I have a special place in my heart for oral histories because they are basically interviews with commentary and analysis in between which, as a longtime journalist who has conducted thousands of interviews over 17 years, definitely appeals to me. As I’ve said before, instead of most of the content being written and analyzed by the author, the bulk of oral histories are comprised of firsthand quotes from people who were there to witness whatever was going on.
That being said, I feel it is important to note that the difference between an oral history and written history is: the former encompasses the points of view/memories of the people interviewed, while the latter uses a variety of sources including interviews, articles, letters, and journals.
Oral histories I’ve reviewed:
Alright, Alright, Alright: The Oral History of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused – What’s interesting about oral histories is that the authenticity of the book hinges on what the people involved remember to be true rather than referring to documents with facts. Unfortunately, Alright, Alright, Alright, contains many instances where one cast member tells a story about something that happened and the next quote is another cast member completely disagreeing.
Daisy Jones & The Six – Written/narrated as an oral history, the novel has everything a rock and roll fan is looking for – captivating storytelling, characters you can picture, the fact that people can experience the same scenario and have different interpretations/memories of what actually happened, and characters who truly love music.
Kind Of A Big Deal: How Anchorman Stayed Classy and Became the Most Iconic Comedy of the Twenty-First Century – While Kind Of A Big Deal is an in-depth account of how Anchorman came to be, it’s not equal parts analysis and current interviews from the cast. Instead, the book goes beyond the casting process and wardrobe (although those chapters are very interesting) as it discusses cultural themes and the history of the performers.
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev – Written as an oral history, the novel starts with Opal’s family and upbringing, as well as Nev’s, and all the players involved with the Rivington record label over the years. Taking place over the course of four decades, the interviews exemplify how there can be many sides to every story.
Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan – Written mostly as an oral history through quotes, anecdotes, and stories from the people who knew Stevie Ray Vaughan best, Texas Flood is a first and secondhand account of the guitarist’s life. The details about the intricacies of Vaughan as a person and an artist are captivating and heartbreaking because of his untimely death in a tragic helicopter crash in 1990.
The latest oral history I read is about the television show The O.C. which aired in the early 2000s (when I was in college) and is known for an epic first season followed by three lackluster seasons. Written by Alan Sepinwall, Welcome To The O.C. is full of entertaining anecdotes, stories, and confessions from everyone involved with the show. Literally everyone – which is great because the reader gets a 360 perspective of how the show came to be. Exemplifying that writing what you know usually works out best, we learn that showrunner Josh Schwartz pulled from his own life to create the main characters of the show. I love that, of course. We also learn about the casting, how Mischa Barton was “so young” and that her mother was always on set, the importance of music, and how different television was 20 years ago.
One of the biggest points made throughout the book is that season one was way too long (27 episodes!) which led to the writers blazing through storyline after storyline. My have things changes. For example, season one of The Bear was eight episodes and season two was 10 episodes. That means season one of The O.C. was equivalent to two and a half seasons. Another theme is the cultural significance of the show due to the writers’ ability to successfully integrate humor and drama. The book pulls of a similar feat as it is a funny page-turner in which people call one another out and make all kinds of clever pop culture references. Additionally, everyone involved is very aware of how much has changed in 20 years and it was a trip to look back with them. Fun fact: I definitely had O.C. watch parties at my apartment at CU!
While the words from Rachel Bilson, Ben McKenzie, and Melinda Clarke were the most intriguing to read, Adam Brody comes off as Hollywood’s biggest brat. Some of what he says is so out of line I am shocked it was printed. Meanwhile, Barton is so standoffish that she sounds like a robot and rarely gives a straight answer. Thankfully, like his character in the show, Peter Gallagher is straightforward and hilarious. Also, there is an entire chapter about the imperative role music played in this show – back when people made mix CDs for one another. It was a different time.
Humor and sincerity it what set the show apart and is what sets Welcome To The O.C. apart. It’s clear how much this show meant to its writers and how the lessons they learned about storytelling informed their careers going forward. The themes of loneliness and family ran deep in the show’s characters and storylines and, looking back, that is ultimately what got me interested in the show and kept me watching. More specifically, the way Sandy Cohen saved Ryan Atwood kept me watching. Abandoned by his parents with every chance taken away from him, Ryan was saved by the Cohen family but he saved them as well. After I read the book, I rewatched a few episodes of season one and, watching as a parent, I was horrified by what could have happened to Ryan. But it also reminded me that people like Sandy, who prioritized family and was willing to give second chances, are responsible for keeping the world spinning.