The Cars and the RRHOF: Who Cares?

The Cars and the RRHOF: Who Cares?

Quite a few people (translation: Cars fans) are pretty upset about The Cars not getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (RRHOF) this year. I’ve been asked my thoughts about it a couple of times, and personally, I swing back and forth between frustration and apathy. Since I am SO crazy about this band, it is hard for me to be objective about what they ‘deserve’ with relation to achieving induction; I am completely driven by my love for those five guys and their incredible music. Even so, I am able to form an opinion based on concrete evidence. But before stating my honest (and hopefully, rational) thoughts on the subject, let me try to give a basic factual framework to build on.

First I had to understand just how the Rock Hall worked. I am very grateful to the posts on the Iconic Rock Talk Show blog for giving me the rundown in concise, humorous, educational articles.

In a nutshell, the artists that make the official ballot are chosen by a nominating czwsxtpwiaacrlocommittee made up of 28 members from the music industry (musicians, executives, managers, journalists, etc.). Once the nominees are chosen the ballot goes out for votes in two ways: first, 800+ ballots are mailed out to more music industry professionals, including the living members already inducted into the Rock Hall. They get to vote for their top five artists to get in.

Secondly, a fan poll is set up where any Tom, Dick and Harry can vote for their faves to be inducted. The top five vote-getters in the fan poll get ONE additional ballot vote, to be counted with the other 800+ ballots from the industry. Does that make sense? It’s important that it does, because as fans we need to understand that placing in the top five of the fan poll does NOT mean our band will earn automatic induction into the Hall of Fame.

Historically (since the fan poll was instituted in 2012) the band that finishes FIRST in the fan poll has been inducted, but finishing first is NOT a guarantee, nor is it inherently stated in the induction criteria.

rrhof

The next question I had to tackle was: do The Cars deserve to be in? Now, things might get muddy here emotionally but I’m going to try to stay on track. For the record, here is what the Rock Hall website puts forth as the criteria for eligibility for the Hall of Fame:

“Artists—a group encompassing performers, composers and/or musicians—become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first record. Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.”

Okay, the first one is easy: “25 years after the release of their first record.” Since The Cars released their debut album in 1978, they were eligible for induction in 2003. Whew.

Next up: “…demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent…” I understand that this is a matter of opinion for each person casting a ballot. Of course, there is NO question in my book.

  1. Ric was an amazing lyricist and visionary, and his vocal styling was unique and well-suited to the songs he sang.
  2. Benjamin’s vocals were unfailingly beautiful and varying in range and delivery, and his bass playing was both melodic and powerful.
  3. Elliot’s lead guitar contributions were non-egocentric, masterful and relevant to each song.
  4. Greg was an incredible multi-instrumentalist, and his synthesizer sounds were bursting with creativity and style.
  5. The edgy and intelligent rhythms that David maintained, in addition to his artistic and architectural contributions to the band, formed the scaffolding that all of the other elements relied on.
  6. These five men consistently interlocked in live performances, recreating their studio sound with near perfection, often coming across better live than on vinyl.

Musical excellence and talent? Yeah, they’ve got that.

Third criteria: “…had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll…” I do think this can be a tricky one to measure, especially for the layman (namely ME) who doesn’t have a bunch of statistics to lean on (shocking, I know). But with all that I’ve read, I DO know that The Cars qualify in these ways:

EVOLUTION: The Cars are widely credited with a) infusing new sound into a stagnant roster of late seventies music — a fancy way of saying that no one sounded like they did; b) bridging the gap between traditional rock-and-roll and pop music; and c) paving the road for a whole new genre of music: New Wave. [Side note here: One afternoon my 17 year-old son, who is heavily into dubstep, was turning his nose up at my Cars music, and I sternly told him that he should send Greg Hawkes a thank you card for all that he did in pioneering the use of synthesizers and electronics in the music world! Of course, my son didn’t appreciate that very much. Haha!] They were also on the cutting edge of music video production and promotion.

DEVELOPMENT: Additionally, ALL of the members of the band have worked on numerous projects outside of The Cars, supporting and growing other artists in a wide variety of genres and through many methods (production, promotion, writing, background vocals, session instrumentation, etc.), not to mention their own solo work.

