It reminds me of him.

It surrounds me, ooh, like a sea of madness
It controls me, makes me do all the things I do for you
On my mind babe, thinkin’ about you now
And I don’t know if I’ll make it through the night

I think I’m in love and my life’s lookin’ up
I think I’m in love ’cause I can’t get enough

— Eddie Money, “Think I’m In Love”

Rest in peace, Eddie Money.

It reminds me of him.

“I don’t know what it is you’ve got but it’s plain enough to see

Whatever it is it sure means a lot to me, oh yeah

I try to turn and walk away but it does no good, I’ve got to stay

This feeling that you give won’t let me be, oh no

You’ve really got a hold on me, yeah, yeah

I can’t live without your love…

I don’t know what it is you give but I can’t live without your love”

–Michael Bolotin (aka Michael Bolton), “Without Your Love” performed by Blackjack

The Michael Stanley ~ Benjamin Orr Connection

All of Cleveland was thrown into mourning with the recent death of local icon Michael Stanley. He passed away on March 5, 2021, after a seven-month battle with lung cancer.

michael
Image retrieved from the WMMS Cleveland Facebook page.

As a relentless rocker and a longstanding popular radio DJ, Stanley embodied all the dreams and passions of the people in his beloved hometown. He loved them, and they loved him. Author and music critic Holly Gleason wrote of Michael on variety.com, “He’d been produced by the biggest rock producers of the day in Don Gehman, Mutt Lange and Bill Szymczyk … and toured with the Eagles, REO Speedwagon, Fleetwood Mac. Living the rarest air of rock ‘n’ roll without ever forgetting the folks in Cleveland, he was ours.”

I’m afraid I am not well-versed on Michael’s extensive discography, but I definitely know his name. In fact, I had really hoped to meet him when I was in Cleveland in 2019 with Joe Milliken promoting Let’s Go!, but it didn’t work out. The familiarity for me came through Michael’s connection to Benjamin Orr. Born only 6 months apart, it seems like the two had the potential to be pretty deep friends. They had so much in common: they were both hardworking musicians, native sons of Cleveland; kindhearted, loyal, and generous with their time and talent.  It’s no surprise, then, that they collaborated on some very cool projects for their hometown.

  • The first one that I know of is the Cleveland C.A.R.E. project. Inspired by the groundbreaking record “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” released at the end of 1984, radio executive John Gorman and media personality Denny Sanders (both legends in Cleveland) secured a roster of dozens of all-star Cleveland artists to create their own charity single. In addition to supporting the efforts to wipe out famine in Ethiopia, profits from the project would benefit the local food banks, too. They tapped Michael Stanley to write a song suited to all those voices, booked nearly two weeks of studio time in April of 1985, and hit the record stores in November with “The Eyes Of The Children.” Benjamin shows up in the music video at 0:58, with Michael right after him. This video also has an interview segment featuring Ben starting at 3:33.
  • From what I understand, sometime between 1987 and 1991, while Michael was co-hosting Cleveland’s evening program PM Magazine (later called Cleveland Tonight), Michael interviewed Ben. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the footage of that will surface for us to enjoy.
  • Michael and Ben crossed paths again for another Cleveland project some years later. The city’s football team, the Cleveland Browns, went dormant for a few years in the late 90s. When they were ready to get back in the game (literally) in 1998, Michael wrote “Here We Go Again” to celebrate their return, and recruited a pile of big names to perform on the recording and appear in the video for it. In the clip below, the first singer’s face we see is Michael’s, and he’s rocking the stage starting at 2:57. Of course, Ben, who seems to have been a devoted fan, was right there in the thick of it. You can see him in the music video at 2:43, 2:53, and 4:15.
  • When Benjamin passed away on October 3, 2000, Michael felt the loss. The very next night, during his concert at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on October 4, Michael paid tribute to Ben by sharing some fond memories, and then he dedicated a poignant acoustic ballad to him. Thanks to MS fan and historian Dave Wade, we have the honor of seeing this touching moment. You may want to grab a Kleenex.
  • Only a few short weeks later, on November 10, 2000, Michael would emcee Ben’s memorial celebration at the Hall, opening and closing the service for the family.

I like to think that Ben and Michael formed a solid friendship, bonding over music, the highs and the lows of the business, and over their mutual love and loyalty for Cleveland. I hope, too, that they are now rocking together in heaven.

Cleveland City Council has declared March 25th as Michael Stanley Day on what would have been his 73rd birthday. Sending a hug out to all of my grieving Cleveland friends. ❤

It reminds me of him.

If Ben Orr was a teen television star…

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Edd Byrnes, circa 1959. Image retrieved from Pinterest.

