In other words:

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Photo courtesy of Doniell Rossi, used with permission.

“When I was told by Ginny Mayer before a gig that Benny had terminal cancer, I just couldn’t believe it. In fact, it took a while for me to be able to even comprehend it. Benny left us way too soon, but I will tell you this right now, he loved life and lived every single day to the fullest.” — Dante Rossi, fellow Cleveland musician of The Baskerville Hounds, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars, page 184

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Boston in Pictures

Boston in Pictures

Here’s my photo journal of my time in Boston celebrating “Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars.” The event itself was a sold-out-smash filled with rocking music, incredible surprises, and a guest list that sent me over the moon. Surrounding that, I had the time of my life in the same city where my Benjamin lived and worked.

I admit to siphoning photos from my friends’ Facebook posts. I hope no one minds! I was too hyper and/or forgetful to capture all I wanted. Photographers include Joe Milliken, Natalie Gaber, Kurt Gaber, David Curry, Eric Barao, Ralph Fatello, Peter Van Ness, Denise Fields, Christine Coughlin, and Mike Baratta. I appreciate you all!

Okay… here we go!

01

Leaving for the airport Wednesday night, my daughter Liz surprised me with some encouraging words and sage advice. Oh, and snacks, too. Such a sweet kiddo!!

On my way to the airport I stopped to pick up my new business cards, featuring a great design by @night_spots. I love them!

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Arrived Thursday morning, got my rental car and made my way to the hotel, where I was able to check in early. First thing I did? Got Turbocharge plugged into the big screen and mourned the fact that one of my heroes, David Juskow, wasn’t coming to Boston. I also found out that I was going to miss seeing my dear friend, Dante Tomaselli. I had to take a few minutes to absorb those disappointments. I showered, changed my outfit, and painted my toenails before meeting my dear friend, Nicole, for the first time! I wish I had snapped a photo of us when we first met; we were both so very excited! We talked a mile a minute and had to explain to the waitress why we still hadn’t decided on our orders when she came by for the umpteenth time.

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L-R: Joe Milliken, me, and Nicole Wong

After a brief but tasty lunch and chick chat, I headed back to the hotel to meet Joe, and then guess what? Nicole treated me and Joe to an elegant dinner at The Top of the Hub! What an amazing time we had! The conversation just flowed as we talked about Boston, the book, and the pros and cons of letting our kids play sports. We missed out on most of the view as it was very foggy outside, but we hardly cared, we were enjoying each other so much. The one blemish on the evening was that Nicole’s love, Mike, couldn’t come due to an unexpected meeting at work. Fortunately, I knew I would finally get to meet him on Saturday night.

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L-R: Eric Green, Joe, and me

Fat and sassy from our scrumptious dinner with Nicole, Joe and I met filmmaker Eric Green (writer and director of the documentary Live on the V: The Story of V66) at The Pour House for drinks and an interview for Eric’s pop culture blog. It was an honor for me to hang out with him, and we all had a blast! We chatted for a bit, recorded the interview between him and Joe, and then chatted some more. He is so interesting, intelligent, and funny, I felt like I could have talked to him forever.

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Friday morning was busy with visiting and prep, but in the early afternoon Joe and I were able to find the former location of The Rat (before determining that we were at the wrong location for dinner with Judith Orr. Haha! Luckily she wanted to change restaurants anyway, so it all worked out.). As you see, I’m wearing my red pants in honor of Ben.

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Inside Eastern Standard

Inside the Eastern Standard there is a very cool poster commemorating the former Rat venue. It was a surreal feeling to be standing on the ground where so much rock-and-roll history took place.

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L-R: Me, Judith Orr, and Joe

Joe and I enjoyed a yummy dinner at Bertucci’s on Friday night with beautiful Jude and her sweet friend, Christine. We shared stories and laughs and lots of huckleberry taffy, and it was really a precious time for me. I like Judith SO much; she’s hilarious and open, and such a happy person. I had hoped to get together with her at least one more time before I left but aside from seeing her at the book event, I wasn’t able to meet up with her again; time just got away from me. She lives in my timezone, though, so I’m optimistic we’ll see each other before too long.

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L-R: Joe, me, Alan Fields, Dave Curry, and Kurt Gaber

After dinner we headed back to the hotel in time to catch the screening of Turbocharge with this group of crazy kids! I never get tired of watching this hilarious film. I couldn’t help but miss David Juskow, though; he had been wavering on whether to come to Boston to join us for the weekend but in the end, he just wasn’t able to make it. Still, our little group had a great time hanging out together (Alan’s wife, Denise, was there, too; she took the pic for us).

