Culled from the podcast of the same name, The Way I Heard It is a collection of 36 amazing backstories followed by a related incident from the life of America’s (or at least the Discovery Channel’s) favorite narrator and dirtiest hard-working man, Mike Rowe. Some of the people in the tales are famous or notorious, but a good many are unknown, even though their work, such as a landmark East Coast bridge, or an enormous West Coast estate, stand as a testament to their genius and vision.
Rowe follows each story with a related snippet from his life. After reporting how a humble hand tool became a blockbuster found in nearly every home and workplace, he describes his first night on the 3 – 6 am. graveyard shift of QVC, which in 1990 was virtually unknown and having trouble recruiting hosts. After unsuccessfully hawking a number of products without a script or direction, Mike finally looked into the camera and said, “Folks, I’m gonna be honest with you: I have no idea what this thing is or how it works. Frankly, I’m skeptical about the healing power of infrared light. But if you have one of these objects, call the 800 number on the screen. Ask for Marty. He’ll put you on the air. Maybe you can tell me if it actually works.” And with that, the tradition of having QVC customers call in to talk was born. Rowe is modest about the achievement: “The viewers had taken pity on me and began to do my job for me. Sales picked up. Marty woke up. Like I said, things got fun.”
As an introduction to his onetime hobby of singing in barbershop quartets, he relates the story of a Jewish Army corporal in the Ardennes Forest, just a few moonlit hours before the Battle of the Bulge, who rigged a speaker on a makeshift pole to bombard Nazis with energetic tunes sung by famous Jewish vocalists. He describes the nasty height battles fought by rival architects in one of America’s largest cities as a delicate introduction to one of Rowe’s most self-effacing Dirty Jobs episodes, when Rowe collected semen from a prize-winning quarter horse named Paid by Chic. (His equine-crazy mother was thrilled for him.) And he broaches his father’s love for chopping wood as a method of parent-child communication through the story of a strict father who never spoke to his rebellious son after the son chose a career path his father ridiculed. A father who disciplined his children with harsh words, but struggled to find the right ones for his son’s tombstone. (He ultimately chose the Greek inscription Kata ton daimona eaytoy: True to his own spirit.)
Mike Rowe has written a book much like him, a collection of down-to-earth stories that touch readers’ hearts with a variety of emotions. He recognizes the innate ability of every person to be humble, cocky, or indifferent; to stray far from their roots or stick around. To die behind bars as a convicted hit man while watching a son become a beloved fixture of Thursday nights, or to walk away from the job of a harsh Air Force master sergeant to become a famous TV star with a soft and gentle voice. At least, that’s the way I heard it.
Mike demonstrates a karaoke machine for QVC home viewers: https://youtu.be/KUJWpIj_4ps