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John Oates’ memoir is full of rock and soul

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Image: Marcus Nuccio
Image: Marcus Nuccio
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Change Of Seasons: A Memoir

Author: John Oates
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

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Early on in Change Of Seasons, John Oates maps out the direction of his memoir. Although his personal history converges frequently with that of Daryl Hall, his musical partner of over 45 years, it’s still very much a solo venture. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Famer has meticulously pieced together his memoir from an expansive collection of journals that goes as far back as his teen years in small-town Pennsylvania through the height of the group’s popularity. His work with Hall, with whom he’s been friends for over 50 years, isn’t at all minimized; it’s the backbeat that runs throughout Oates’ tale. But despite their closeness, the musical partners never tried to speak for one another, a tradition that Oates is determined to follow in his book.

Although the author doesn’t see the need to make this distinction, let’s get one thing cleared up: A common misconception of the duo’s dynamic is that Oates was a supporting player, which is a consequence of not contributing lead vocals to most of their songs. But the duo shared writing credits on the bulk of their hits, and Oates already had radio play to his name before he began performing with Hall. He’s a gifted musician and singer, a natural talent who jokes that his greatness was predicted from birth. So his story stands on its own, and it’s one that Oates delights in telling. As the only son and grandson born to a largely Italian immigrant family, he arrived on this Earth already a star. The New York City native gleefully admits that he ate up the attention, never pretending that he wanted anything less than fame and fortune.

For all his natural talent, though, Oates’ work ethic is what rings out the clearest in his memoir. The music lessons that began at age 5 extended well into his 30s; he remains “afflicted” by the performance bug that bit him at the tender age of 2. That same diligence is on full display in the composition of Change Of Seasons. Oates shows a journalistic commitment to telling his story and filling in as many details in the picture as possible. And even if some of the tales are familiar to fans, they’re now as burnished as his own musical chops.

Like so many of his R&B-infused pop tunes, Change Of Seasons is an upbeat recollection, but one with heart. The title of the memoir suggests an end to something, but the author regards that “change” as a cyclical one. Even five decades later, Oates isn’t close to writing his professional swan song. There is, however, musical accompaniment in the form of Hall & Oates covers as performed by Oates. Still, it’s clear that he doesn’t think the creatively fecund times are in the past, though obviously his rock-and-soul collaborations with Hall will probably remain the high point of his career. Oates doesn’t distance himself from their success; he tells stories that will be familiar to avid fans, like the infamous cover shoot for the so-called “Silver” album, and the Apollo Theater performance that prompted them to press pause on their joint careers.

Framed though it is from Oates’ perspective, Change Of Seasons is also a frank look at the music industry, including the nebulous deals that often seal an artist’s fate. Along with the breakup of his first marriage, these shadowy negotiations make up some of the callow times implied by the title. The artist’s middle-class upbringing and strong family ties grounded him at first, but provided a source of conflict once the stardom became overwhelming. He refers to the “duality” of being a married man who acted anything but while on the road, but there’s no deep dig into backstage encounters or after-parties; he just owns up to letting his first wife down.

Even with its reflections on personal responsibility, Change Of Seasons remains a charming, almost breezy retrospective. It’s obvious Oates has always been in his element as a storyteller, whether he was strumming along with the anecdotes or diligently documenting them to put into book form. In his afterword, Chris Epting notes that dedication, and again, the consideration of Oates’ longtime collaborator and friend. But ultimately, Change Of Seasons is Oates’ moment in the spotlight, which he handles with aplomb.


Purchase Change Of Seasons here, which helps support The A.V. Club.