Hitless Wonder

Oestreich, Joe. Hitless Wonder: A Life in Minor League Rock and Roll. Guilford, Connecticut; Lyons Press, 2012.

Hitless Wonder begins with the author’s band (Columbus’s Watershed) playing for an almost non-existent audience in a bar in Detroit—the first stop on a ten-show tour. The local opening act has pulled out and there is no one to see the headliner. There are people in the bar, but none willing to pay for concert’s five dollar admission. The band waits at the bar while the club manager tries to talk them out of playing. The reader has already figured out that Oestreich is going to document the tour and it would not be far fetched to think we are in for a tragic-comedy. A band that once almost made it—over a decade before—is on one last failed tromp around old stomping grounds that are no longer looking for the next Watershed record.

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Here I Thought I was Normal

Satullo, Frank Rocco.  Here I Thought I was Normal.  Middletown, Ohio; ZoneFree Publishing, 2013.

You have likely been in the situation.  You are in a conversation with an acquaintance who begins telling an episode from his or her life.  This may be an absurd story, a bizarre tale that has no explanation, or often a sentimental story (likely to involve some children you may or may not be familiar).  The story may not leave much of an impression, or you may be thinking about it weeks later.  Years later you may remember the story but forget the storyteller.  It is an anecdote, the casual form of how tales are told in conversation.  If you wrote such a conversation down, it would likely require no more than 500 words (about the length of this review).

Frank Rocco Satullo has put together a hundred plus anecdote in his collection of micro-memoirs Here I Thought I was Normal.  It works.  There is no real continuation between one story and another, other than names and places reappearing, but read together they tell a life story similar to more traditional memoirs.    This can be seen in how the trouble young Satullo gets into (less mean-spirited, more having a “knack for adventure”) in his early stories about growing up in Avon Lakes help explain the adult narrator’s mindset in conundrums, where now others (family, neighbors, co-workers) are initiating the trouble. Continue reading

Seven in a Jeep

Gaydos, Ed. Seven in a Jeep: A Memoir of the Vietnam War.  Columbus Press: Columbus, Ohio, 2013.

In Seven in a Jeep, Ohio author Ed Gaydos colorfully renders his experience serving in the LZ Sherry artillery battalion of the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. From waiting for his draft number, going through basic training and specialized training, to his tour in central Vietnam, this story is wonderfully told through brief anecdotes and character sketches, and is intended to “leave something for the next generation beyond dates on a tombstone and an old fatigue shirt.” 

Seven in a Jeep is more literary memoir than history book, but the casual reader will still learn a lot about military maneuvers: at the time of Gaydos’ service (1970-71), the Nixon administration was in the midst of drawing down US Forces in an attempt to transfer military duties to the South Vietnamese Army. Often supplemented with letters he had sent home from the war, the story is full of military and technical lingo, but Gaydos explains it all to the reader as he learned it forty years prior. Some of the best writing in Seven in a Jeep details day-to-day life in the battery (rats and dogs, taking a shower, monsoon season) and Gaydos’ job in the FDC (Fire Direction Center) and artillery. Learning about weaponry fills a large bulk of the new soldier enlistment process and there are plenty of interesting tidbits about the weapons found in the war. One will walk away with a better understanding of how brutal howitzer fire can be.

A mostly apolitical work, Seven in a Jeep avoids any real discussion of why the US military was engaged in combat against the North Vietnamese forces, instead using both the war and the military bureaucracy as darkly comic foils. From fake reports about flies, to incompetent fresh lieutenants put in charge of seasoned veterans, to minesweepers holding their helmets on with one hand for Army protocol, while sweeping for mines with the other, the war seemed to be more about regulations, protocol, and more regulations than anything else, and soldiers fought the rules just as much as they were fighting the Vietnamese. In this sense, Seven in a Jeep is reminiscent of Richard Hooker’s M.A.S.H. Continue reading


Dyer, Joyce. Goosetown: Reconstructing an Akron Neighborhood. Akron, Ohio; The University of Akron Press, 2010.