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Me and Dave… oh, and the Marriott dudes.

Thank goodness my podcast partner-in-crime and I met for coffee in the mornings so we could make time to act like ding dongs. Dave and I found ourselves going separate ways much of the weekend so it was great to have that daily check-in. I am eternally grateful for our easy, funny, relaxed friendship. I don’t know what I’d do without him! 

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On Saturday morning during coffee, Dave invited me to head to Rockport with him, Kurt, and Natalie, and I convinced Joe to come, too. I’m so glad we went! Here I am outside of David Robinson’s shop. We parked nearby but the place was closed when we walked past, darn it! Oh well. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I was eager to explore the area and see what Rockport was all about.

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Boats aplenty at Rockport Harbor!

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Lots of cute art galleries, jewelry shops, candlemakers… and a stinky lobster place! Haha!

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Stopped to enjoy the street action with Olive and Ash, the ‘brother and sister Juggle Crew.’ Heck yeah! I have a soft spot in my heart for kids who take the initiative and put effort into carving their path.

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The view of the Atlantic Ocean from Bearskin Neck.

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The view of Back Harbor.

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Natalie Gaber and me

Perfect day! Kurt’s wife, Natalie, is an absolute treasure. She’s so patient with all of us Cars fans and always has her camera snapping away for us. She’s witty and observant, and so very kind! It was a treat to hang out and do some casual shopping with this sweet, quiet, lovely lady.

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Rockport is such an adorable little town. We walked out to Bear’s Neck and back, grabbing some yummy ice cream on our return stroll. Mine was chocolate peanut butter. Mmmm!

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L-R: Kurt, Joe, me, and Dave

There’s just never enough time to spend, you know? But I am so grateful… It’s amazing to me that I have actually met these amazing friends in person, and on multiple occasions! I truly love these guys (and Nat, too, who is behind the camera!).

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Do I even need to label this? David Robinson and me. ❤

So, when we walked back toward the car and passed David Robinson’s shop, guess who was sitting out on the porch, shooting the breeze with friends? That’s riiiiiiight! THE David Robinson! Dave, Kurt, and I all tell the details of this ultra-cool turn of events on episode 55 of the NiGHT THOUGHTS podcast, but suffice it to say, I was so very happy to spend time with him. And he remembered meeting me in Cleveland! It still makes me all quivery with delight to think about it.

23
Me, David, and Joe

Though we knew beforehand that David would be coming to the book event with friends, it was great for me and Joe to confirm plans with him in person and make sure he was all set. I know Joe really enjoyed getting to connect with him, too, since it had been a few years since he interviewed David for the book.

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This is the beautiful piece I bought, a necklace handmade by David Robinson.

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A sample of David Robinson’s favorite music. Can you even imagine how cool it was to talk tunes with him like just a bunch of friends hanging out? I mean, when we first came upon him my knees were weak, but by this point I was pretty relaxed because he just put us all at ease. I don’t think it was until we were buckling in the car to head back to Peabody that the full force of happiness really hit me again.

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L-R: Dave, Joe, me, David, Natalie, and Kurt

We spent about an hour and a half enjoying David’s company. He was kind, cool, and funny, and said very nice things to us (and yes, his hands were warm!). Terrific memories with some of my favorite people in the world.

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The event poster outside of 9 Wallis. I’m pretty proud of my design, if you don’t mind me saying. I’m thankful to Joe for giving me so much creative freedom, and for my son, Nick, who pulled Ben out of that Robert Post photo for me. Since it’s about 3 feet high and on stiff signboard there was no way I could fly it home with me, but Joe’s holding mine with his. Yay!

27

Our little merch table. I love the items Joe and I put together. We’ve got a few leftover; we’ll be making them available for purchase on Facebook.

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It was an honor to have the incredibly talented Kathy Sullivan join us at the party, and we were thrilled to have her set up her fabulous artwork, including two amazing portraits of Ben… and a third one that I didn’t know about yet. I’ll definitely do a separate post about her just for this blog, but I did have the pleasure of interviewing her for an SRO article and writing an abbreviated review for my sister blog, Read~Rock~Review.

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Brett Milano and Joe Milliken

Many of you might know of Brett Milano from The Cars’ final interview in 2000, or from the liner notes he’s penned for a couple of the band’s post-heyday releases. He is also a long-time journalist and author of four music-related books, too! The moderated discussion he led with Joe to kick off the night was a nice, relaxed conversation. These two were great together! Our dear friends, The Covinos, filmed this part of the show and I’ve uploaded it to the book’s YouTube channel. Link below!