PRESERVATION: Further, music by The Cars shows up just about everywhere: in movies, children’s programs, commercials, and in 2016 as a constant presence in a new CBS television series called BrainDead. Their sound is as addictive, influential, and necessary to today’s culture as it ever was.

I know I painted with some broad strokes there — just trying to keep it simple when I could go on and on and ON… but that’s my case for eligibility and I’m standing firm on it.

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So how have The Cars done so far? They were nominated for the first time in 2015 (for induction in 2016), finished third in the fan poll (less than a tenth of a percentage point behind second place) and failed to get inducted. There was some amount of controversy surrounding the voting process. Under poor management by the Rock Hall, the poll appeared to have been hacked allowing computer ‘bots’ to submit millions of votes unchecked. Though no one was accused outright, a shadow was cast on the five bands that benefited from the suspected activity (including The Cars) and the reputation of the RRHOF Fan Poll took a major blow.

The Cars made the nomination ballot again in 2016 (for induction in 2017), and again, questionable management and murky communication by the RRHOF threw the whole fan poll into chaos. This time the Rock Hall apparently held back a slew of votes while they were verifying the integrity of those votes, and then dumped them all into the poll in one day. This made the overall totals for a bunch of the nominees go crazy and changed the order of the leaders. While no band was knocked out of the top five, The Cars were the only ones negatively affected, dropping from #3 to #5 in the rankings. They were not chosen for induction. Which brings us to where we are today…

The question I can’t help but ask now is: how much do The Cars themselves really want it? The fan poll voting was open from October 18 through December 15, 2016. The official Cars’ Twitter and Facebook pages were largely silent, doing almost nothing to encourage the fans to vote. Even “The Cars Nomination for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum” Facebook page (which is run by Les Steinberg, Elliot Easton’s brother, but not officially endorsed by The Cars) stopped promoting daily activity in the fan poll ten days before the voting closed. Is this indicative of the band members’ desire to get into the Rock Hall?

In 2011 Ric Ocasek was asked by Stephen Colbert, “Why aren’t you guys in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?” and Ric answered, “You know I really don’t know. I don’t know if I want to be in it.” (The Colbert Report) When the 2015 ballot was announced David Robinson said, “It is what it is, but actually I don’t pay any attention to that whatsoever. It isn’t anything we’ve strived for, let’s put it that way.” (The Boston Globe); and Elliot indicates in this 2014 RockSolid interview excerpt below that he’s not losing any sleep over whether The Cars are in the Rock Hall.

And all of those votes for The Cars in the fan poll this year? With little encouragement coming from the band’s official pages, the “Fanorama” stepped up and led a grassroots campaign that held The Cars solidly in the top 5 (in spite of the RRHOF’s voting mess). Twitter pages like @Night_Spots, @Tracey2063, and @JWINZombieGirl, along with Facebook fan groups like “The Cars” and “Benjamin Orr Remembered,” all contributed DAILY reminders and links to vote, which were shared and retweeted time and again, reminding people to make their voice heard. I am so proud of our dedicated fan base — how we love our boys!

So if it’s no big deal to them, why should I care one way or the other? Here are MY reasons I want The Cars inducted (in no particular order):

  1. They are deserving of it (see paragraphs above) and I want their contribution to rock 14993335_593020314240592_8536782637626328485_nand roll history to be acknowledged and recognized by their peers.
  2. I want Benjamin’s memory brought into the spotlight and honored all over the world.
  3. I love them! Their music moves me in every mood and brings me joy daily.
  4. I want an excuse to see the four remaining members together on stage again.
  5. I want to be able to say “BOOYAH!” to those naysayers that look down on my love for The Cars.

My final thoughts? I’m disappointed but not devastated. They have proven their relevance over the years, influenced countless bands that came after them, and wrote a soundtrack for my life that will never change. Whether they ever get into the RRHOF or not, The Cars will always be number one with me!

[All Cars graphics courtesy of @Night_Spots; image of the RRHOF ballot from Twitter]

Coming in 2017?

