Book Review: Frozen Fire

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Frozen Fire: The Story of The Cars

Written by Toby Goldstein

Photos by Ebet Roberts

Published by Contemporary Books, Inc

Copyright 1985 by Toby Goldstein

 

My quick opinion:

If you can get your hands on a copy it’s definitely worth the read, but I wouldn’t fork out a lot of money for it.

My long story:

Though I have enjoyed the music of The Cars for many years, it wasn’t until social media opened up the world of Benjamin Orr that I discovered a book had been written about the history of the band. Like all properly obsessed fans I immediately set out on a mission to gain possession of this gem, come hell or high water. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very realistic quest; the book has been out of print since its first edition and a simple search at the time revealed that if I wanted my own copy, I could expect to pay upwards of $200. Yikes! Of course, this high price made me even more desperate to get my hands on it; surely its market value was a reflection of the awesomeness of the contents and the extent of the treasures within.

As much as I tried to juggle the budget and scrape together spending money from the couch cushions, I simply could not justify buying this book. Thankfully I had one more trick up my sleeve: in my small town (population less than 2,000) we have the best little library ever, and Miss Whitney was able to get a copy of it sent through inter-library loan from another state. Imagine my giddiness! I was giggling like a fool at the check-out counter; couldn’t help myself.

As soon as I had the kids on lock-down for the night I dove in. The book is only 118 pages long and contains a generous sprinkling of photos so I figured it would be a fairly quick read, but I wanted to take my time because I was sure I would need to store up all of the fascinating details about the lives of my five favorite rock-and-rollers in the world.

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Uh… no. Reality. This book is exactly what it says it is: the story of The Cars. As in, history, plain and simple. Not “stories about The Cars”… my first disappointment. It kind of starts out like you’re going to get lots of anecdotes from the members and get to see past their stage presence, but the book soon settles into the chronological details of the evolution and success of the band.

Now let me clarify here, lest I sound ungrateful. I LOVE having the facts laid out for me, as you know. I eat that stuff up! But it was kind of like expecting caramel chocolate cheesecake and getting Ben and Jerry’s ice cream instead.

Apparently most of the information is compiled directly from the author’s interviews with the band members and, logically, Ric’s voice is the most prominent one. I’ve got no gripes with this because The Cars always were and still are *his* band (as all of the members firmly acknowledge), so it is largely his story to tell… but my expectations set me up for my second disappointment: I wanted to hear heavily from all of the band members. Okay, really, I wanted to hear specifically from Benjamin. Unfortunately he seems to be represented the least of the group (likely owing to his own reticence when being interviewed).

ebetairportThe third stumbling block for me came early in the book when the author recounted how Benjamin avoided the draft by “acting mentally ill.” This story definitely sounds hinky, particularly because there is other documentation reporting that Benjamin received an exemption for being an ‘only surviving son.’ Though this snippet is told in the book in quotes (which leads me to suspect that Benjamin may have said this but was pulling the author’s leg (entirely possible)), the fact that it is included as if it were true cast an air of suspicion over the entire text for me. Made me feel like I should take the rest with a grain of salt, especially regarding other seemingly far-fetched details (a promotion where fans got to take showers with the band members? Really???)

Still, there is a LOT of terrific stuff in these pages.

  1. Some great insights from the legendary Maxanne Sartori herself, whom we laud for her faithful support of our boys and her determined efforts in launching The Cars.
  2. The author takes us on a detailed walk through almost three decades of history and couches the years with relevant industry opinions and events.
  3. We do get a little glimpse into what was going on behind the scenes during the breaks between albums (though I find myself with even more unanswered questions!), and
  4. I noted several very cool quotes, which I plan to use in future posts.
  5. There is a generous amount of Ebet Roberts photos, some color and some black and white, which are delightful and definitely stare-worthy.
  6. The author is obviously a great fan of The Cars, and her devotion to them shines throughout the pages.
  7. One of my favorite lines: “The Cars may seem as icy as chrome, but a fire burns within — the blaze of sensual intelligence.” (p. 3) So perfect!

It’s a bummer that the book ends in the spring of 1985. Of course, I wish there was an epilogue covering the years after Heartbeat City and through to 1988. Oh well. I truly *am* thankful for this handy and fun-to-read resource.

In conclusion? As a Cars fan, I still really wish I owned this book. It just *needs* to be part of my collection. Having read through it, though, and finding that its purpose is different than what I was originally seeking, I confess I don’t feel the same sense of urgency I did at first.