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L-R: Bob Heazlit, Matt Fuller, David Robinson, Danny Ayala, Lars Altvater, and Noah Patera

Before Moving In Stereo took the stage, I had the privilege of introducing them to David Robinson in the green room. Again, he was so low-key and funny, and took his time chatting with everyone, joking around, and wishing them luck. David’s girlfriend, Nancy, was so sweet, too. I wish I had thought to get a picture with her. As a side note, before I escorted David and Nancy back to their seats I did show them my Panorama shoes — David loved them!

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L-R: Noah, Bob, Matt, Danny, and Lars

Moving in Stereo – The Ultimate Musical Tribute to The Cars! These guys rocked the club for 75 minutes — and I do mean ROCKED. I received so many compliments from people during and after the show about the band’s performance, not just from Cars fans, but from Ben’s family and friends as well as from the other notable musicians that were in the audience. I’m so proud of our boys!

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Bob, Matt, and Danny

The whole band delivered a high-energy, tight, magnetic show!

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Powerhouse trio!

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I was totally taken off guard when Joe called me up on the stage before the band’s encore, and even more surprised when he revealed for the first time publicly how I came to be involved with the book. I’m not always aware of my facial expressions; thank goodness David Curry reminded me to SMILE.

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Joe had a special gift for me as his way of thanking me for my dedication to the book project. You can’t imagine my shock and pleasure when he presented me with a stunning portrait he had commissioned from Kathy Sullivan just for me: our beautiful Benjamin from Musikladen. My sweet friend, Nicole, was in on it, too, and knew it was coming, so she captured it on video. Check out the link at the end of this article!

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Benjamin Orr by Kathy Sullivan, 2019

Kathy Sullivan’s remarkable portrait. And see the purple wave of spirit and stars behind him? It’s a beautiful inclusion of the ‘sweetpurplejune’ connection. This treasured gift moves me every time I look at it, which is about 100 times a day.

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Nicole and me!

Me with my beautiful and treasured friend, Nicole! It was a dream come true to finally meet her face to face after nearly three years of social media connection!

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Me with Brett Milano

I was thrilled to meet and spend time with author Brett Milano, whom I have long admired. I even remembered to have him sign my copy of his book, The Sound of Our Town.

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Me with Hirsh Gardner

I’m afraid I was a little starstruck when I saw legendary drummer and producer Hirsh Gardner making his way across the venue. What a treat to meet him! And he was nice enough to rock out with me and even share his yummy drink. Haha!

40
Me with Eric Barao

I’m sure I took singer/songwriter Eric Barao by surprise when I leapt into his arms as soon as I recognized him; I was just so happy to finally meet him in person! I feel like I’ve known him forever. And what a good sport he was to bring Ric Ocasek’s jacket for me to try on! LOL

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L-R: Diane Page, Judith Orr, and Kris Orr

It was such an honor to have these three ladies in attendance: Diane Page, Judith Orr, and Kris Orr. Such precious women in Ben’s life, and so instrumental in helping Joe tell Ben’s story. I was thankful to spend time with Diane and Judith but unfortunately I didn’t get to formally meet Kris. Please excuse Kurt’s photo bomb. LOL

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L-R: Becky Broderick, Marla Blazer, Joe, me, and Kim Murphy

Hanging out with the Babaloo girls, Becky, Marla, and Kim! These ladies came from the far corners to celebrate Ben with us and I’m so thankful!

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Me with Ralph Fatello

I had the pleasure of connecting with The VINNY Band frontman Ralph Fatello during the planning stages of this event, and I went right down the rabbit hole! His music is great, his photography is stellar, and he is such a kind and gracious man. The icing? He invited a couple of his very good friends to join him and his wife to our little party, and boom! David Robinson was on the guest list! Thank you so much, Ralph!

P.S. Ralph told me after the event that the vibe and venue has inspired him to start planning for something he’s put off for far too long: A reunion of The VINNY Band! Active between 1976 and 1984, The VINNY Band was an all-original group that played extensively in Boston and New England, and toured through South America and the Caribbean. All of their recordings were produced by our very own David Robinson. Follow them on Facebook to make sure you don’t miss the details!

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Me, Joe, and Paroo Streich

It was such a delight to finally meet Paroo, and she was kind enough to share her beautiful story about her encounter with Ben. SO precious!

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Kurt and me

I’ve been social media friends with Kurt for so long I feel like I’ve known him all my life. Still shaking my head that we’ve met in person as often as we have — three times now! Just can’t decide if I think of him as my big brother or as my little brother. Haha!

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L-R: Bob, me, Matt, Joe, Danny, and Lars

We love these guys SO much! Hard-working, hard-rocking, and some of the kindest and funniest men in the business. And the BEST Cars tribute band ever! Moving In Stereo was the perfect choice to join us in celebrating Ben in Boston.

