Music

5 things we learned from John Oates’ memoir

John Oates during Hall & Oates’ 2016 show at Gexa Energy Pavilion (now Starplex).
John Oates during Hall & Oates’ 2016 show at Gexa Energy Pavilion (now Starplex). Special to the Star-Telegram

Most rock memoirs and bios follow a similar path: struggle, success, decline, comeback. Sometimes, they go luridly into the “sex and drugs” part of “sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll”; another common element is how the naive artist, focused on the creative end (and finding things to spend the big paycheck on) winds up getting bilked by their label/manager/agent/etc. and has to rebound from a financial crisis.

The last plays a big role in “Change of Seasons,” the new memoir from John Oates of Hall & Oates. The other elements are there, too, although Oates mostly makes just passing allusions to the “sex and drugs” part. But what sets the memoir, co-written with Chris Epting, apart from some other rock memoirs is Oates’ appreciation of some of the more trivia-question-answers parts of his life. Here are five things we learned from it.

1. The “She’s Gone” video might be better than you think.

If you’ve never seen the video for Hall & Oates’ best song — shot in 1974, shortly after the song was originally released (it didn’t become a hit until a 1976 reissue) — here it is in a nutshell: Daryl Hall and John Oates sit in overstuffed chairs with a table between them. Oates, fully bearded at the time, wears a sleeveless tuxedo vest. Hall is in a bathrobe. They lip-synch deadpan (and sometimes don’t bother to lip-synch at all) as a woman walks in front of them; when they get to the “I’d pay the devil to replace her” line, a guy walks through in a devil costume and they lackadaisically throw Monopoly money at him. Near the end, when Oates plays a guitar solo, the “devil” puts Oates’ tuxedo coat on — only it’s actually part of a penguin costume, complete with flippers, making it impossible to play the guitar.

The video is on YouTube, where the video quality is pretty poor — which is no surprise, since Oates unearthed the tape only a few years ago. It was directed by his sister Diane, then a 19-year-old film student at Temple University, and shot at a Philadelphia TV studio. The woman who walks through was Hall’s then-girlfriend and occasional songwriting partner, Sara Allen (soon to be immortalized in “Sara Smile”); the devil was played by their road manager.

It belongs in the “Great Song, Bad Video” Hall of Fame — or does it? “To this day, I think it’s one of the weirdest and coolest things we’ve ever done,” writes Oates, who’s at least half-right. “A very bizarre and comical pre-MTV music video that has actually developed a cult following since we released it a few years ago.” Maybe we’ll have to rethink this; Oates even still has the shooting script, which is pictured in the book.

2. There is a “John Oates’ Moustache” Facebook page.

Actually, there are two, but we only learned about one from the book. One is dormant — the most recent post is from 2014 — the other has fewer followers but more recent posts. Oates devotes a brief chapter to the mustache, which he shaved off in 1990 — he sports a bit of one now as part of an almost 5 o’clock shadow goatee, but it’s not the caterpillar that adorned his upper lip for Hall & Oates’ peak hit-making years. “This may sound silly and insignificant, but no one will ever understand how much that mustache affected my life,” writes Oates, who cut if off as part of a ’90s reinvention. “It came to represent all the swarthy and hirsute excesses of the 1980s. And it also represented me. Suddenly, I resented it.” And off it went, down the drain of a bathroom sink in a Tokyo hotel room. Oh, and there also was an animated TV series called “J-Stache,” featuring Oates and his mustache (voice of comedian Dave Attell) as a crime-fighting duo.

3. Hall & Oates opened for some influential artists

If you think a Tears for Fears/Hall & Oates bill is just a little weird, consider that Hall & Oates once opened for David Bowie — not during the MTV era, but in August 1972, during Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust era (“I knew from that night that our days as a laid-back acoustic act were numbered”). A slot opening for Lou Reed didn’t go as well, as neither Reed, his band or his fans had much interest in having Hall & Oates around. Other people they opened for or shared bills with early in their career: Cheech & Chong, storytelling singer-songwriter Harry Chapin, some other up-and-comer named Bruce Springsteen.

4. Oates once hitched a ride — on a plane — with Andy Warhol

By their mid-’80s career peak, the duo had already met Andy Warhol and got to know the artist a little bit. Warhol even gave Oates a guided tour of The Factory, Warhol’s art studio/hip hangout in New York. Around Christmas one year, Oates and his then-wife ran into Warhol and his entourage at Denver’s Stapleton airport. Everyone was trying to get to Aspen, but all flights had been canceled because of a snowstorm, which led Warhol to ask Oates, “John, are we going to die?” (“This was not part of the fifteen minutes we’d all be eventually famous for,” Oates notes wryly.) Eventually, Warhol calmed down enough to order one of his followers to charter a private plane, and invited Oates (who is a pretty good pilot himself) and his wife to join the party. “Of course, Andy knew everyone in town from the Kennedys to Diana Ross to you name it,” Oates writes. “It was just a big, dazzling, fabulous white out.”

5. Hunter S. Thompson was once Oates’ next-door neighbor

In 1992, Oates and his then-girlfriend/current wife Aimee bought a log cabin outside of Aspen, with plans to build a larger house on the property and convert the cabin into a guest house. While they were talking about the property with the real-estate agent, they heard shotgun blasts coming from nearby. “Oh, that’s just the Doc,” said the agent, referring to “gonzo” journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who also was responsible for the 1975 Pontiac Grand Ville convertible that was parked inside the cabin (after repeatedly trying to contact Thompson, Oates eventually moved the car himself). Oates and Thompson eventually got to know each other, bonding over Thompson’s love of “Monday Night Football” — during which Thompson forbade talking, except during commercials.

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