Thursday, March 21, 2013

'Hitless wonder' is a hit at PLU

Former professor returns as author

By Denae McGaha, Guest Writer

Author, professor and bona fide rocker, Joe Oestrich educated Pacific Lutheran University in the field of rock and roll on March 12.

Previously a visiting English professor at Pacific Lutheran University, Oestrich returned to campus as part of the Visiting Writers Series and spoke to students and faculty in the Scandinavian Cultural Center (Scan Center).

His book, "Hitless Wonder: A Life in Minor League Rock and Roll," chronicles his band, Watershed, and  the experience of not being a major hit.

The Visiting Writer Series is funded by the English department and brings established authors to campus for readings of their work and to educate the student body.
According to Pacific Lutheran University’s website, a goal of the Visiting Writers Series is to enable students to “experience the writers’ frame of reference firsthand and go beyond the face value of a piece of writing.”

Students said this was accomplished during Oestrich’s visit. Sophomore Darien Upshaw said the reading provided him with a new “insight on travel writing,” and a “unique perspective into the life of a rock and roll performer.”

Organizers brought out extra seating to compensate for the number of students, faculty and community members who gathered in the Scan Center to hear Oestrich speak.

Many of the students filling those seats said they attended the lecture solely for course-related reasons.

“I’m here for extra credit,” first-year Kari Brauer said. Sophomores Blake Petersen and Jackson Pierce both said it was a requirement to attend the event for courses.

Even though the event was mandatory for some, many students said they approved of the reading.

Senior Marina Pitassi said she appreciated hearing the voice of the author in person. Senior Leah Thomas said it was “definitely entertaining.”

Some students, like Petersen, attributed some of this success to Oestrich’s “great personality.” The audience reaction seemed to support this opinion.

Laughter was frequent as Oestrich read his way through the first chapter of his book. “I didn’t expect it to be so comedic,” Thomas said. It was “cool to get an insider’s perspective.”

Oestrich laughingly said “rock now, pay later” was a central theme of Watershed’s years on the road, saying his band considered a show a financial success if they were able to earn back their gas money.

“In the minor leagues, bands don’t play for sex, fame and fortune, they play for gasoline,” Oestrich said.

The novel chronicled the history of Watershed — from its inception following a Cheap Trick concert, to its near-brush with commercial success in the form of a dropped record deal, to its current music-making state.

“Most sane people probably would have quit,” Oestrich said. “We stayed in the game for two decades.” When asked why Watershed continued to pursue their musical career, Oestrich replied, “because we’re a rock band … [it’s] what we do — stupid or not.”

Oestrich said he thought Watershed’s journey contributed to his novel’s appeal.

“Great stories are about the underdog, and this is an underdog story,” he said.

For more information on “Hitless Wonder,” visit