Thank God it’s free! (Rock Goes to College)

rgtc-1If you’ve found this blog on your own it’s probably because you did a search. And if you did a search it’s probably because you are crazy about The Cars, and if you are crazy about The Cars you have, in all likelihood, seen their iconic performance on Rock Goes to College. If somehow you missed it, get ready for the best rock-and-roll half hour of your life!

“Rock Goes to College (RGTC) was a BBC series that ran between 1978 and 1981 on British television. A variety of up-coming rock oriented bands were showcased live from small venues and broadcast simultaneously on television and radio during a 40-50 minute live performance. The venues were small university, polytechnic or college halls holding a few thousand people; often tickets were given to the Students’ Union to distribute for free. The bands chosen were also, in some cases, bands which did not have a mainstream following at that time although many went on to be very successful. A BBC DJ would also be present to introduce the band for the television audience.” (Wikipedia)

On November 22, 1978, in the throes of promoting their self-titled debut album, The Cars played at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England. The episode was aired on RGTC on January 13, 1979.

The Cars did not have a good experience in the UK. Apparently there was some controversy about the promotion of The Cars’ picture disc for “My Best Friend’s Girl” which took a hit on the band’s potential popularity. Music critics slammed them, and Ric had a shoulder bag (including a lyrics/poetry book) stolen during their visit. Ironically, the single MyBFG  peaked at number 3 on the UK charts, so at least they had that to soothe them. The Cars did not play in England again, though they did do record signings and promotional appearances from time to time, and later recorded their album, Heartbeat City, in London.*

In spite of being ‘officially’ less than two years old, the seasoned professionalism of this band is evident all throughout the video. Though the reception from the English audience was lukewarm at best, and some of their behavior was downright rude, The Cars rocked on and did what they were created to do: deliver a blistering show purely for the love of it.

Let me detail some of the garbage they had to put up with:

During the first verse of “Bye Bye Love,” some putz in the audience throws what appears to be a drink onto the stage. Benjamin’s face turns to stone, and the increased intensity of his vocals gives away the instant anger he feels. You are left with no doubt of his emotions when he mouths the words, “I’m going to get you” after the first verse. And through all that drama, our darling Benjamin doesn’t miss a note; in fact if anything his performance gets even hotter as he channels all that justified frustration into the song. You can see his demeanor change during the bridge to the third chorus and he flashes a smug little smile… Personally, I like to speculate that the jackass was removed from the audience at that point as you can see (what I interpret to be) triumph in Benjamin’s beautiful eyes as he follows him out.

Unfortunately all the jerks in the audience aren’t gone, because just before the beginning of “Don’t Cha Stop” you can hear an idiot in the crowd shout out, “Thank God it’s free!” (a sentiment I agree with, but for different reasons!). And still, the band is not deterred. Elliot lays into his smoking intro like nobody’s business, and he and Benjamin spend most of the song playing off each other’s rock and roll energy. It’s fabulous.

Elliot’s shirt is clearly wet in more than the ‘sweaty’ way – more drinks being thrown? Speculation, of course. The crowd is slow to respond between songs, wide camera sweeps show general inattention and milling around, and the chattering during the emcee’s intro reflects obvious disinterest. There are a few audio and camera issues that might leave you shaking your head, too. And yet, in spite of all this, The Cars play such a tight and exciting set; it leaves my heart pounding with the thrill. They rise above it all and it’s ALL about THEM. Glorious.

I am so grateful to be able to have access to this piece of Cars history — so yes, “thank God it’s free!” I’ve watched it a zillion times. I have SO much gushing to do about Benjamin; his charisma and appeal in this concert are off.the.chain. For the sake of time, however, I’m going to save all of those observations for later posts… So yeah, you’ve got that to look forward to. Hahaha! (You’re welcome!)

Okay, enough details, right? Are you ready to indulge? First off here is the official set list:

  1.  Just What I Needed
  2. Good Times Roll
  3. I’m in Touch with Your World
  4. My Best Friend’s Girl
  5. Moving In Stereo
  6. All Mixed Up
  7. Night Spots
  8. Bye Bye Love
  9. Don’t Cha Stop
  10. You’re All I’ve Got Tonight

And here we go; here’s the link to the video:

 

In addition to the set list above, there is footage of two more songs The Cars played during the show as an encore that didn’t air on the broadcast: “Candy-O” and “Hotel Queenie.” I’m adding links to those, too. Enjoy!

 

*Sources: the final interview included on The Cars Live — Musikladen 1979 DVD, released 10/2000; the article “The Cars Spin Home,” The Globe, December 1978; and Wikipedia

Quoting Benjamin

“I always knew what I wanted to do, and I never worried about it. I knew I would always be able to make some dollars; I knew I would always have a good time doing it, ‘cause I never had a bad time doing it. You do what you do at the spur of the moment. If you think it’s silly later on, you either keep  making the same mistakes, or you move on and try to get a little better. Not that anything in any band I’ve ever been in has felt funny. It’s always credible.” — Elektra Bio, The Lace press kit, 1986

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Never forget…

Look what came in the mail today! I was fortunate enough to get an order in on this limited edition Benjamin Orr memorial t-shirt. It was created as a labor of love by graphic artist Kurt Gaber, and with the blessing of Philip Kamin, who is the photographer of the original image. It is so beautiful! I am grateful to both of these men for having hearts willing to keep Benjamin’s memory and legacy alive.