Recently, one of my sweet-talking friends thanked me by saying, “Baby, you’re the ginchiest!” Curious about a phrase I had never heard before, I had to go look it up. I’m so glad I did: According to the Urban Dictionary, ‘ginchiest’ means groovy, happenin’, kick-ass, or rockin’; “the pinnacle of cool.” What a great compliment!

The term was coined by the late Edd Byrnes who played heartthrob Kookie (pronounced ‘coo-key,’ not like cookie) in the 1950s television program, “77 Sunset Strip.” Anybody remember that show? It was on the air from 1958 to 1964, coming to an end about the time that Benjamin was climbing the ladder of local celebrity with The Grasshoppers in Cleveland.

Wikipedia does a great job of illuminating Edd Byrnes’ character:

The ‘breakout’ character, who had not been included in the pilot film, was Gerald Lloyd “Kookie” Kookson III (Edd Byrnes), the rock and roll-loving, wisecracking, hair-combing hipster and aspiring PI who initially worked as the valet parking attendant at Dino’s, the club next door to the detectives’ office. “Kookie” often found a way to get involved in the firm’s cases, and was eventually made a full partner in the firm with his own office.

The Kookie character became a cultural phenomenon, with his slang expressions such as “ginchy” (cool) and “piling up Zs” (sleeping). When Kookie helped the detectives on a case by singing a song, Edd Byrnes began a singing career with the novelty single, “Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb),” based on his frequent combing of his hair… Kookie was also used to provide product placement for Harley-Davidson, appearing on their Topper motor scooter in the show and in Harley-Davidson advertisements.

I had a lot of fun going down this little rabbit hole, searching for information and videos about the show. The more I watched, the more my mind could imagine Ben being such a character. My 15yo son went along for the ride, and he digs Kookie, too! We quote this clip all the time:

“And another cool cat bit the dust.”

Now, is it just me? Or do you think that Benjamin could have played that role to a T?

Check out Edd Byrnes and Connie Stevens performing “Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb)” on the Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show hosted by Dick Clark on April 4, 1959:

Swoon! Haha! I’m addicted. “You’re the maximum utmost!” ❤

It reminds me of him.

65b03df91b0946d0780aa301d720d47f“Marge Violette was bewitched by Scott, but she wasn’t in love with him; she soon realized that he would be emotionally dangerous. He was clearly not a one-woman man. Scott never promised fidelity and she never expected it. He would go off to his townhouse in Honolulu often. She had no illusions that he wasn’t dating other women. She simply enjoyed watching him, listening to him, hearing him play ‘Blackbird’ on his guitar. She studied his face in the firelight the way someone might watch a completely handsome actor in a movie. He was like quicksilver, impossible to trap or to hold.”

— Ann Rule, The End of the Dream

Celebrating Ben today.

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Photo credit: George Shuba

Hello friends! This weekend I am hosting a social media event on Facebook where I’ve invited friends and Ben fans to come and share music, videos, photos, and graphics to honor Ben on the 20th anniversary of his passing. I know not everybody has Facebook, so I’m creating a special page here on my blog where I’ll add the unique things I am sharing over there.

If you look to the left you should see the heading for Pages, and right underneath that there is a link for #CelebratingBenjaminOrr. That’s where everything will be. I’ll keep adding to it over the weekend as I add to the Facebook event to keep everyone in the loop as best as I can.

Feel free to share in the comments what you’re doing today to remember Ben. I’m very grateful that we can all celebrate him together in this small way. ❤

#CelebratingBenjaminOrr

#CelebratingBenjaminOrr

These next four weeks are going to be pretty special for me, and for all of Benjamin Orr’s fans. 

Between September 8 (Ben’s birthday) and October 4 (the day after his passing), I’ve got a variety of surprises in store to honor Ben’s legacy and to celebrate what an amazing person he was, including new photos, new video footage, and a fun give-away. Stay tuned!

Photo below: courtesy of Jeff Carlisi; shared with permission.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Carlisi; shared with permission.

The Final Interview

I’m not sure of the exact date, but this week marks the 20th anniversary of The Cars’ final interview.

From what I understand, Ben flew right from this interview in Atlanta, Georgia, to Palmer, Alaska, for his last performance, playing the August 25th show at the Alaska State Fair. If that’s the case, it is reasonable to assume that he flew out of Atlanta late on the 23rd and arrived on the 24th, allowing time to rest and prepare for their gig. It’s also possible that they did the interview on the 24th and then flew out that day; I’m just not sure.