Coming in 2017?

carsannounceBack on December 14, 2016, the official Cars website sent out an email encouraging fans to watch for ‘big things’ coming from The Cars in 2017. [Thanks for the screen cap, Cheryl!] Of course, my heart leapt at the thought, but I was also a bit skeptical; unless the band was getting back together for another album I couldn’t imagine that they would release much in the realm of ‘new’ — I figured maybe yet another ‘greatest hits’ compilation with a few little gems thrown in there to entice us. My brain filed it away with a note stamped on it: “We’ll see.”

THEN!!! Last night (January 2, 2017) Elliot Easton jumped on twitter and said he had a few minutes to answer questions. In the slew of tweets that followed, one brilliant fan had the presence of mind to initiate this wonderful exchange:

carsnews

WOW!!!

So exciting to hear this from Elliot himself because it not only confirms that there really IS something in the works, but it sounds like more than just one or two tracks. The Fanorama was soon rejoicing and speculating in the Facebook groups on what the actual release might be, and sharing their wish lists of what they’d like to see. And of course, I have mine as well! Documenting the desires of my ‘coming soon from The Cars’ heart (in true nerdy list form), here is what would get me pulling out my wallet:

  1. a DVD of a full Panorama concert
  2. footage of life backstage, the guys goofing off, stories from the road
  3. footage from in the studio, especially Syncro Sound
  4. live performances (audio or video) of songs we can’t find recordings of, like You Wear Those Eyes and It’s All I Can Do
  5. early recordings, photos, or footage of the members before The Cars became “The Cars;” i.e. the other bands they played in
  6. demos from any time period, including the demos Ric made in the early stages of a song’s creation
  7. songs they recorded that never made it to vinyl
  8. early photos of the band (professional and candids)
  9. Cap’n Swing photos, recordings, and newspaper clippings (not strictly The Cars, I know, but an important part of their history)
  10. lost or rare interviews, documentaries, and radio shows
  11. hopefully not a bunch of disruptive smash cuts

Gee, guess it sounds like I’m asking for the moon, huh? Sorry, but once I got going my brain wouldn’t stop generating ideas. Having any or all of these dreams fulfilled would be ‘grand delight.’ I am just convinced that all of the stuff that is already available to us barely drills into the depth of The Cars. Keeping my fingers crossed!

How about you? What would you like to see the band release in 2017? Leave a comment here or find this post on Facebook and let me know. ❤

“…And everything you do-oo-oo”

WARNING: This is nothing but blatant fangirling, baby.

A bit ago I wrote about my struggles with the gush, and I am finally ready to sit down and have it out. I chose to go with Everything You Say, because the way I perceive Benjamin to be during this time of his life matches my current mood. It’s okay with me if that part doesn’t make sense to you… I also chose it because he’s absolutely AH-MAZING in this video!

Those first notes and that countdown raise my heart rate right out of the gate. The video editor makes me crazy by showing everyone else *but* Benjamin for the first 30 seconds, but when my man finally comes out of the dark and onto the screen he has been worth the wait: he is GORGEOUS. That layered black leather wrapped around his husky build, the 1987 blonde shag, and (as always) the way his hands move on his bass… Seriously, I have to pause here and breathe for a minute.

He starts singing in that low voice and it is sooooo delicious and sexy. The way he says ‘honey’ makes my spine tingle. And oh, those closeups at 1:02 and 2:04! With the sweat on his jaw and his glance over to the right; that way he sort of half-purses his lips… yummy.

Catch his beautiful smile, too, that smile at 1:39! Grooving moves at 2:42, his hands at 2:57 (really, through the whole thing), and his shrug and grin at the late spotlight at 3:26… Ah, and that little bass swing at 3:57! I love it!

Other things that crack me up about this vid: Looks like Elliot gives up at 4:26; the way Greg be-bops around reminds my kids of a little parakeet, I love Ric with the acoustic guitar, and the footage of David is wonderful! Think I’m going to make some gifs from this one. Hee hee!

Be sure to comment on your favorite parts — and let me know if I missed anything!