I am thrilled to have another way to honor the life of such a kind, humble, talented, and respected man.

Moving In Stereo

I’ve said it before (and I’m sure I’ll say it again!), that Benjamin is the perfect person to sing Ric’s lyrics. That man could belt out any string of nonsense and you’d be convinced that it was your life’s motto. I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to be connecting with when I sing, “Life’s the same, I’m moving in stereo; life’s the same, except for my shoes…” but if Benjamin believes it then so do I, and I warble along with intensity. (Yeah, I’m not a very good singer.)

Showing up as the 8th track on the 1978 debut album The Cars, ‘Moving In Stereo’ is right up there on my list of the most forceful and effective rock numbers the band ever recorded, and listening to it can be a surreal experience. I highly encourage headphones, and if you can manage it, find a dark place away from distractions. Better yet, head out for a late night or early morning run (before the sun comes up) with this playing in your ears (but be safe about it); it is a powerful experience.

The song starts out with that futuristic synth lead-in, carrying  you off toward the heavens, and then the rhythm guitar snags your ankle and anchors you in the sky. You become cloaked in Benjamin’s beautiful voice, flowing from ear to ear, as Greg continues to beguile you with his gentle notes.

All of a sudden the drums, bass, and lead guitar jump in with a hard, pulsating beat that you cannot resist. All six elements are working together to encapsulate you… You are surrounded, invaded, immersed in this swirling twirl of dense, hypnotic sounds that seem to carry you higher and higher, and you feel like you could actually lose yourself forever in this musical continuum… until Benjamin’s incredible bass run hauls you back into the atmosphere and his seductive vocals attempt to soften your return to the ground.

Somehow it still comes as a shock, though, when the song ends and you find that, well, life’s the same… you were just moving in stereo.

As an aside, I have a feeling that the producer, Roy Thomas Baker, knew what a hard landing it could be at the end of this song, and that’s probably why he chose to have it blend perfectly into the beginning of track 9, ‘All Mixed Up’… a stunning ballad that warrants its own write-up at a later date.

Another noteworthy tidbit is that this song is one of only four for which Greg Hawkes received a writing credit (the others being “This Could Be Love,” “It’s Not the Night,” and “Go Away.”); all other songs written solely by Ric, of course.

And now, for your viewing pleasure… a 1978 performance of ‘Moving In Stereo’ that was included on the 2006 Unlocked DVD.

As you know, I can never get enough of Benjamin and he is over-the-top-hot in this video (the blonde hair and the black leather; the way he works that bass at 3:38 makes me crazy), but when Elliot takes center stage about half way through I get a little ga-ga. That teasing smile as he plays with Ric at 2:35 — delicious! Of course, the poor guy gets caught up in his cord there for a minute afterward, but it was worth it to see him up front. As they always do when playing live, the band locks into each other and delivers a terrific performance.

Quoting Benjamin

“I hated Paris. Most people knew how to speak English but they’d fall back on their French and it was really hard to communicate. Now I’m looking for my first Frenchman over here so I can get back at them.” – returning home from Europe; The Globe, December, 1978.

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Timeline (work in progress)

Because I am a numbers-nerd-list freak, I’m making this post to keep track of dates I want to remember from Benjamin’s life. This will be continually updated… I’m very open to suggestions!

September 8, 1947: Benjamin Orzechowski was born. (Lakewood, OH)

January 4, 1968-May 15, 1969: Benjamin serves in the US Army Reserves.

1969ish: Ric and Benjamin meet (probably for the second time) and decide to team up in the world of rock and roll.

1971-1972: Ric and Benjamin play with Jas Goodkind under the name Milkwood.

1972: Milkwood releases their only album, How’s The Weather

1974: Ric and Benjamin form Richard and the Rabbits. Greg Hawkes is a member.

1974-75: Ric and Benjamin perform as the duo Ocasek and Orr. Elliot Steinberg eventually joins them onstage. Glenn Evans helps on drums.

1975-76: Ric and Benjamin form Cap’n Swing with Elliot Easton, Todd Roberto on bass, Danny Schiftlin (sp?) on keys, and Glenn Evans on drums.

December 31, 1976: Ric and Benjamin launch their new band, The Cars, playing at Pease Air Force base in New Hampshire. The band consists of Ric, Benjamin (now on bass), Elliot, Danny Louis on piano, and David Robinson on drums.

January 1977: Greg Hawkes joins The Cars, replacing Danny Louis on keyboards.

February 1978: The Cars record their self-titled debut album at AIR Studios in London.

June 6, 1978: The Cars debut album was released.

June 23, 1978: The Cars play their debut album launch party at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston.

July 30-December 28, 1978: The Cars tour for their debut album.

