Cool Happenings at the CNE

1984 gettyimages-1168829522-2048x2048About half way through their Heartbeat City tour, The Cars stopped in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and played at the CNE Grandstand (formally known as the Canadian National Exhibit Stadium). Though the band wasn’t in town for long, a couple of cool things took place at that August 8, 1984, show.

Before I get to those unique happenings, let me get a little bit of business out of the way. I don’t have a ton of background on the concert itself, simply because I just haven’t had time to do in-depth research, but I do believe that this was the second time the band performed at the CNE, having stopped there during the Panorama tour. They weren’t strangers to Toronto, though; the also played at the El Mocambo for the debut album, and at the Maple Leaf Gardens in support of Candy-O. And I know that the Canadian press wasn’t super impressed with this particular show, but then, they never really seemed to be in The Cars’ corner over the years (with the exception of writer Peter Goddard).

Wang Chung was the opening band, and then our band took the stage. I’m not positive that this is the actual set list played that night, but here is what The Cars worked through on August 6 and August 10 (both the same), so it’s gotta be close.

  1. Hello Again
  2. It’s Not the Night
  3. Touch and Go
  4. Candy-O
  5. Looking for Love
  6. Gimme Some Slack
  7. Jimmy Jimmy (Ric Ocasek song)
  8. Just What I Needed
  9. A Dream Away
  10. Cruiser
  11. Drive
  12. You Might Think
  13. My Best Friend’s Girl
  14. Magic
  15. Let’s Go
  16. Encore: Heartbeat City
  17. Encore: You’re All I’ve Got Tonight

And while though those two paragraphs above are a bit light on details, I DO have an excellent eyewitness account of the concert to share. Fellow Cars fan Doug Parsons was just 16 years old when he stumbled into the chance to see The Cars live. Rather than try to retell his experience in my own words, I’ll let you read his take on how The Cars rocked his world:

I was born and raised in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. The Cars never played in Atlantic Canada when they toured, which was very frustrating to me, as they were my favourite band. It was only through a rather strange sequence of events that I got to see them in Toronto in the summer of 1984.

Earlier that year, I made a new friend and I spent a lot of time with him that spring. We really were an “odd couple” … we basically had nothing in common except that our older brothers knew each other. He lived with his father in Dartmouth, but his mother lived in Toronto. Sometime in June, he mentioned to me that he was going to visit his mother in the summer for three weeks and asked if I would like to go along. Having never been to Toronto, I was obviously excited to go. I didn’t expect that my parents would let me go, but they did, so I ended up going with him.

He had a girlfriend there, and I REALLY liked his girlfriend’s best friend (sounds almost like a Cars song, doesn’t it?). So one night we were over at his girlfriend’s house, and while I was unsuccessfully trying to chat up her friend, I heard over the radio that was on in the room that The Cars were going to be playing at the CNE Grandstand … and it was WHILE we were in Toronto! Needless to say, I immediately starting bugging my friend to go to the concert with me, which he unenthusiastically agreed to do.

So fast forward to the night of the concert. We got on the bus to the CNE, and after about 20 minutes my friend says, “I think we are going the wrong way.” So he asked the bus driver, and indeed we were going the wrong way. Fortunately, we made it to the CNE while Wang Chung were still on stage. I heard them play “Dance Hall Days” and they sounded great, but I was really only interested in seeing The Cars perform.

So, after what seemed like a LONG intermission … the lights went down, and the crowd started to roar … and then I heard “Hello…hello again!” And I was up on my feet and I didn’t sit down until the lights went back up. I had seen a few concerts in Dartmouth, but nothing of this magnitude. The stage layout was so futuristic with all of the TV screens playing exotic-looking videos. And song after song that I had played on my record player so many times … “Let’s Go” … “Cruiser” … “Just What I Needed” … and on and on. But the two songs that REALLY blew me away were “Good Times Roll” and “It’s Not the Night.” I was not expecting “Good Times Roll” to have such a cranked-up guitar sound, and as much as I liked the album version, I LOVED the live rendition. “It’s Not the Night” was just plain amazing, with all of the layered synthesizers and Ben’s incredible vocals. It really gave me chills.

This was my first outdoor concert, and the beautiful weather and the excellent acoustics of the CNE made it a truly sublime experience. To this day, it remains my all-time favourite concert.

And my friend? TOTALLY indifferent. Sat for the entire concert and said afterward that he found it boring. Like I said, we really were an odd couple. After we got home, we basically stopped talking to each other, which was probably for the best, as he started to associate with some rather unsavoury characters.

And my best friend’s girlfriend’s friend? Turned out that she liked my best friend’s little brother. Just like in a Cars song.

Oh man, I can just feel his heart start to race when he heard those opening lyrics, can’t you? I love that he shared his memories with us! And from his account we can determine that the set list that night did vary a bit. Good to know!