46
Joe, David Robinson, and Ralph Fatello

I was completely aware of the magnitude of this moment for Joe. Incredible. Plus I also love that David is examining Eric Barao’s new solo CD and that he has a print of Kathy Sullivan’s portrait of Ben. Ralph Fatello on the right adds even more coolness to this already epic photo.

47
Me with Peter Van Ness

So thankful Peter Van Ness, the owner of our venue, 9 Wallis, took a chance with this greenie and our little show! He rolled the dice, showed me the ropes, and kept me laughing. I think we’re both pretty happy with the results! Thank you a million times, Peter; so grateful to call you my friend!

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Me with Vicki Van Ness

Hostess-with-the-mostest, Vickie Van Ness! From crowd control to keeping track of my tab, Vickie kept everything running smoothly all night long! And I think she’s the one that invented the drink special for the night. It was called The Drive, and it was dangerously delicious!

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Joe and me

As many of you know by now, working on this book has been a life-changing experience, on so many levels. Editing, proofreading, publishing, marketing, organizing events… I’ve learned so much and had so much fun! I’ll forever be grateful to Joe for letting me in on this project, and for sharing Ben with me in a way that no one else could.

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My sense of style: Ocasek jacket and Panorama shoes. Still hyper and happy at the end of the night. It took me a few hours to come down from the adrenaline high.

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On Sunday I headed back to downtown Boston to try to capture the views that I missed on Thursday night. From the observation deck at the top of the Prudential building, there are the city blocks where they lived and worked… Ben, Ric, David, Greg, and Elliot making the music that changed my life (and many others’) forever. Boston will always have a precious place in my heart!

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So many greats have walked in and out of that school, including our own Elliot Easton and Greg Hawkes.

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The ultimate rock-and-roll hotel! Unfortunately the Cars room was occupied and I was unable to tour it, but still a very cool place, nonetheless. Next time!

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On the Verb’s wall of famous patrons….

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There’s Greg! Can you find him? I am determined to stay here at least one night in my life!

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Another Cars mention on the wall of The Verb Hotel.

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Goodbye, my beautiful Boston! I hope to see you again! ❤

A couple of extras:

Here are those YouTube videos of the book discussion and Joe presenting me with my special gift. Enjoy! ❤

And here’s the link to the podcast episode where I give more deets of the trip:

Rest in peace, Dante Rossi.

Rest in peace, Dante Rossi.

Today I woke up to the sad news that Dante Rossi passed away.

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Dante Rossi with author Joe Milliken. January, 2019.

I had the pleasure of meeting Dante in Cleveland less than six months ago, where he was hale and hearty (and very charming!) and having the time of his life. We were all gathered to celebrate the release of the book, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars. Dante played a significant role in Ben’s career back in Ohio in the 1960s, and it was fitting for him to shine in the spotlight at that event. Many of us were eager to thank him for his music, his meaningful relationship with Ben, and for coming and honoring Ben’s memory with us.

Dante was the vocalist and rhythm guitar player who originally started The Grasshoppers, securing Joe Mayer as manager and lining up a record deal for the band. When he decided to leave the group in 1964, it opened the door for Ben to audition to take Dante’s place. As we now know, Ben got the job, and the popularity, exposure, and experience of playing with The Grasshoppers were instrumental in helping Ben achieve his rock-and-roll dreams.

As for Dante, he joined up with another group of great musicians and formed The Dantes, which were renamed The Tulu Babies before ultimately settling in under the name The Baskerville Hounds. Between 1964 and 1972 the Hounds (as they were sometimes known) revelled in much local and national success, playing extensively in the greater Cleveland area and opening for such acts as The Rolling Stones and Sonny & Cher. In turn, The Baskerville Hounds had acts like The Shangri-Las, The Tree Stumps (featuring Michael Stanley) and The Grasshoppers open for them during the peak of their popularity.

The first hit for the guys was recorded in 1965 while they were still The Tulu Babies. It was called “Hurtin’ Kind” and not only was it a local smash, but it was popular in the UK as well, being covered by many British acts and even appearing in the soundtrack for the 2000 film Gangster No. 1 starring Malcolm MacDowell.

In 1967, the fame of The Baskerville Hounds continued to climb with the release of their self-titled album, which featured two singles that put them on the Billboard Hot 100 chart: “Debbie,” (#99) and “Space Rock part 2” (#60). The popularity of the latter track was reinforced when it was played so often on Cleveland’s hit television show Ghoulardi it became an unofficial theme song. The Hounds had a third song grace the Billboard chart in 1969 when they released “Hold Me” (#88).