A quick check as I’m getting ready to publish this blog post reveals copies are ranging from $20-60 on ebay and Amazon… I’m thinking about it. Certainly much more reasonable than earlier this spring! And this library copy is in pretty rough shape; it won’t be around forever…

Lyrics: You’re Always Brighter

You’re Always Brighter by Cap’n Swing

Sometimes I wake up so crazy, I can’t figure why

You make me look through your window and I start to fly high

You’re always brighter than bright is, and you’re always brighter than that

You’re always brighter that bright is, and I like that… then again

You make the nighttime tremble, you make the morning live

Well you make my life with what you give

(brighter…)

 

Some days I follow the sunrays out to the sea wall

I see you shadow the beaches until the nightfall

You’re always brighter than bright is, and you’re always brighter than that

You’re always lighter than light is, and I like that

You make the nighttime tremble, you make the morning live

You make my life with what you give

(brighter… you’re so brighter)

 

Some days I follow the sunrays out to the sea wall

And I see you follow the beaches until the nightfall

You’re always brighter than bright is, and you’re always brighter than that

You’re always lighter than light is, and I like that… well

You make the nighttime tremble, you make the morning live

You make my life with what you give

(you’re so brighter, brighter than that)

 

You make the nighttime tremble, you make the morning live

You make my life with what you give

You’re so brighter than that, yeah

It reminds me of him.

“…suddenly everything was pure sound. I felt the music like a physical thing; it didn’t just sit in my ears, it flowed through me, around me, made my senses vibrate. It made my skin prickle and my palms dampen…  And it made my imagination do unexpected things; as I sat there, I found myself thinking of things I hadn’t thought of for years, old emotions washing over me, new thoughts and ideas being pulled from me as if my perception itself were being stretched out of shape. It was almost too much, but I didn’t want it to stop. I wanted to sit there forever.”

Jojo Moyes, Me Before You

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Photo by Paul McAlpine

Quoting Benjamin

“We’re actually five different personalities, and all five come out on the record. Easton, our lead guitarist, is kind of hilarious, really incredibly funny. Robinson is a typical drummer, a little subdued. Hawkes, our keyboard man, is a living cartoon. Ric can be bouncy onstage at times. You have to really know Ric.” —  The Plain Dealer, June 9, 1978

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In other words:

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Photo courtesy of Chris Kamburoff

“You never got the feeling that he was going to do anything but play rock ‘n’ roll. He looked the part and he was going to make it big.” — Wayne Weston, former drummer and band mate from The Grasshoppers; The Plain Dealer, November 10, 2000.

(Text file retrieved from the “Benjamin Orr-The Legacy” Yahoo group, with permission.)

Vive la France!

On November 27, 1978, The Cars performed at the Theatre de l’Empire in Paris, France. At the time of this performance, their debut album had only been ‘out there’ for about 6 months. They were (relatively) young and hungry to make their mark, but polished and professional; they had been working the stage for years to get where they were. The show they played for a difficult audience in the UK was less than a week behind them, and one might expect that the band would be defensive, cautious, or exuding tension, but the very opposite attitudes were evident. The Cars were confident in their sound, their style, and in one another. They played with class and expertise and that incredible synergy that would continue to be their trademark through the years.

franceAs to the actual preservation of this event, my research so far has turned up only sketchy details. I believe the concert was aired on a French program called Chorus on December 3, 1978. This television series was hosted by Antoine de Caunes, and was evidently France’s version of rock music television, giving venue to many of the up-and-coming new wave and post-punk bands of the day.

The Cars played a total of seven songs: Good Times Roll, Bye Bye Love, My Best Friend’s Girl, Moving In Stereo, All Mixed Up, You’re All I’ve Got Tonight, and Just What I Needed.

Apparently in 2010 a 3-DVD boxed set of the show Chorus was released including footage of bands from 1978-1981, but according to the track listings, The Cars are not included in the set. Rumor has it that when the socialist government took over in 1981 de Caunes arrived in his office one day only to realize his whole collection of complete, unedited gigs on Beta tapes that had been in his office had been thrown out. If that’s true, there may not be an official recording of The Cars’ entire show left.

A scouring of the ina.fr website (France’s official audiovisual archives) yields little additional information but a smidge of hope… There is a short ‘teaser’ segment video, about 1 minute long, that allows us to see the beginning of the concert (a portion of “Good Times Roll”). The website also offers a video available for download for about $2, but from the description it seems that it is only the first three songs of the concert, and appears to be about 12 minutes long. I’m having a time trying to translate the French and navigate the website to purchase this but I’m not sure if they sell to the United States. I have sent a message to their staff; hopefully I can get my hands on it.

There are also four ‘audio only’ fan videos from the show on youtube: “Moving In Stereo”, “All Mixed Up”, “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” and “Just What I Needed.” A quick search of ‘the cars france audio’ will pull them up for you. The sound quality is a little muffled but worth hearing, and the videos are hugely appealing, visually.

In the meantime, there is currently ONE youtube video segment** of them on the stage in France: the footage of them playing “Bye Bye Love.” And oh, what yummy footage it is!

The stage is wide and spacious, the atmosphere is reserved, and the lfrance4ighting is soft and clear. The boys are all dressed up in classy rock-and-roll attire. The audio starts out a little muted but you can tell the band is perfectly tuned in to each other and ready to rock. After the initial camera work barely catches the epic bass riff at the beginning, the second cameraman is generous with his profile shot of Benjamin singing through the first verse and bridge before retreating to take in the whole front lineup of the band during the chorus.