To gush or not to gush?

bensurpriseIt has been an incredibly loooong couple of weeks. I’ve been sick (which rarely happens!) and dealing with a hideous stye on my eye. Haven’t felt like running.  Things are crazy with kids and homeschooling and holidays… and I’ve missed Benj-ing with my dear friend, Jen, whose wonderful heart and hilarious ways always help me cope with life. So on this day I just needed a flat out, no-holds-barred, uninterrupted drool fest over the man of my dreams.

Except when I sat down at the computer to do it, it was gone. My ‘gush’ — my super power! my outlet! my joy! — was gone. And I was so devastated by the absence of it that I wanted to cry. Or get drunk. Or both. So I did what every good modern-day, red-blooded woman does: I posted about it on Facebook.

gush1

And then I closed my laptop and went away feeling blue. That night I tossed and turned, trying to figure out what went wrong; where was my passion for my blog? It wasn’t long before I pinpointed the problem in my heart: it was my spine.

I’m going to assume you’ve read at least some of my blog. You know that sometimes I can’t contain my feelings for and my reactions to Benjamin’s beauty and talent, and many (so many!) times I have not held back in writing out my thoughts about it. Well, I have received some… criticism, for lack of a better word, from different quarters. Some I don’t care about but some I do — a few have been particularly painful, depending on my level of respect for the giver of the negative feedback. And even though I have received a lot of positive responses, somehow it has been difficult for me to get over the bad stuff.

Now I’m not talking about a situation where someone might come to me and say that what I’m writing is hurtful to them personally, or that I am misrepresenting facts — that kind of feedback I welcome and am happy to respond to, because I always desire to 1. keep the peace where I can, and 2. to be accurate. Instead, it is when one gives his or her personal opinion of my writing style, or of my expression of my feelings for Benjamin.

I know that I shouldn’t worry about pleasing everyone, and I just need to write for my own pleasure (that’s why I started this blog in the first place!) but I have found that I DO care about others’ opinions (more than I thought I would), and now I feel like I have those couple of stink eyes looking at me all the time and it is making it difficult for me to cut loose with my thoughts and feelings. I’m battling with letting those few critical words take the joy out of it for me.

My recent blog article about the song Night Spots was tough to write because I so wanted to gush about what Benji’s bass does to my insides, but I felt like I ‘had’ to keep it on track. I read it now and it just leaves such a bitter taste in my mouth because I didn’t mention his name once. Not ONCE. Can you believe it??? Makes me want to cry. And it’s my OWN fault, being so influenced by a couple of people who have a different opinion about how to honor Benjamin. And that personal weakness makes me crazy, and I’m irritated with myself for not having more of a spine when I wrote it.

benjamin
Graphic courtesy of @Night_Spots

So later, when I checked back in on Facebook I wanted to cry again (am I usually this emotional??? I don’t know!) but this time it was because of the loving, funny, and steadfast support of some of the sweetest friends I have met in the Benj world. They posted photos and assurances and hilarious comments that not only made me swoon (!), but reminded me of why I jumped into this crazy thing in the first place: because I adore Benjamin, and I want to share that with other like-minded people and be able to obsess *together*.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’ve decided that I don’t care about what other people think. I do. I just need to be true to myself — and get a stronger backbone. Writing about Benjamin brings me so much happiness! Yes, I do get silly, but I also write some serious pieces, and I hope that all Cars fans will find something they enjoy here. But if you’ve read my blog and you don’t like it then I thank you for giving it a try and I wish you well, but please don’t feel compelled to read further.

Now that all of that is off my chest I think I can move forward with a good old-fashioned gush session… Stay tuned!

It’s just an automatic line…

The other day in the car I found myself answering this question from my 11-year-old: “What the heck is he saying???”

We were at the end of rocking out to Night Spots, and it was where Greg is repeating, “It’s just an automatic line…” I told my son what the words were, and then explained my take on the lyric choice: In a lot of songs the singer repeats a line over and over at the end, and I think it was The Cars’ quirky sense of humor that led them to use those lyrics in kind of a teasing way; maybe poking fun at that habit of singers/songwriters (including themselves). Of course, as I’m telling him this, my own speculation makes me love the song and the band more than ever.

eenightspotssoloWhether my explanation is accurate or not, there is no denying that Night Spots is a damn fine song, with a heavy, pulsing bass line, a fantastic Elliot guitar solo, and bad-ass lyrics. And of course, Greg’s masterful synthesizer work! The song was written by Ric Ocasek (of course!) for The Cars’ first album, but ended up being used as the seventh track on Candy-O instead. It became a staple of their live sets in 1978 and was played in concerts all the way through 1987.