[I’ve been listening to many of their songs today as I write this. If you’d like to explore their sound, the playlist I’ve created should help you get started.]

The band ultimately dissolved in 1972 (though there would be some reunions in later years) and Dante changed professions, opening Dante’s Barber Shop near Ben’s childhood home in Parma Heights. Dante and Ben stayed close long after Ben left Cleveland and hit it big with The Cars, and Dante was one of the speakers at Ben’s memorial service in 2000.

Dante said in Let’s Go!, “When The Cars finally got their record deal, I remember being invited to a Christmas party at Benny’s mother’s house and everyone was just so proud. Benny was thrilled; he just sparkled! All the hard work and fighting through adversity had finally paid off. Think about all the talented musicians out there that never make it, never end up being heard, but Benny had the tenacity and determination to see it through, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled for him.”

I’m so grateful I got to meet Dante in person and shake his hand; I’m thankful I got to tell him how much I appreciated all he did for Ben. It’s comforting to think that Dante and Ben may now be reunited and rocking together in their prime. May it be so.

Rest in peace, Dante Rossi.

[If you’d like to leave a note of condolence for Dante’s family, you may do so through Legacy.com.]

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L-R: Bill Emery, John Kirkpatrick, Larry Meese, Dante Rossi (seated), Doug McCutcheon, 1965.  From the Baskerville Hounds’ official website.

Main Sources:

  1. Dante Rossi’s contributions to Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars by Joe Milliken.
  2. This great interview at History of the West Park Neighborhood with Baskerville Hounds member Doug McCutcheon.
  3. The Baskerville Hounds’ official website.
  4. The band’s Wikipedia page, of course.

 

“Le Grand Chapeau”

Okay, so this is another one of my nerdy little mysteries … at least, it used to be!

I had heard this one 1987 interview on Youtube quite a while ago. It’s Ric and Ben with the late Bob Coburn on Rockline. A caller asked the guys what they do after a show, and Ben gave a rather odd and cryptic answer, which cracked Ric up, but left me baffled. Well, here… Take a listen:

Now what could he possibly mean? Surely not a literal hat, like his black bolero one from the Shake It Up days. Hmmm. Since I always chew on Ben’s words and turn them over and over in my head, his response really stood out to me but there was just no way I could figure out what in the heck he was talking about. So… I’m sure you can imagine how my eyes popped out of my head when I was reading Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars by Joe Milliken and I got to this part on page 108:

“The Cars had no drug scene. Most, as I recall, smoked cigarettes and pot, which was referred to as ‘putting on a hat’ or ‘le grand chapeau.'” ~ Stephen Bickford

Ahhhh! So that is what Ben meant! Goofy boy. He sounds so pleased with himself, too, the way he is snickering at his own joke. Hahaha!

Well, I guess we can lay that little riddle to rest.

Oh, and just to clarify, Stephen Bickford is a talented set designer who started working and traveling with The Cars around the time they were making Candy-O. He’s also the guy who (thankfully!) filmed a lot of the backstage antics that ended up in the epic The Cars: Unlocked DVD, and is credited with some great photos of Ben and the band, like this one:

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Benjamin Orr, 1982. Photo by Stephen Bickford.

In other words:

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Photo from the book Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars by Joe Milliken

“The time with Ben before and while he was ill were some of the most important, exciting, life- and spiritual-expanding moments I’ve ever shared with anyone. Ben taught us so much about life, in the way he went through the process of cancer treatment and in day-to-day life. He was also an absolutely fantastic father to his son, and loved him more than he ever loved anyone.” — Julie Snider-Mennie, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars, page 192

The Gifts of “Let’s Go”

The Gifts of “Let’s Go”

(Header photo courtesy of Natalie Gaber)

I’m groggy, lying in my bed Sunday morning. I have to check out of my hotel in half an hour but I don’t want to start a new day. How could Saturday night have flown by so quickly? Images keep flooding my mind, little snippets of conversations to replay, impressions to sort and kind words to tuck away in my heart… elements of a gift. And Ben… so much Ben in the air!

If I could just turn back the clock and experience the night of January 12 all over again.

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Photo courtesy of Joe Milliken.

Admittedly, I almost get off on the wrong foot. I take a few wrong turns trying to get to the venue and I’m about 15 minutes late; it is a relief to finally see the shining logo of the Music Box Supper Club beckoning me in the dusk. I whisper, “Okay Ben, here we go,” as I give a little tug on my memorial pendant.

