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Michael McDonald Reunites with the Doobie Brothers

Grammy winner talks memoir, touring, marriage and why AARP is ‘a wonderful organization for people our age’

spinner image Michael McDonald against red ombre background
AARP (Mel Melcon/Getty Images)

Singer-songwriter Michael McDonald, 72, with the help and urging of his close friend, actor Paul Reiser, 68, has written a candid new memoir about his life and career. What a Fool Believes reveals McDonald’s career highs — like joining Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers — and personal lows, including his battles with drug and alcohol addiction. The Grammy winner is once again joining the Doobie Brothers for a U.S. summer concert tour that kicks off June 23 in Los Angeles, and he shares why he’s looking forward to getting back on the road, the secrets to his 41-year marriage and why he and his wife are proud AARP members.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Why did you decide to write your life story?

I feel like probably the luckiest person who ever wrote a book in the sense that my friend Paul Reiser, when I would tell him some of the funnier stories I could remember, he always said, “You know, you’ve got to write this down someday.” One of the most endearing things about Paul is that he’s one of those people who has a keen interest in other people and their stories. When he made the offer — “I’ll help you” — during COVID lockdown, I thought, Well, if I’m ever gonna do it, that’s an offer I almost can’t refuse.

Did you read any other memoirs for inspiration?

I did look at a couple when I started to get serious about doing this one. One that Paul recommended to me that I really enjoyed was Tom Jones’ memoir [Over the Top and Back: The Autobiography]. I liked the way he talked about his life and his experience as a person more than trying to dazzle you with his accomplishments or his musical journey. That’s all very interesting, and he successfully included that, but I think a lot of that speaks for itself. We already kind of know that story. What’s interesting to the reader is what happened inside those frames that rolled by that make for a life. What are those seemingly unimportant things that happened to us along the way that have more to do with shaping who we are later on than we even give credit to?

spinner image Book cover that says What a Fool Believes, a Memoir, Michael McDonald With Paul Reiser
McDonald's candid new memoir explores the highs and lows of his life and career.
Courtesy HarperCollins

Did you have any big revelations while writing the book?

I didn’t really think my story was all that exciting. I didn’t go to prison; nobody died. But I did feel like if there’s anything about my story that could be considered interesting it’s how just random events lead you down paths you never expected, and all the best-laid plans are usually the last thing that happens. I came to California [from St. Louis] with all kinds of plans and dreams and designs — most of which [didn’t happen] — but what turned out to be a stroke of luck for me was recognizing another door opening and just making a point to go through it with no real idea of where that was going to take me. And I think that’s something that everybody can relate to. We all can look back on our life after a certain point and go, “Wow, most of this was not in my plan.” And the things I’m most grateful for are not the things that I would have written on a list, if you would have asked me 30 or 40, 50 years ago to make a list of the things I want most in life.

Was it difficult to write about some of your personal struggles?

A lot of what I’m grateful for today, oddly enough, are the things that were direct results of some of the lesser moments in my character, in my life, and things I had to learn the hard way. And sometimes, with a little bit of time, if you live long enough, you wind up being more grateful for those things than what you consider to be the good fortune you wish you had back then. It is the beauty of aging that we can look back, and things are calmer now because we have that perspective.

Speaking of the beauty of aging, are you doing anything intentionally to age well?

I have so many friends who do a much better job at taking care of themselves with exercise and vitamin supplements and sport. I have always hated exercise, and I hate exercise even more now. COVID really took the wind out of my sails. I was a relatively healthy person … then I got COVID a couple of times, and the whole lockdown and the lack of movement … I felt like my health really was compromised during the lockdown.

Are you doing anything now to try to make up for it?

Not much, really, I’m ashamed to admit. I’m looking forward to getting back out on the road, because there’s a certain amount of activity that goes along with that. But I really do need to start exercising. I’m telling myself that. I [will] probably tell myself that about 20 more times today.… Playing live, we put a lot into it, but I’ve just been doing that so long that it’s not as hard for me as getting out and walking 2 miles on the beach. But I love that. What’s really my greatest form of exercise right now is taking my dogs down to the beach.

What are you up to musically?

I’ve been doing some blues records with some older guys that I’ve been friends with for many years. And that’s been fun for me, because I’ve always loved traditional blues. We’ll probably put together a band and play a couple nights a month in L.A. It’s a real fun project for me, keeping me active.

You’ve been married for 41 years [to singer Amy Holland, 70]. What’s your secret?

Marriage, as in anything else in life, comes from reminding yourself to be grateful. We all suffer from wanting to blame circumstances, people, places and things for whatever it is we don’t like about our lives. It’s been a learning curve for both of us. I fell in love with [Amy] when I first met her. She was 16 and I was 19. She had a boyfriend at the time, and I think I had a girlfriend at the time. But we worked together, and it just seemed like fate would always kind of bring us back together over the years. When we got married and we had two beautiful kids, I realized that this is the best part of my life right here. No matter what happens or doesn’t happen, nothing’s going to be as important as this. And we’ve had our moments. We’ve had our times when it was easy for me to blame my wife for what’s wrong with my life. I think I know better than that, and so whenever I give it the smallest amount of thought, I realize that I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have her in my life still.

spinner image Tom Johnston, Michael McDonald, Patrick Simmons and John McFee
McDonald is gearing up to head back on tour with Doobie Brothers bandmates Tom Johnston, Patrick Simmons and John McFee.
Mel Melcon/Getty Images

Are you an AARP member?

Yes, I am. I’ve got a card.… My wife and I, we’re both proud members of AARP. It’s just such a wonderful organization for people our age, because really what it’s about is giving you information and opportunities to keep you living life at its fullest. A couple of my friends are 91, 92 years old. I like to fantasize sometimes that I’ll still be going down to the beach and walking the dogs on the beach — maybe even getting in the water once in a while — when I’m that age.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Not to worry so much — relax and go with the flow. I’m not saying not to work hard and not to put your shoulder into whatever endeavor you choose in life, but to be open to the fact that the path to that is going to probably change drastically, and don’t worry about it.… The pitfalls are really the things you’re going to look back on and reminisce about, and they’re going to cause you the most gratitude in the end.

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