John Oates’ memoir, ‘Change of Seasons,’ recalls his rebirth in Aspen
“I was born in New York,” John Oates writes in his new memoir. “But one day, I would be reborn in Colorado.”
In the book “Change of Seasons,” the rock great, one-half of Hall and Oates and Woody Creeker since the early 1990s, tells his life story and details how the move to the mountains transformed him. After the Pennsylvania native’s stratospheric career as a pop star through the ’80s, the book recounts, he went broke, retreated to Aspen and began rebuilding his life.
Along with engrossing stories about his early days as a musician, his partnership with Daryl Hall, how he wrote some of his songs and the shaving of his iconic mustache, “Change of Seasons” — written with Chris Epting — recounts with verve his time on the mountain here, building his home and his collection of farm animals, meeting his wife Aimee and his touch-and-go early relationship with neighbor Hunter S. Thompson. The book ends with Oates’ vivid recollection of skinning up Mount Hayden, grateful and looking ahead.
I recently talked to Oates about the book in a phone interview from Nashville, where he moved part-time a few years ago and where he’s spending most of his time these days. He’ll be back in Aspen on Sept. 1, when he headlines the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience with Daryl Hall. These are excerpts of our conversation:
THE ASPEN TIMES: Why write the memoir now?
JOHN OATES: I guess with age comes a little bit of reflection. I guess that’s natural. I’d always wanted to write a book. I’d written various magazine articles and things like that over the years. I had been doing a series of interviews with Chris Epting — he seemed to really get me in a way that a lot of people didn’t. And at some point he said, “You have so many interesting stories and you’ve had such an interesting life, did you ever consider writing a book? When the time is right I’d love to help you with it.”
AT: You include a lot of journal entries from over the years. Have you always kept a journal? How did those guide the narrative of “Change of Seasons”?
JO: I kept journals through the entirety of the ’70s — from 1970 to 1980. Thirteen handwritten volumes. (Epting) said, “Would you mind if I looked at them?” I made copies and sent the to him. He got really stoked on them. He started laying out a timeline based on the journals. So memories stared flooding back and I started to write. That’s how the whole thing began.
AT: I appreciated that it’s not just a Hall and Oates book — it’s really your story, going deep on your childhood, the Philadelphia days, some rough and tumble music business stuff and ending on a high note here in Aspen. Did you know that was how you wanted to approach it?
JO: Absolutely. I don’t have the right to tell the Hall and Oates story without Daryl Hall. But at the same time, the Hall and Oates story is an integral part of my life that I can’t separate from. It was the biggest challenge, and something that I mulled over for a long time: How am I going to tell my personal story and at the same time address the fact that I spent my entire adult life as a part of this partnership? At the same time, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a “kiss and tell,” that it wasn’t about sensationalism. It was really about transformation and learning and growing.
And I also wanted to make it readable. I was conscious of the fact that I wanted it to be like a collection of short stories. I wanted it to be digestible in small pieces. When you track a 40-plus year career, it can be very dense.
AT: On the transformation front, you write so lovingly about Aspen and Woody Creek in the back end of the book. As you were writing, what did you learn about what Colorado means to you?
JO: You have to take it in the context of where I came from. The moment I left college, I became a professional musician, and I never stopped from 1970 to 1986. Even then, I didn’t really stop until the late 1980s, when I had a serious comeuppance with a divorce and losing our manager and having a financial collapse. I had a condo in Aspen — I went there for the first time in 1968. I had this fondness in my heart. I loved to ski. So when I had this collapse I said, “You know what? I have to leave the East Coast. I have to leave all the familiar trappings of the thing I’ve been involved in over the last 20 years.” And I couldn’t think of a better place to do it than the mountains. That’s why I came. I sold everything I owned and I started over. All I wanted to do was ski and live in the mountains. And I wasn’t hanging out with people that were looking at me as a pop star of a musician. I was just another guy there, skiing powder and hiking. That’s exactly what I wanted and that’s exactly what Aspen gave me.
AT: And why did you end the story where you did, in the late 1990s in Aspen?
JO: At 400 pages I realized I hadn’t talked about my solo work, moving to Nashville and all these other amazing things that have happened to me in the last 17 years. And then I thought, “You know, even my mother doesn’t want to read more than 400 pages about John Oates.” So I said, “I’m just gonna stop.” Now, I would really like to do another book.
AT: How did you go about the writing? What was your routine?
JO: I was very disciplined. And the good thing about it is that I was on tour for those two years. And when you’re on tour you’ve got a lot of time on your hands — you’re flying, you’re on a bus, you’re in a hotel room. And you only play two hours a night. So the rest of the time, I really just sat with my laptop and typed. I hit it hard. It was lie exercising a muscle. It was hard to get started but once I got on a roll, it really started to flow.
AT: Did your experience as a songwriter help?
JO: It was interesting. I had to find my prose voice because I didn’t have one. Once I found a voice it felt like a writing personality emerged and I could just go with the natural flow of it.
Being a journalism student and an English major helped. I’m an avid reader. I read a lot of nonfiction. I purposely did not read a lot of contemporary memoirs because I didn’t want to be swayed by the styles of what other people were doing. I wanted to tell my story in a unique way.
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