Watershed: Dreams and Generals and Acknowledgments
I first met Colin in seventh grade and his rock star dreams were already big. I was just beginning guitar then, knew maybe a D chord and an E but was still having trouble with bar chords. During study hall and at lunch, Colin and I would talk about the possibility of starting a band. He had this idea that we’d one day be opening for Cheap Trick or Kiss or both. He had this far off look in his eyes like he was already on stage and looking out toward the crowd, like he was about to utter the phrase, “Can you hear me in the back?” or “Hello, St. Louis!” He had dreams about it, that and being my manager for professional wrestling. “You’re a big guy,” he’d say, “Come on. I’ll be your manager.” I’d shrug my shoulders, “I don’t know.”
Thankfully, we didn’t choose that route.
I had the music dream too, you see, so wrestling fell by the wayside, and we’d talk about bands and making it big, and we’d compare notes on songs we’d learned or wanted to learn. We talked about the Kinks “Come Dancing,” those three heavy descending chords in the middle. We’d ask each other what we thought they were. All these years later, we have YouTube and tablature on demand, but back then we didn’t. We had to listen. And we did. And we got it. Em. D. C. We’d also talk about Billy Squire’s “Lonely is the Night,” about what a great tune it was with that guitar intro. Colin had learned it, could play it with ease, and that’s when I realized there was something a little more to him, something I didn’t then have because I couldn’t do anything with ease.
We kept talking about bands, about starting a band, but it was less and less. When Colin got to the point of finally starting something, he wanted a second guitar player and would every so often tell me more or less that if I got my shit together, the spot was mine. He didn’t phrase it that way of course, but that’s what it came down to. I didn’t do it, though. I allowed myself to be pulled in a lot of directions back then. I did some of the things I wanted to but also some of the things I thought others wanted me to. I hadn’t yet found my way. Colin had. Eventually our circles changed, and at some point when I wasn’t looking, Watershed was born. They played at the Subway down by Graceland in Columbus. They played at a friend’s house party. They started to gig down by Ohio State. And here’s the thing: they were great. I became a fan.
They had this song with a cool baseline and a lyric about a cigarette. I can’t in this moment remember the name of that song, but it was the first time someone I knew had actually created something. And it was a good something. They did a video for it too, and watching it, I began to understand what Colin and Joe and Herb were all about. It was music. They did it. They breathed it, lived it in a way that until then I had not. It took me seeing them, seeing what they did, what they accomplished, to make me realize that dreams could come true, that a few well placed chords could work magic not only on the ears but on the course of a lifetime. It was something I’d always felt, really, but I’d always failed to act on that feeling. I guess I was afraid of failure.
But seeing what Watershed was doing, I got some courage. I started doing those things too. I joined a band, played a few gigs. And then there came this day when Colin and Joe pulled me aside and told me there was a band in Detroit in need of a new bass player. The band was the Generals. They told me the Generals were the most unalternative alternative band. They loaned me a CD and arranged an audition, and then a month later I moved to Detroit. It was the second time Watershed had done something for me. They opened my eyes, and then they gave me a push out into the world.
Over the next few years, Watershed and the Generals played a number of shows together, and we’d often all get on stage at the end to play “Rock and Roll All Night,” so I did, after all those years, finally get to play on stage with Colin, but the Generals eventually broke up, and I moved back to Columbus and then out to Seattle. I played in a number of bands along the way, did some traveling and some writing. By some odd turn, I became a music writer and wound up writing a novel about the power of music, and it’s only now that I sit down to write about Watershed that I realize, I should have thanked them in the book’s acknowledgments because I don’t think it would have happened otherwise: the book and the bands. I might not have done it. I might not have done anything. I might simply have done all those other things I thought people wanted me to do.
But I didn’t.
Seeing Watershed do things gave me heart, gave me the courage to step on stage and then out into the world to see what I could see. And I've seen a lot. It's been a good life.
So thank you, guys. I can never adequately repay you, but I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. Who knows? Maybe somewhere along the way someone will come along who changes the world, and maybe that someone will say, “Dave’s work gave me heart.” And going a step further, that would, of course, mean that it came from Watershed.
These days, I have this idea that Colin and Joe will end up in an old folks home together where they’ll whip out their acoustics at every chance and sing “Rock and Roll All Night” for the other lodgers. The nurses will tell them not to do it, but they won’t stop them. Instead, they’ll listen and sing along when they can, and then Colin will start playing a song by the Kinks. He’ll sing of a day when they tore down the pally and about a part of childhood dying. The nurses will pause then because the song will be unknown to them, but it won’t matter. It’ll be infectious. Colin and Joe will then switch to Watershed songs like “How Do you Feel” and “Twister”—my favorite—and maybe even that old one with the cigarette line. There’ll be dancing and laughter and joy before lights out, and the nurses will go home to their spouses and lovers and families and say, "You know, we should look up this band on the internet.”
“Which band?” someone will ask.
“Watershed. They’re patients of mine, but their music is great.”
Dave O'Leary, author of The Music Book
"Dave O'Leary's The Music Book is the most aptly titled novel since On the Road. Because if it has anything to do with music--or rock music, anyway, the kind that gets played for sparse crowds in dive bars--it's in here. Passion and frustration. Lyricism and criticism. Beer and bass guitar and barstool banter. And love. Lots of love. The real music in The Music Book is the sound of O'Leary's heart--beating loud as a kick drum." --Joe Oestreich, author of Hitless Wonder: A Life in Minor League Rock and Roll