From the minute I pull into the valet lot my mind is going over the to-do list: scope out the concert hall, find the production team, preview the slideshow, time cues, guest list adjustments… Heading up the stairs and ah, there’s Joe! Yay, Neil and Diane are here! Hugs all around. Wait, where is David Spero? On his way? Got it.

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Joe, Donna, Lars, and Matt. Photo courtesy of Matt Fuller.

The guys from Moving In Stereo are here, too! I make sure to give Matt Fuller, the bassist and co-vocalist for the band, an extra-tight hug. I am so grateful for all he did to connect us with Colleen, the owner of the venue, and to secure the gig for tonight. He’s been on board since the first hint of the event and was invaluable in my planning. I am introduced to drummer Bryan Beyer and keyboardist Joshua Hartman who are both filling in tonight. Noah Patera is unable to be here on his drums, but it turns out that Lars Altvater’s prior commitment has been cancelled. Rather than pull Josh off the keys, though, Lars chooses to spend the evening taking photographs and mingling. Like the other members of the band, Lars is the definition of class and professionalism. Rhythm guitarist and co-vocalist Danny Ayala and lead guitarist Bob Heazlit greet us with huge smiles and hearty hugs, too. I am so happy to see these talented men again!

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Photo courtesy of Joe Milliken.

Leaving the band to finish their dinners, Joe and I go check out the concert hall. The space is terrific: a nice-sized stage with plenty of room for the video to be shown on both the left and right of it. Tables fan out into the large seating area, and a well-equipped bar is conveniently off to the right. The servers are bustling around getting ready for their night as we preview the video setup — it’s excellent!

Ah, here’s David Spero. Okay, up on the stage, figuring out logistics. I see people are starting to trickle in. Do I know them? Are they from the Fanorama? But I don’t want to be awkward and stare, and oh yes, I need to grab drinks for Joe and David, find a portable mike for the Q&A session, and figure out where the Mac’s Backs Books rep is going to set up — oh hey, she’s here and has it all under control. I should have known. Suzanne from Mac’s Backs Books has these events down to a science and is a joy to work with. Perfect!

Before I know it the place is filling up. I’m so giddy to greet my beloved friends and to make connections with others I’ve only known in text. Lots of hugs and happiness everywhere; the place is crackling with energy. And it’s already time to pull Joe from the foyer where he’s been signing books and get him to his position on the stage. But first… the green room. We need to refocus. I give Joe a minute of quiet to breathe, to settle down and plant his feet. We both need it, actually.

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Photo by Michael Kenny.

Now I cue the production guys, the house lights go down, and David Spero welcomes the guests. The video plays off perfectly and Ben’s presence fills the room. We see him grow from infant to teen to rock star, moving through the success and difficulty in his life, his unmistakable charisma intact. I can’t help but seek out the faces of those who knew Ben best to catch their reactions; my heart swells as I see their approval and happiness. I feel like creating this tribute with photos and music is one of the gifts I offer for the event and I am thankful it seems well received.

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David Spero and Joe. Photo courtesy of Becky Broderick.

People continue to arrive as David introduces Joe and the two begin their talk like old buddies. All eyes are on them. The first of two of ‘the most beautiful moments of the night’ happens when David asks Ben’s former bandmates to stand and be recognized. A handful of men rise from around the room, and the crowd answers with hearty applause. Joe makes sure to mention Chris Kamburoff (Mixed Emotions) by name, who couldn’t be here because of health issues, and encourages Chris’s son, Ashton, to stand in his father’s place. More applause… and tears, too. Precious.

We take a few questions from the audience but the time has evaporated and I give David Spero the ‘five minutes’ signal. He wraps it up like a pro, and it’s time for me to escort Joe back out to the foyer. As we wind our way through the crowd people are shaking Joe’s hand, clapping him on the back, congratulating him. His smile is huge. Moving In Stereo is taking command of the stage and the slideshow is playing again for those who missed it as we make our way out to the table, where a line of people are already waiting for a signature.

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Moving In Stereo takes the stage. Photo courtesy of Linda Strong Beyer

I wish I could be in two places at once, both sitting beside Joe hearing all of the amazing Benjamin stories people are sharing with him as he signs their books and poses for pictures, and simultaneously rocking out near the stage to the pulsing sounds of the greatest Cars tribute band ever. Instead I go back and forth between Joe in the foyer and the guests in the concert hall, trying to greet everyone without being a creeper… I just want to hug each one and tell them how grateful I am that they came and that they have made my night so special just by showing up.

