re great,” I can smile and again be That Guy who knows the best of what nobody else has heard – but should.