The real visual triumph here starts during the second verse, when the production team has the presence of mind (and the space!) to scootch around the left side of the stage and around to the back, where we are given the rare treat of getting to see David in action with his drums. I love this! I always wish we had more footage of him doing his thing. (Side note: this clip inspired my 10yo’s nickname for David: he calls him ‘Baby Clothes.’ Hahaha!)

Not only do we get to enjoy David’s talents, but almost immediately afterward we’re able to watch Greg banging out his synth solo in its entirety, with a nice slow pan of the camera and great lighting. I get such a kick out of watching him work those keys; he’s such an incredible musician!

The camera work kind of falls apart a bit after that… There’s some nice close-up attention on Benjamin again but when it comes time for Elliot’s solo, which we can clearly see he is ready to absolutely burn the place down with, the cameraman is instead focusing on Ric, who manages a smile before he seems to realize he’s not the one who should be in the spotlight at the moment. Benjamin brings the show back around, though, when he zeroes in on Elliot for their traditional “Bye Bye Love” connection. Incredible way to end the song!

Some mini-delights of the video that you may or may not have noticed on your own…

  1. I’d bet a case of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups that Greg is wearing Benjamin’s tie from the Rock Goes to College concert. I am *so* adding that to my ‘twinsies’ article.
  2. Looks like you can see the guys’ set lists on stage: one on the floor by Benjamin’s effect pedals, one on the amp stack behind Elliot, one on Ric’s side of the drum riser, and one taped to the top left of Greg’s keyboards. Kind of cool.
  3. I love that Benjamin is wearing a little black Cars pin on the left side of his vest (the same vest from RGTC, by the way (thanks for noticing, Jen!)). I wish I could see clearly the pin on his right. I noticed that Elliot is wearing two very similar pins to Benjamin’s on his shirt… another ‘twinsies’ moment? If only I knew.

WARNING: It’s all about the Benj from here on out! LOL

I know that the lyrics “electric angel rock and roller” might very well refer to Maxanne Sartori (the Boston DJ who helped launch The Cars), but to me those words will always call up the image of Benjamin in this performance. Dressed in black from head to toe (with the exception of that sexy burgundy choker); his blonde hair perfectly styled and shining; that gorgeous red Vox hanging off his manly frame, and that face that I can never resist, he is the epitome of the beautiful rock star. Sheer perfection.

I will let you find your own delicious moments to squeal over in this video — there are plenty! —  but I can’t resist pointing out a few of my favorites. As always, the energy between Benjamin and Elliot sparks from the beginning and includes that adorable smile exchange at 2:02 and their intense (but slightly out of focus) ending. When he’s not rocking it up with EE, Benjamin is making me crazy with his sensual facial expressions. Catch him at 2:41, the unmistakable appeal of 2:56, and the ‘hard to get’ attitude at 3:05. And that mouth at 3:12! Okay, okay, I’ll stop now.

Watch it for yourself and tell me your thoughts.

 

**UPDATE 7/13/16: Buntastic uploaded the 3-song set from ina.fr to youtube!!! Wahoo!

 

 

It reminds me of him.

“I’ll say this about Cleveland: that city is rock and roll. Those people love music to the point of being insane. They’re crazy… Cleveland ain’t Hollywood. It ain’t foo-foo. They need something to distract them. So they play football and they rock. The music they make is gritty. You’re not going to find that scene anywhere else.”

— Pat Benatar, Between a Heart and a Rock Place

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Photo by Marco Glaviano

Quoting Benjamin

“We don’t have anything extravagant. We still keep it simple and in perspective, I think. I’m here to make myself happy and the woman I’m with happy, as best I can. I don’t want to own the world, just want to do this, ‘cause it’s fun for me.” — Elektra Bio, The Lace press kit, 1986waiting1

Lyrics: Wake Me Up

DISCLAIMER: I have changed a couple of the lyrics from the generally-accepted versions posted on the web because (1.) I am 100% confident these are the words our Benjamin is actually singing, (2.) the Cap’n Swing version (called Indigo) makes the lyrics even more obvious, and (3.) Ric’s book, Lyrics and Prose, clearly supports the words I changed (thanks, Jen!). I marked the lines that I edited with an asterisk. Take a listen and see if you agree.

Wake Me Up by The Cars

Wake me up in the middle of the flight

Show me which way to go where the wind won’t blow

Swing me up, sweet purple June

Hold me like I’m a child that’s about to go wild

I’d like to know just where you’ve been; if you would like to try again

I’d like to slow this spin I’m in…

Would you like to begin?

 

Silver Sunday tease my eyes*

I am too dissatisfied with your other side*

Roll me up and drop me down

Lay me back in New York town; that’s where I’d like to be found

I’d like to know just where you’ve been; if you would like to try again

I’d like to slow this spin I’m in…

Would you like to begin?

 

Roll me up and drop me down

Lay me back in New York town; that’s where I’d like to be found