Book Review: The Cars (Robus)

robus

The Cars

Written by Stacy Leigh

Photography by Mike O’Brien and Kelly Thompson

Published by Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation

Copyright 1985 by Robus Books

 

 

My quick opinion:

No new info in the text, but the photos themselves make this book worth some effort to acquire. However… don’t break the bank.

My long story:

You might remember that in 2016 I went on a mini-rampage to try to get my hands on any factual or biographical books about The Cars. Just when I had thought my little collection was sufficient, my Cars’ world buddy, Timothy, alerted me to THIS book, which had not yet made my radar. You can imagine my giddiness! I was under the impression that it was by Philip Kamin (see the NERD TOPIC below), so I began scouring the internet for a copy of it.

It proved to be more elusive than I expected, and I ended up stumbling across it on Amazon by accident. The reason I hadn’t been able to track it down was because it was actually listed under Stacy Leigh (the author), and it didn’t have Philip Kamin’s name anywhere on it.

During 1984 and ’85, Robus Books put out a series of biographical discographies covering an impressive selection of the most popular bands of the day, including Madonna, Tina Turner, Bruce Springsteen, Howard Jones, Ratt, Van Halen, Wham!, and (of course!) The Cars. I made a cursory attempt to find out more information about the Robus collection but to no avail… I was hoping to discover more of the thought process behind the writing and publishing of this line but only ended up with chirping crickets.

SCAN0080.JPG
The Cars, 1980; scanned from the book

Just looking at surface details… I suppose it could have been sold at concerts, but to me, this book comes across as something you might find in a middle school library, with the target audience looking to be about sixth grade and up. The simplicity of the syntax, the large size (it measures 9″x12″), and the limited number of pages point in that direction, and I happily imagine thoughtful teachers encouraging their reluctant readers to choose one of the ‘rock-and-roll’ series for their book report assignment. (Of course, I could be wrong, but my little scenario works for me for now.)

This juvenile approach to the product is not a negative, however. Who doesn’t love a good children’s book? And visually, this one is beautiful. Its 32 (unnumbered) pages are chock full of scrumptious photographs, many in full color, as well as some terrific black-and-white shots. Though my copy did not include it, I understand that the original publication contained a poster of the the band of the image above. True, most of the images (if not all) have circulated on the internet for some time, but there is nothing quite like holding a tangible, large print of those fascinating fellows in your hot little hand. (Bibliophiles, unite!)

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Benjamin and Ric, 1980; scanned from the book

The entirety of the text can easily be read in about 10 minutes (15 if you pace yourself). The format is a simple (if slightly inaccurate) chronological account of the evolution of TheCars, beginning in 1976 and tracking their success through 1984. It is straight narration; no interview excerpts or quotes from the band. Still, the descriptions are nice, and I love this little gem:

 

“Ocasek and Orr were seen as hip prophets of a new era of American rock supremacy, one in which technological sophistication, musical simplicity and sound songwriting craftsmanship would break new ground.” (p. 12)

 

WARNING: NERD TOPIC AHEAD!

Kamin
Philip Kamin, via the internet

One thing I find perplexing is the credit for the photography. The book lists Mike O’Brien and Kelly Thompson as the ones responsible, but it seems these photos belong to Philip Kamin. I say that because, 1. the shots are all remarkably similar to the photographs included in the McGraw-Hill book also entitled The Cars (to be reviewed shortly), which were explicitly taken by PK. And by “remarkably” I mean that they are so close, there could be a single shutter click in difference. 2. Philip Kamin claims credit for the book on his website, and 3. he was one of the regular photographers of the band for a time. But then again… many of the other books in the Robus series credit PK with the photography, and his name is emblazoned across the covers, but not this one. Hmmm….

So who are Mike and Kelly? Why are they listed in the book but not Philip? I’m tempted to research it more… I know it’s not a big deal, but little things like that just nibble at me.

The book was printed with a $4.95 price tag, but you won’t find it that cheap these days. Checking the web tonight I see that there are at least two listed on Amazon, one priced near $200, the other, well over that amount. I feel extremely fortunate to have found mine (in pretty good condition)  for right around $15 — a steal, for sure! If it’s not in your budget, all is not lost. Be sure to check with your local library; they may be able to get it through inter-library loan for little or no cost to you. Believe me, it’s worth a try.

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