Dyer’s Goosetown is a kind of sequel to her memoir Gum-Dipped (2003), the story of her childhood growing up, mostly, in the Firestone Park neighborhood of Akron of the 50s and 60s. It is a sequel in the sense that it was chronologically written after the first work. But the two works are fundamentally opposites. Where Gum-Dipped was told more from the author’s memory, Goosetown is a collection of things forgotten. This makes for an intriguing read. The style is not experimental in confusing the reader, but Dyer is able to craft a story out of a handful of divergent family lore and the memories of surviving family from the neighborhood.

For Dyer’s mother’s family Goosetown was the “old neighborhood.” It is where she spent the first five years of her life and it was the neighborhood her mother’s generation left for greener pastures. The general premise of the story is that Dyer visits the remnants of the neighborhood (along Grant Street from Exchange to where Interstate 76/77 exists today) with her uncle Paul, who grew up in and lived the early years of his marriage in the now lost/changed community. Continue reading

Cover Me

Huber, Sonya. Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir.  Lincoln, Nebraska; University of Nebraska Press, 2010.

I try not to do this, but I happened to read another review of Sonya Huber’s Cover Me (the Booklist review on the Clevnet catalog).  My fear is that reading another reviewer’s opinion on a work will only create an outline for developing my own opinions.  I like my reviews to be pure.  Needless to say, I made it three-fourths through Huber’s memoir of her diverse and often chaotic post-college years, told through her progression of health care coverage, with one line from the Booklist review stuck in my head:

It’s hard to be too sympathetic about her lack of coverage when she chooses to quit job after job (including eight with health insurance) that she finds dull or beneath her.

Bear with me, as I don’t mean to criticize the reviewer – who wrote a much more succinct and useful review than the one you are reading presently and who overall liked Cover Me.  I didn’t keep track, but the eight jobs quit with health insurance referenced is likely correct, but my reading was different. Continue reading

Builders of Ohio

Van Tine, Warren and Michael Pierce. Builders of Ohio: A Biographical History. Columbus, Ohio; The Ohio State University Press, 2003.

As the subtitle says, Builders of Ohio is a history of Ohio told through short biographies of 25 Ohioans from early settlers to Dave Thomas.  As the editors state in the introduction, “history is not simply the interplay of impersonal social and economic forces: it is how individual actors responded to these forces to create the worlds in which they lived.” (viii)  Ohio is told through its builders.  In reading Builders of Ohio, it becomes quite apparent how difficult it is to tell 250+ years of history through the lives of 25 individuals.  But, the editors, who use a wide selection of academic historians to tell this tale, have strung together a series of essays the read well alongside the others.

There are many names left off of these essays: no Rockefeller (though B. F. Goodrich fills in for the Gilded Age industrialists), no Mark Hanna, no Wright Brothers, and no Pete Rose.  None of the presidents from Ohio make the final cut [though two failed wartime Vice Presidential candidates are included in George H. Pendleton (1864) and John W. Bricker (1944)].  We are given a diverse group of residents that cover a lot of ground.  (The editors do acknowledge there is a disproportionate number of white males).  I have read many books about the history of Ohio, and there were at least five names I was not familiar with and I’m not ashamed to admit this.  Cleveland from the late 1800s onward may get over-representation, but Cleveland was once the sixth largest city in America. Continue reading

Guided by Voices

Greer, James. Guided by Voices: A Brief History: Twenty-one Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll.  New York; Black Cat, 2005.

“They are just making music I would make, if I could make music”

– Steven Sodenbergh, from “In Lieu of an Actual Introduction”


One of the best bands to come out of Ohio (Dayton) over the last 20 years, Guided by Voices emerged on the national scene in 1993 — during the height of alternative rock — with the albums Propeller and Vampire on Titus.  Eventually GBV became an international cult classic, signing to Matador Records and gaining notoriety for their long drunken live shows.

GBV was a different sort of band.  Recording with 4 and 8 track technology, they were lo-fi before lo-fi was something. And perhaps more significantly, they were old: band leader Robert Pollard taught elementary school for 14 years before being “discovered” at age 36.  GBV has made news in the last year, regrouping with the classic lineup for a small tour in 2010 and recording new material for an album due out early 2012.  What better time to look at James Greer’s band bio, written shortly after the band’s “last” show on New Year’s Eve 2004.