There are two studio versions published and both seem to exude power, though in different ways. The first one released, of course, is the track on Candy-O. It starts out with a little introduction of the synthesizer melody that hooks you for the entire song, and then the other boys are all in, churning away on that rocking beat. Every instrument is so present in this recording. Put on some headphones and get away by yourself for a few minutes — SO many audio delights here! Ric sings the lyrics perfectly; in fact this is one in a handful of songs where I would say I LOVE his vocals. His unconventional style is exactly what this song demands. Another favorite little tidbit about this tune is that in the live recordings Ric sometimes changes up the description of the woman’s hair: long blonde, blonde long, kinky, curly…

The demo version, likely recorded in 1978, wasn’t released to the world until it came out as part of 1995’s Just What I Needed: The Cars’ Anthology. Again, grab your headphones. This time we start out with an addictive beat, and then the layering begins: guitar, bass, guitar; building until the vocal jumps in, but with an almost entirely different set of lyrics. And here again, Ric’s singing is spot-on. In this version he comes across as rather amused and mocking of the woman in the song; as opposed to the bit of desperation, the awe for her that he portrays in the Candy-O cut. The biggest difference between the two tracks? There is no keyboard part in this early demo, and no blazing EE solo. Where the vinyl is poppish and danceable, this version is very bass-driven and very slinky… sexy. Quite a contrast.

It should be no surprise that I love both recordings. Each one conveys its own mood and message; I easily think of them as two individual songs, rather than one being an early version of the other. I’m going to post links to both of them here. I’ve decided not to use fan vids, mostly because I want to encourage you to close your eyes and focus on this incredible music. Enjoy!

CANDY-O VERSION

 

DEMO VERSION:

The New Cars… and Doug Powell?

The New Cars: People either love them or they hate them. And to be honest I haven’t heard of many yet who love them.

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I’ll say right up front that I don’t know a whole lot of deep details about The New Cars. The basic strokes are that in 2005 Greg and Elliot joined with Todd Rundgren (vocals, rhythm), Kasim Sulton (vocals, bass) and Prairie Prince (drums) to put together a band where Greg and Elliot could play the classic Cars tunes in addition to creating some new music. They released one album (It’s Alive!) in May of 2006 that contained a bunch of live recordings of songs by The Cars, a couple of Todd Rundgren songs, and three “The New Cars” originals. They toured a bit, playing small venues, and wrapped things up by the fall of 2007.

From what I understand, Greg and Elliot would have preferred a true reunion of The Cars. Sadly, this was not going to happen since Benjamin was gone, David ‘amicably declined’ as he had retired from the music scene by then, and Ric was not interested. Though there are reports that Ric ‘gave his blessing’ to the guys for the project, other interviews imply that Ric made it hard on Greg and Elliot to proceed, and in the end the aggravation and hassle just weren’t worth it.

I haven’t invested a lot of time in their music; I think mostly because I do not enjoy listening to Todd Rundgren at all; I’m just NOT a fan of his. I have clicked on The New Cars’ original song, “Not Tonight” a few times and I liked it well enough; it’s fairly rockin’, and really, who can resist an Elliot Easton solo? Not me. I took the time to listen to “More” and “Warm” and they’re not bad. I also enjoyed reading an interview with the bass player, Kasim Sulton, who had some nice things to say about trying to fill Benjamin’s role.

But I’ve never attempted to listen to anything else they’ve played, and I’m certainly not interested in any song they cover that was originally sung by my man. Not fair of me, maybe, but there it is.

The one reason I *do* care about The New Cars is because of Elliot.