Here are some things I do know:

  • The interview took place at Turner Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, where Ben was living with Julie Snider.
  • Well-known Boston writer Brett Milano moderated the event. 
  • Jeff Carlisi, Ben’s Big People band mate, was there at Ben’s request.
  • The footage was released on October 24, 2000, exactly three weeks after Ben’s death, by Rhino Home Video. It was a special feature on a DVD called The Cars Live. 
  • This reunion was the first time the members of The Cars had assembled in over a decade. 

full band final interview cleveland browns david ric ben elliot gregAs told in Joe Milliken’s book, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars, everyone went out to dinner together the night before the interview and spent time reconnecting. Although David, Greg, Ric, and Elliot were all aware that Ben was sick before they arrived, each of them has since expressed that they were taken off guard when they first saw him, having to face the finality of the devastating progression of his illness. Still, the men fell back into step and determined to keep things light and positive. 

The fact that they were all together again touched a deep chord in the hearts of Cars fans. These five men had labored together to reach the highest heights of fame and fortune only to have their brotherly bond disintegrate. But this reunion brought peace. By all public accounts, amends were made.  

I mentioned that this interview was included on The Cars Live. That DVD is the official release of  The Cars’ performance for Germany’s pop music show, Musikladen (recorded in November of 1978 and aired in 1979). It is apparent that the band members watched that concert before the camera started rolling, as Milano opens by asking them how it felt to see that show 22 years later. Greg jumps in and the conversation starts rolling.

The guys cover some varied ground in the nearly 50 minutes of discussion. They talk about that European experience in 1978, go through the band’s history and early days, and reminisce on owning their own studio. They laugh over cover songs they used to do and share what they are most proud of when they look back at their time with The Cars. There are some obvious edits to the footage which leave you hanging a bit, most notably at 33:26, when I wish we could hear more of Ben’s thoughts on the duality of his life as a rock star vs. a regular guy.

Their interplay seems very much the way it always used to be, with Ric doing the lion’s share of the talking and Elliot right behind. David and Greg add their funny quips and Ben is largely silent, just like the old days. Ben’s illness does cast a pall, though, as you can see that he is very frail and tired. Still, he is attentive and involved, and chimes in when he wants to, and from time to time he flashes that gorgeous smile.  

I know this can be really, really hard to watch, as Benjamin is so physically altered, but I wanted to honor this important event in his history and in the history of The Cars.

One fan left a comment on YouTube sharing that she listened to the interview with earbuds while doing chores and she was better able to focus on the content of the discussion. I think that is a terrific idea for those that can’t get past the visual change in Ben. 

But let me also encourage you. Ben was strong right up to the end. He wanted things to continue on as normally as possible, until they couldn’t anymore. He didn’t want special treatment, he didn’t complain, he never faltered. He wasn’t ashamed of his appearance, he didn’t even fully conceal his eyes. He didn’t hide in the shadows. He desired peace, and he desired to give pleasure to his fans.

Though his body is ravaged, the strength of his incredible spirit shines beautifully in this final interview. I hope you can embrace it, too. ❤


A side note about Ben’s final performance:

I learned this past winter that there was a discrepancy over the date of the last show Ben performed. Joe Milliken and I wrote this clarification for the Let’s Go! Facebook page and published it on January 3, 2020.

On October 5, 2000, ABC News published an obituary for Ben that, among other details, claimed that he played his last show with Big People on September 27, 2000, in Alaska, less than a week before he passed away. Various other media outlets also picked up that information and it has been widely circulated – and relied upon by Ben/Cars’ fans – ever since.

Unfortunately, it recently came to our attention that this information is not accurate. Big People was actually booked to play at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, Alaska, on August 25, 2000, not in late September. We have since clarified with Big People band member, Jeff Carlisi, that Ben’s last performance was indeed on that August 25 date. He also added that Big People did play one more show on September 27, however, it was in Texas and Ben was not there. It was the only show that he missed, which is indicated in the book.

Although we surely want to bring this correct information to light, we are also distressed, as pieces of the narrative in “Let’s Go!” relied upon the previously circulated news information, along with individual interviews, to describe Ben’s last days, including anchoring the date of his final interview with The Cars. We are continuing to flesh out more accurate details, and will also be working with our publisher to see what corrections can be made to the book moving forward.

We appreciate everyone’s understanding and of course, we continue to strive towards ultimately painting the clearest and most accurate picture of Ben’s amazing life. ~ Joe and Donna

In other words:

ben and liberty
Liberty and Ben, July, 1999

“A man’s man, Ben smoked Marlboro cigarettes, drank alcohol, drove a four-wheel-drive SUV, and chopped wood at his house in the mountains of Vermont. But when he went on stage in his black leather pants, brightly colored shirt, long black trench coat, and black cowboy boots, he drove the ladies wild. I’d look out into the crowd when we played ‘Drive’ and watch all the women smile at Ben, hanging on to every word he was singing.” — Liberty DeVitto, 2020, Liberty: Life, Billy, and the Pursuit of Happiness