Reading the beginning of Hunting Accidents (as it is referred within the text) is maddening: James Greer is not your typical rock biographer.  In fact he’s more like a cult member (“[…] free will is a thing granted both by God and by Bob, and like God, Bob will only smite you if you abuse the privilege” (36)).  To the uninitiated, the megalomania that goes into the description of GBV frontman Robert Pollard is over the top.  Before we even get to the band, there are lists of Pollard’s drinking buddies and endless stories of childhood athletics, even testimony from Pollard’s son about growing up with the man as your father and pee-wee football coach.    Continue reading

Under Glass

Hirt, Jen. Under Glass: The Girl with a Thousand Christmas Trees. Akron, Ohio: Ringtaw Books, 2010.

Stongsville is a rapidly growing western suburb of Cleveland; a town of less than 10,000 residents in 1960 and now a city of over 44,000.  I have driven through Stongsville on several occasions and it feels much more like the modern suburb that it has become than the semi-rural town that Jen Hirt’s great-grandfather set up the family’s greenhouse in 1915.  Hirt’s collection of essays, Under Glass, is not directly about the changes that have occurred to Strongsville, but it deals with the gradual upheavals and endings that generally follows youth into adulthood.

Though Under Glass has an overarching theme covering four generations of greenhouse keepers and the eventual sale and demolition of the buildings, the writing is very accessible to non-greenthumbed reader.  Essays on greenhouse design seamlessly discuss divorce, religion, and death.

Most of the essays are good enough to stand by themselves, but Under Glass as a whole is much better.  Unlike a memoir collection by David Sedaris, where the stories can be read (or not read) in any order, Hirt’s selections have a natural flow to them.  Though the author states in the introduction that the essays are “each on a theme, not at all chronological’, there is a straight (though expansive) story from the family history and childhood memories told in ‘A Girl with a Thousand Christmas’ to the reflective ‘Near a Fine Woods’, where she completes her grandmothers history of their home; several years after the home has been demolished. Continue reading

The Golden Lamb

Compton, Fred. The Golden Lamb: Tales from the Innside. Wilmington, Ohio; Orange Frazer Press, 2009.

Located in Lebanon, the Golden Lamb is known as Ohio’s oldest continuously operating (and oldest) hotel.  Because it was a one day pre-car journey from Cincinnati for those heading East (via the National Road), it has a rich history of famous travelers.  It also is well-known for its restaurant, as it is an inn in the old sense.  The Golden Lamb by Fred Compton is a history/working memoir of the inn, as the author worked at the Gold Lamb full-time (he had worked summers as a kid/student) from the early 1970s through 2001.

There was a line in the introduction where a former innkeeper referred to the Golden Lamb as one of “the last surviving County Seat hotels.”  While the physical structure is there for an old-time (but long closed) hotel along most main streets in Ohio, the Golden Lamb has passed over 200 years operating in this functionality.   I am hard pressed to identify another old hotel operating in a downtown in small town Ohio.  (Not a motor-centric motel of later generations).   Let me know if I am mistaken (which is very likely). Continue reading

Ghetto Celebrity

Alexander, Donnell. Ghetto Celebrity: Searching for my Father in Me. New York; Crown Publishers, 2003.

Looking at the blurbs on the back of Ghetto Celebrity, you know Alexander’s biography made the rounds at the office of McSweeney’s around the turn of the century.   With praise from Dave Eggers, Sarah Vowell, and Neal Pollack and a major publisher, Ghetto Celebrity is not your typical growing-up-in-Sandusky story.

For the most part, Ghetto Celebrity hits the mark as a biography and as a literary work of higher ambition.  Though there are several post-modern elements in Alexander’s storytelling — at one point, the story is told in crude comic book sketches — Ghetto Celebrity is for the most part a linear story, starting with his parents courtship and following his life and career.   The author is very frank about his life, mixing free-flowing street language with more conservative styles, in telling everything.  Alexander has broken his story into three acts.  And, I will give the author credit that each act has a distinct tone and feel.
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