In my all-time-favorite Elliot interview ever, he shared the history of and his heart about The New Cars, and I’ve had a soft spot for that project ever since. He laid a lot of info out there (starting at about 1:36:30), but here’s what he said that touched me the most:

“That music is my recorded legacy and I wanted to play it, and the joy in people’s faces when you’d play that solo in “Best Friend’s Girl” and they’d elbow each other: ‘look, he’s doing it, he’s playing the solo!’and some of them would almost have tears in their eyes and stuff and it just meant the world to me, and it was just so satisfying and fun to do…”

You’ve just got to hear his voice, too, when he’s talking about it; very moving. Ah, Elliot! So I’ll never be grumpy about Greg’s and Elliot’s attempt to pull The Cars back onto the stage. I stand by them and their efforts 100%.

dougpowellAnd now to the real reason I actually started this post in the first place! It came about because a friend of mine introduced me to Doug Powell. Never heard of him? Neither had I, until this recent conversation. It turns out that Doug, who is a well-respected and very talented singer/songwriter/multi-instrument musician, was first contacted by Elliot to front The New Cars. In fact, Doug wrote a handful of AMAZING songs for the project, only to be passed by for Todd Rundgren (ironically, Powell’s former boss), whom the band apparently felt would draw more of an audience.

Here’s the skinny according to Wikipedia (because I’m just not willing to do a ton of additional research on this subject):

“In late 2004 Powell was contacted by Elliot Easton, guitarist for The Cars. Easton had heard Powell’s recording of Candy-O and was impressed enough to ask Powell to be the singer of The New Cars, a reformation of The Cars without Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr (who had died). Powell began working on demos for the project and completed six demos. However, as the plans for the band evolved The Cars decided to bring in a higher profile singer, and settled on Todd Rundgren. Powell released the six demos as well as other leftover songs on Four Seasons, released on the Paisley Pop label.”

After listening to Doug’s songs, I’m very surprised that he was passed over. The music is really so great; Doug finds a way to maintain the sound of The Cars without being a copycat of them. He brings a fresh sound, his own style, to tracks that you might actually believe could be The Cars when those first measures roll out.

I can’t help but wonder if Elliot’s and Greg’s project might have had better success if they had not tried to stay under the umbrella of The Cars brand (avoiding the hassles with Ric) and instead went out as an entirely new band, with a unique name and with Doug Powell leading the charge. I mean, they still could have done The Cars’ classics, right? But they would also have had a great source of new material, and since Doug was relatively unknown in the public’s eye he wouldn’t have brought a reputation with him; no preconceived notions.

That’s all water under the bridge now, I guess; too late to change things. And skimming the full Wikipedia article about Doug Powell reveals that his interests are varied and intense; he hasn’t been sitting around crying over the lost opportunity (see what he’s up to by clicking here). Still, Doug’s songs are definitely worth taking the time to listen to. I’ll post a link to a playlist for him. To the best of my knowledge, the songs he wrote for The New Cars project were titled Feel For You, Runaround, Lies, Fire and Ice, One Good Reason, and Chained. Enjoy!

[A little side note: apparently Doug performed Candy-O for the CD called Substitution Mass Confusion, a compilation of recordings of bands playing tribute to The Cars. I haven’t heard Doug’s track yet; the CD itself is fairly expensive and Candy-O is not one of the few youtube uploads from it. I *am* curious though, and plan to get my hands on it sometime in the future.]

Seasons in the Sun

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Graphic by @Night_Spots

When I see any picture of Benjamin my heart responds differently depending on when the photo was taken. Always it’s a powerful response, but with a shine all its own for each layer of Benjamin’s life. I don’t have concrete, defining explanations for these descriptors; I think it’s just what my mind created as the culmination of lots of research, pondering and speculation.

I think of him like:

1965-1967:         young, world at his feet
1968-1976:         the struggle, edge of success, striving and optimistic
1977-1984ish:    powerful, sexy, confident, “take what you want”
1985-1988ish:    bored, searching, caught in the middle, frustrated, unfocused,                                       losing it all
1988-1993ish:    lost, bitter, self-destructive, hurting
1993-1996ish:    trying hard to find healing
1997-1999:          feeling good, optimistic, free
1999-2000:          making amends, letting go, at peace

Not sure I have my dates exactly where I want them… need to hone that a bit, maybe. As I continue in my journey with him there is a good chance that these impressions may evolve and change, but these are the colors of my Benj world right now.