Throughout the evening I witness so many ways that this show has brought people together. I overhear happy exclamations of, “Hey man! It’s so great to see you again!”, observe pockets of social media friends meeting and hugging, am asked to take group photos of tablemates. Two Cleveland radio legends carve out time for a chat and an interview together. Fans stop me to ask about my Benjamin Orr t-shirt, and I am able to lead them right to the artist in the audience. The grandson of one of Ben’s early friends is a fledgling guitar player, and after the show I take him to meet the members of Moving In Stereo, where they talk about Les Pauls and check out the view from the stage. And I have the privilege of meeting people who read my blog or listen to the podcast and hear their words of encouragement. It is all so dear to me!

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Me with Joe Kurilec of the Mixed Emotions. Photo courtesy of Joe Milliken.

I am also fortunate to encounter people who are important bricks in the tower of Cleveland rock history: Harry Harwat, Dante Rossi, Wayne Weston, Joe Kurilec, John Gardina, David Spero… ordinary looking people that you might pass on the street, but who played such foundational roles in Benjamin’s success, and I know that this night is also for them; it is about their legacy, too. I’m honored to have them sign my copy of the book.

And the band… THE BAND! I catch snippets of songs as I’m moving about, enjoying my favorites like “Let’s Go.” “Gimme Some Slack,” and “It’s All I Can Do.”  From time to time I stop at the table where my dear friends Kurt, Nat, and Dave are, and we look at each other and gush, “these guys ROCK!” but I don’t really get a chance to focus on the show until a bit later when Joe has a break in the autograph action and he’s able to come join the party. We rock out to “Good Times Roll” and “Just What I Needed” and people are dancing and singing along and the room is packed… it’s so awesome! Even with two stand-ins the music is so tight and true and my adrenaline soars even higher.

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John Gardina plays “Drive.” Photo courtesy of Becky Broderick.

Toward the end of the band’s hour-and-a-half set, the second of ‘the two most beautiful moments of the night’ takes place. One of Ben’s former bandmates, Mixed Emotions bassist John “Johnny Joe” Gardina, has come to the event. It takes some persuading, but he is finally convinced to join Moving In Stereo onstage for an encore performance of “Drive.” It’s so touching to see the smile on the face of this talented and humble man as he picks out the bassline to one of the most memorable songs Benjamin Orr ever sang. The way he stands toward the back like Ben used to, and how he adds his own flair to the melody, and shyly accepts the cheers of the crowd… All these little things reflect how much Johnny Joe loves and honors Ben.  It is both tender and badass at once, and a highly fitting way to end the night.

Now maybe you already know this about me: I’m not a professional publicist. I am a homeschooling mom with four kids and I’m a bit of an organizational freak, so while I know how to boss people around and get things done, I’ve never put together a shindig this big. Joe took quite a gamble, placing the responsibility of this event in my hands. And I know this night is not about me, not in the slightest. But I gotta tell you, as I look around at about 300 people partying over Ben and the book, I feel pretty proud of myself. No catastrophes, no resorting to Plan Bs, no disappointments, and Joe is rosy-cheeked with happiness. A definite success.

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Me with author Deanna Adams. Photo courtesy of Joe Milliken.

The cherry on top? One of my writing heroes, accomplished Cleveland author Deanna Adams, is in attendance, and when I meet her she praises me loudly for all the work I’ve done promoting Let’s Go!, and she announces that she wants me to be the public relations coordinator for her next book. I won’t hold her to that second part of it, but I take it as a very sweet and meaningful compliment, and I feel it deeply.

The lights come up but the connections continue. More introductions are made, hellos and goodbyes, group photos. My voice is a bit hoarse, but I can’t stop smiling. It’s all been so lovely! As Joe and I prepared for this night, I kept telling him, “Don’t be nervous. These people just want to party with you. You’ve already given them your gift.” And now I realize, as I run my fingers over my Benjamin Orr memorial pendant (as I’ve done so often this evening), that this party itself was full of gifts, too, that every attendee generously gave to us.

2019… What more could there be?

2019… What more could there be?

Two thousand eighteen has been SO good to Cars fans! Can you believe these delights?

The band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ♥ The Cars playing together again live ♥ new interviews and memories shared by all four of the guys ♥ the release of two more expanded editions with their yummy bonus material ♥ vintage audio unearthed from The Grasshoppers, Mixed Emotions, Richard and The Rabbits and Cap’n Swing ♥ the publication of Joe Milliken’s biography of Benjamin Orr ♥ a whole crop of unique photos surfacing from fans and rock photographers…

WOW! It just seems like the whole year has been a big pile of gifts for us to unwrap, one at a time!