September 14, 1978: The Cars play at the El Mocambo, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

November 22, 1978: The Cars play Rock Goes to College at the University of Sussex, Brighton, UK.

November 23, 1978: The Cars play the Lyceum (sold out); Fabulous Poodles opening

November 27, 1978: The Cars play the Theatre de l’Empire, Paris, France.

November 29, 1978: The Cars play Musikladen, Bremen, Germany.

February 1979: The Cars record Candy-O at Cherokee Studios in Los Angeles.

June 13, 1979: The Candy-O album was released.

June 12-December 20, 1979: The Cars tour for Candy-O.

August 12, 1980: The Panorama album was released.

August 27-December 4, 1980: The Cars tour for Panorama.

October 30, 31, and November 4, 1980: The Cars play in Japan for the Panorama tour.

November 6, 1981: The Shake It Up album was released.

January 1-March 25, 1982: The Cars tour for the Shake It Up album.

September 4, 1982: The Cars play the US Festival.

December 12, 1982: The Cars play a Toys for Tots benefit concert at the Metro in Boston.

July 1983-January 1984: The Cars record Heartbeat City at Battery Studios in London.

March 13, 1984: The Heartbeat City album was released.

July 13-September 12, 1984: The Cars tour for Heartbeat City.

July 13, 1985: The Cars play at Live Aid in Philadelphia, PA.

October 6, 1986: Benjamin’s only published solo album, The Lace, was released.

August 11, 1987: The Door to Door album was released.

September 17, 1987: The Cars play for the MTV Video Music Awards.

October 14-December 12, 1987: The Cars tour for Door to Door.

October 31, 1987: The Cars play on Saturday Night Live (Strap Me In and Double Trouble).

September 29, 1995: Benjamin’s only biological child, Benjamin Charles Joseph, was born.

October 3, 2000: Benjamin died of pancreatic cancer. (Atlanta, GA)

Making all your fantasies realities.

audienceIt’s so easy to get caught up in fantasizing about Benjamin — the PERFECT Benjamin. We all are just so sure that Benjamin could do no wrong, and that if we were to be in a relationship with him it would be pure heaven, twenty-four-seven. A real fairy tale!

Perfect Benjamin was the kind of guy whose breath never stunk (even though he smoked) and who always looked sexy in whatever he was wearing and whose hair was always photo-shoot perfect. Even if he had bed head it was totally adorable and never oily. And he never had gunk in his eyes or dried drool on the side of his mouth in the mornings.

Perfect Benjamin always told you how he could never get enough of you and he shared all his thoughts with you and he was always planning surprises for you because he lived to please you. He was completely selfless in bed and loved to hold your hand and run his fingers through your hair and he was so easy to talk to because he actually listened. He was endlessly romantic with his flowers, music, candles.

Sure, Perfect Benjamin was a man’s man but he let everyone know that you were his woman and that you came first. He resisted all other girls and wasn’t even tempted because he was so crazy in love with you and he would never jeopardize your relationship. He didn’t like to dance but he would if you wanted to, and he never failed to open a door for you.

He would cook yummy things for you and take you to Hawaii for two months at a time and he didn’t care if you couldn’t sing, he still wanted you to belt it out with him on road trips. He never left his dirty clothes on the floor, toothpaste in the sink, or gross dishes on the counter. He was always funny, always sensitive and always sexy. Right?

Right???

Nope. He was a man. A real man, flawed and falling short all the time, as we all do. Like every other man alive.

I’m sure he was infuriating, insensitive, and too internally focused at times. He had his quirky little behaviors that would make you want to tear your hair out. He probably had a few unreasonable pet peeves that you had to put up with, and it was difficult to see him flirt with all of this lady fans, which you knew was part of his job but it made you a little insecure, anyway.

At times he was quiet and remote and wouldn’t really be able or willing to tell you why. You wished he would stop smoking, or at least take it outside. You just didn’t think the Three Stooges were really all that funny so no, you don’t want to watch it yet again. And if he doesn’t put that toilet seat down, I swear… !!!

Because Real Benjamin was *not* perfect. We know that he was beautiful, kind, generous, funny, attentive, talented; so sexy, adorably nerdy, sweetly awkward and genuinely humble… but not all the time. NOT perfect. It’s just not possible.

Of course, knowing this in my head does not stop me from thinking that I would have loved to have the opportunity to find out about all of those imperfections. And somehow that reality makes him more perfect to me in my twisted little fantasy world. I’m sure I could have made it work between us. I would have been the Perfect SPJ to his Real Benjamin and it would have been a match made in heaven. Hahaha!

There is no cure; I’m totally, unreasonably obsessed. 🙂

 

 

Quoting Benjamin

Did you always know that you wanted to be in the music business? “I started taking lessons actually when I was about 8 years old and my parents tell me I ruined a whole lot of their stuff at home, just you know pounding around on tables. So I always knew that I wanted to do some sort of music. They gave me the opportunity to pursue it to its maximum, I guess.”– Line One radio interview, November, 1986.

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