Okay… so the first cool thing. According to one review (from The Toronto Star, August 9, 1984, pictured below), there were only about 8,000 people in attendance. Interestingly, one of those people was none other than the actor, Rob Lowe!

Now, you all know who Rob Lowe is, right? Having made his acting debut at the age of fifteen in a short-lived sitcom in 1979, Rob burst into the 80s movie scene in the coming-of-age classic, The Outsiders. From there it was silver-screen sailing, as he starred in one Brat Pack classic after another, establishing himself as a teen idol and relentless heartthrob. A sex tape scandal in 1988 knocked his reputation for a loop for a bit, but he continued to work steadily, and in the 2000s, he reclaimed his status as an acting force to be reckoned with (and still just as handsome as ever!) on the set of The West Wing and beyond.

Well, rumor has it that Rob was a big fan of The Cars during his high school days. He’s alluded to it himself on Twitter, and actress Melissa Gilbert (among others) has reminisced about driving around and listening to The Cars with Rob. Coincidentally, The Cars used a little snippet of Rob’s appearance on Andy Warhol’s TV in their mini-documentary about the making of the video for “Hello Again.” Check it here at 1:50. Anyway, in 1984 Rob was in Toronto filming Youngblood with co-stars Patrick Swayze and Cynthia Gibb. On the night of the Cars’s show at the CNE Grandstand, photographers spotted him in the crowd enjoying himself. Awesome! I wonder if he got to visit backstage and meet the band?

Oh, and if you needed to see that photo of Ben from the article a little clearer… here it is. It’s very similar to the one by Philip Kamin in the Peter Goddard book; the one that Kurt Gaber uses for the memorial shirts. What a stunner!

1984 by John Mahler
In Toronto, 1984. Photo by John Mahler.

Now the second cool thing.

While The Cars were in the Toronto area, they were presented with an award for selling over 200,000 units of Heartbeat City — also known as ‘going double platinum’. A little blurb about it was printed in RPM Weekly on September 22, 1984, with a bit of a grainy photo. Luckily Louise Potts posted a clearer version of the picture on Facebook.

RPM Weekly
REM Weekly, September 22, 1984
1984 toronto double platinum
“Double platinum for Heartbeat City to The Cars at CNE Grandstand from WEA’s Larry Green, Kim Cooke, Randy Sharrard, Garry Newman and Roger Desjardins.” – RPM Weekly, September 22, 1984. Photo courtesy of Louise Potts.

Isn’t that great? I love when these little puzzle pieces fit together, and what a treat to get a glimpse of the other commitments that filled the band’s time while they were on the road. The obsession continues!

(Oh, and here’s an extra little factoid: Greg’s double platinum award sold at auction in March of 2019 for $400. Wowza!)

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10 thoughts on “Cool Happenings at the CNE

  1. Thank you Donna, really enjoyed this, but not the lukewarm review! Plaintive Ben!!

    I too couldn’t open this page from your email, I had to use my password. Some little glitch?
    Anyway all good now.

    Something else Donna. Someone posted (on one of the Ben Facebook pages) part of this interview of Ric Ocasek by Tom Lanham, Magnet Magazine, 2005, I looked it up and have the full interview, if you are interested I will post it in this REPLY section – just thought you might be interested.
    It is wonderful to know that Ric visited Ben just before the end, but it is also heartbreakingly sad, as you will see. But also Ric’s true nature really comes through and he confirms he didn’t want the band to reform.

    Anyway, if you want me to send it to you, let me know,

    Patricia x

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Yes, I found the link, too! I’m sure we both searched it out immediately. ❤ I posted it on my Facebook page and it sparked lots of discussion about the history of Ric and Ben's relationship. I am so curious about all of the ins and outs of those shrouded years, but really, all I care about is that the men died at peace with one another. ❤

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Great donna, I did have an inkling you may already have had it. And yes, so pleased, especially for Ben, anything to ease that horrific time for him, but unlike your journey, I find it very hard to ‘warm’ towards Ric, however he was very empathic towards Ben and that did allow a little flicker of warmth in his direction!
        But re Benjamin, wasn’t it wonderful to learn that Benjamin, his 5 yrs. old son was with him. xx

        Liked by 3 people

  2. Late yesterday, I got a group of Word Press emails showing “recent activity.” Yours popped up with this article as the subject, BUT the body of the email said “password protected.” !!!!!! I knew it was probably because you had scheduled it for publication at some later time, & I’ve been dying for it ever since. Great article! Loved Doug Parsons’ story, too ❤

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Ugh — sorry about that! LOL I wanted Doug to be able to read it before I published it. I forgot that WP would show it as ‘published.’ I need to find a better way. I’m so glad you like the article! It was so great of Doug to share his memories with us! ❤

      Liked by 3 people

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