John Oates purposely left out the stuff about sex and affairs and lots of drugs from his book “Change of Seasons.”
“I wasn’t interested in doing a kiss and tell. It’s boring. It’s every rock guy’s memoir,” says the musician, who came to fame in the 1970s-80s making hits with Daryl Hall, and comes to town next week to promote his highly readable 400-page volume.
“You can imagine the kinds of things that went on,” says Oates, and he admits they did, but his focus was to tell a story of transformation.
Oates, who majored in journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia in the late 1960s, wrote it as a series of vignettes that could be read on their own.
One funny chapter tells how he cleverly dodged the draft; another lovingly details the making of the seminal album “Abandoned Luncheonette”; another describes encounters with fellow race car driving fan George Harrison; and a hilarious one tells how the duo pre-dated MTV with a weird artsy video for “She’s Gone” directed by his sister Diane in 1974, in which he’s dressed like a penguin.
The project began at the urging of Chris Epting, a writer who interviewed Oates at length about his recent songwriting career in Nashville, was intrigued by his stories, and offered to help if he decided to write an autobiography.
“I had kept journals from the ‘70s, and he began to pepper me with questions. My memory began to flood back, and he prodded me,” Oates says, mentioning how the biggest challenge had to do with not being instantly gratified like he is onstage or after writing a song.
After two years, sometimes getting bored with hearing his own voice, and not even getting to his solo career, he says, “I had to force myself to stop.”
In retrospect, he says his least favorite time was during the 1980s, during his biggest commercial success, and what the world perceives as the highest point of Hall and Oates’ career, yet a time when “there was no time for anything.”
“No one tells a rock star to stop doing anything,” he says, describing his insulated world, which came to a halt when the hits stopped coming, separation and divorce were imminent (his first wife Nancy gets just a line or two in the book), and the reality of messed-up finances — to the tune of a $9 million debt — set in.
“It was time to stop living a protracted adolescence,” he says.
He sold his collection of fancy cars (including a prized 1956 silver Porsche Speedster), an airplane, a house in Connecticut and multiple New York apartments.
He kept a condo in Aspen, lived like a hippie in the mountains, and met his second wife Aimee, with whom he had a son, and rebuilt his life and career, with a focus on traditional American music. (He’s looking forward to exploring it more and more.)
One thing that has remained constant is his dedication to continue making music his way. While he and Hall perhaps knew which of their songs were most suited for pop charts, he says, “Every track on every album was made with attention and care.”
Realizing the unique position he’s in today, he says, “I’m fortunate and blessed that success has enabled me to have complete creative freedom, to do whatever I want whenever I want. I don’t take it for granted; I take it very, very seriously.”
Change of Seasons
Written by: John Oates with Chris Epting
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Note: Oates appears at 7:30 p.m. April 6 at the Swedish American Hall, 2174 Market St., S.F.; tickets (including book) are $27-$40 at ticketfly.com.
Abandoned LuncheonetteChange of SeasonsJohn OatesLiteraturememoirPhiladelphiaPop Music