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And then for me, on a personal level, there is this whole other layer… a thick flannel blanket of memories I keep wrapping around myself:

Being invited to partner with Joe on the publication of his book ♥ driving into Cleveland for the first time ♥ bawling my eyes out after the induction ceremony ♥ David Robinson’s warm hands holding mine ♥ getting to hug SO many Fanorama friends (without using emojis!) ♥  having Greg Hawkes call my house in preparation for our podcast ♥ the shock of seeing my writing on big-screen display at the Rock Hall’s Foster Theater ♥ connecting with all of the wonderful people I’ve met this year ♥ finally getting to view Turbocharge ♥ being published in Rock Cellar Magazine

You guys, I feel like the list might never end. I’m so unbelievably grateful!

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After all that … is there anything left? Can anything possibly compare to 2018: The Year of The Cars?

To be honest, in some ways I do think these past twelve months were the pinnacle. I believe the curtain has closed with a gentle swoosh on our boys. I mean, I have to face the fact that there will likely be no new material from The Cars, and probably not from Ric as a solo artist, either. And no more live performances as a group. Though I am disappointed, I am not shaking my fist at the sky… I mean, these guys had a great run. A GREAT run! How can I begrudge them riding off into the sunset after all they’ve done?

However, they still leave their legacy for us and the generations to come, and I do believe there is still more to be revealed.

So what hope do we have for excitement in 2019?

Some sure things:

  1. We know we will still have the joy of hearing Elliot play. His current band, The Empty Hearts, is working on a second album, and I am optimistic that it will be released in the coming months. Always a busy man, Elliot seems to show up on a variety of stages, playing charity shows and jamming with friends. He also mentioned that he will be starting up a Youtube channel  in the coming months. How cool is that?
  2. Greg, too, continues to delight us with his musical talents. He has been having a blast touring with Todd Rundgren during the last year, and will continue to play with him through the months of 2019 as Todd embarks on an author event/concert series to promote his new book, The Individualist – Digressions, Dreams & Dissertations. I believe that Greg will record another episode of Night Thoughts, too. Can’t wait!

Fingers crossed for:

  1. Expanded editions of Door to Door  and  Move Like This. The odds are not in my favor on that, I know. The general feeling is that the band has exhausted its store of extras, but I can’t help but hope that when Ric takes a break from his art he’ll go through that vault one more time and turn up some goodies for us.
  2. And when he does sort through his stuff…  perhaps he’ll also turn up some old videos of live performances and interviews, audio recordings of the same, or a photo album he wants to share, or even just memorabilia he’d be willing to display on social media. I always want more of that kind of stuff! Or course, it’s not only on Ric. We are discovering all sorts of things floating around that fans and people ‘in the biz’ are digging up, and I am optimistic that we’ll be treated to more of that along the way.
  3. Joe has been kicking around the idea of doing a companion book to share more of the pictures Ben’s friends and family so generously gave him — and he’s had lots of encouragement!  It’s probably not feasible for that to be a done deal in the next twelve months with Let’s Go! still on its honeymoon, but I would love to at least hear that it’s an ‘official’ project.
  4. On that subject… With Let’s Go!  on bookshelves now, I can’t help but wonder if any of the other guys will be inspired to have their stories penned and published? That would be amazing. And if I may say so… I do have some experience in that field now, you know… so uh… call me? Hahaha! Wouldn’t I just DIE?

On my own agenda?

  1. “It’s my party, have some fun!” Okay, so it’s not technically MY party, but I am so excited for the upcoming book events for Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars! Being involved in the organization and promotion means I have the perfect excuse to attend them. I’ll be leaving for Cleveland in less than two weeks (hooray!), and I’m looking forward to Boston a little later on. Woot woot!
  2. Sunshine and Rainbows galore! NiGHT THOUGHTS: The Cars Podcast is still going strong (45 episodes in the can!) and Dave and I are eagerly looking forward to what 2019 holds for us. We have some exciting special guests coming up, a whole pile of topics, and more goofy shenanigans, guaranteed. Who knows how long we will continue this little hobby, but we’re having a blast!
  3. Typing Frog GIF - Muppet KermitTheFrog Type GIFsWriting, writing, and more writing!  With my book responsibilities winding down I anticipate being able to turn my focus back to my own little scribblings. This blog is definitely in need of attention! Haha!  I have many drafts in various stages of completion (including a Standing Room Only article that I promised Joe back in March – yikes!) and a whole list of research ideas collecting dust. Outside of that, I have been offered some more freelance work from a publisher who hired me for a piece earlier this year, and I am eager to take him up on it.

All in all, I am convinced that the next 365 days will be filled with fun and frolic in the Cars world, and I can hardly wait to share it all with you! What about you? What kinds of happy things are YOU anticipating in 2019? Comment below or find me on Facebook!