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.

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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!

You’re All I’ve Got Tonight

79-2The other day I was standing in a department store when I heard the unmistakable “aaah-ah, aaah-ahhh-ahhh”  of “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” coming over the speaker in the sky. It made me even giddier than I usually get when I hear The Cars out and about because that song is not one that plays often in my neck of the woods. I looked at the people around me like, “Right???” but of course, no one connected. (My sweet kiddo gave me a ‘thumbs up’ though. Haha!)

“You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” is the sixth track on The Cars’ (perfect) debut album, and definitely one of the rockin-est! It was, of course, written by Ric Ocasek and produced by Roy Thomas Baker. Not nearly as arcane as many of his lyrics, Ric described the meaning of the song in this way: “When things get too quiet, and you’re willing to put up with any company, or you’re not willing to accept the prospect of being alone, you might find yourself needing what you’ve got.” (EA News, May, 1978)

Before you read any further in this article I just want you to grab some headphones and listen to this. I know, I know… you’ve heard it a zillion times… but please, I urge you, just take a few minutes and close your eyes and soak this in.

Those drums absolutely make my adrenaline take flight. And then you hear the first fuzzy guitar riffs, paired with Ric’s voice slicing into the music with those wonderfully apathetic lyrics… Everything about this song is huge and dark and pulsing. Well, until Greg joins in with his bright, sparkly strobe of synth notes that take the edge off just in time. And the background vocals are stunning — ah, Roy Thomas Baker! You’re a genius!

From what I understand, the only time this track was officially sent out into the world on a 45 was as the B side to “All Mixed Up” — in the Netherlands! But no matter. Both rock and mainstream radio station deejays and listeners loved it then and still do today; it continues to receive more than its fair share of ‘spinnage.’ (Hmm, surely I didn’t just make that word up?)

Now let’s take a quick step back in time and trace the history of this bad boy. YAIGT was around before The Cars were “The Cars.” According to Toby Goldstein in her book Frozen Fire: The Story of The Cars, Cap’n Swing was playing it in Boston in 1976. Having heard the interesting metamorphoses of other CS-to-The-Cars songs, I sure wish I could hear the Cap’n tackle this tune!

I don’t have an audio from back that far but fortunately for us, an early Cars’ demo was included on Rhino’s 1999 deluxe edition of the debut album. It was laid down during The Cars’ first-ever recording session in April of 1977, at Northern Recording Studio in Maynard, MA. In the liner notes Greg says, “As with ‘Just What I Needed,’ this particular recording also received considerable airplay prior to the first album coming out.” In other words, IT was a hit before THEY were a hit.

You hear the subtle differences right off the bat: you have Dave and Elliot entering with straight sounds, no technological manipulations. Then there’s the heavy bass, the raw (and a little sparse) backing vocals; a different spin on the synth at times. Filling in toward the end you hear the unique vocal mutterings of Ric and those various “woo!” exclamations that clearly testify to the high energy of the band. As always with their early stuff, you just know they *knew* they were killing it. Take a listen:

(It’s funny… my internal stereo always plays the beginning of “Bye Bye Love” after that last “tonight!”)

YAIGT became a concert staple. “We do that [song] all the time. I like that song. It’s just about ending up with somebody you don’t necessarily care to be ending up with, but something’s better than nothing,” Ric explains on the 1979 SuperGroups in Concert series. Indeed, according to setlist.fm (grain of salt, I know), The Cars performed this song 65 times beginning in April of 1977; it is their fifth most-played title. More often than not, it was played as the last one of the regular set or as part of the encore.

As you may recall, the band closed the televised portion of their performance on Rock Goes to College with it, and they nailed it. I love how Ric takes advantage of the live show to get a little naughty with the lyrics… and of course, the added slo-mo effects as the credits roll add the mint to this sweet tea. Check it out:

According to 98.5 WNCX Radio, Elliot enjoyed it, too.  “’You’re All I’ve Got Tonight’ was a favorite of mine, if for no other reason than it was my chance to stretch out live. I usually used the solo at the end as a launching point and would take off until the other guys in the band sort of looked at me like ‘Okay already, enough,’ and then I’d give them their cue that we would go back into the song. But that was a fun one for me to play, because I always got to stretch on it.”

This performance from 2011 is a perfect example of that ‘stretching.’ The whole song is so stunning I can hardly keep from standing up and cheering at the end. Elliot blazes through those guitar parts like a freight train — check him out at about 3:00, where he kicks off just over a minute and a half of pure six-string badassery. And the crowd just eats it up! I watch this again and again and I just can’t help but internally beg the stars to align so that The Cars will tour one more time.

A search on Youtube will turn up a whole variety of folks doing covers of this song, with equally diverse success. I do have a few favorites among those efforts.

The one I like best sounds the most different to my ears, and I confess I didn’t really care for it on the first listen. It’s by an artist named David Raymer. It’s a little softer; the vocals are more melodic and kind of jazzy; he’s got kind of an Edwyn Collins vibe going on. I gave it another chance, liked it, wanted to hear it again… and then I kept coming back to it. There’s just something so unique about it; can’t really put my finger on it. What do you think?

Probably the most notable remake of YAIGT was done by The Smashing Pumpkins. A long-time fan of The Cars, lead singer/songwriter Billy Corgan added his metallic sawblade vocals and alternative-punk distortion,  and then monkeyed with elements of the arrangement enough to add a definite (but not unpleasant) twist to this classic. The Smashing Pumpkins released their version on their 1996 box set called The Aeroplane Flies High. I’m not a big SP fan, but I am a little addicted to this! Take a listen here (you have to do some jimmy-jog with the settings but it works, I promise):

This cover also shows up in a snippet of the film The Saint, a successful 1997 thriller starring Val Kilmer and Elisabeth Shue. It’s just a tiny blip, to be sure (which is probably why it didn’t warrant a spot on the official soundtrack), but there it is. And the movie itself isn’t too bad, either.

I know I’ve mentioned the 2005 tribute compilation Substitution Mass Confusion in other articles… YAIGT was one of the songs included on that CD. It was covered by an alternative pop/rock band out of Chicago called The Millions. I still don’t have  my own copy of it (it’s on the way!), but I did find a partial performance of the track on Youtube. It’s pretty rocking:

Just a couple of months ago I came across this one. Now, I am a big believer in passing music down to the next generation, so it’s very gratifying when I come across young people devoting their time and talents to learning The Cars’ catalog.  This talented girl (can’t tell how old she is but she looks like a teenager) does a stellar job with EE’s solo:

Then there’s this one — and she is YOUNG. Watching this little gal gave me an education on what all Benjamin does in this song. For me, a lot of the bass is masked by the heavy guitars and I have a hard time picking it out. So many nuances I had never caught before! And I’m curious… how long did this girl practice this thing??? (She does a video of the lead guitar, too.)

I’ll tell you, for a song that never showed up on the Billboard charts, this heavy number sure has made its mark…. so much so that it’s still being played, forty years later, in a department store in a little town in the woods of Podunk, Idaho. And THAT, my friends, is why The Cars are being inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 😉

Hopes and Dreams for 2018

The inclusion of The Cars into the Rock Hall Class o’ 2018 has me looking forward to the next year with a crazy-different outlook.

Of course, the induction ceremony itself is the big deal… to go to Cleveland or not go to Cleveland? I’ve got a little “Mad Money” envelope in which I’ve been squirreling away my shekels in the event that travel expenses are needed, so the money isn’t the hinge… it’s approaching the subject with The Fam.

To their credit, my husband and kiddos are pretty patient with my Cars obsession, but I know there is a limit to their tolerance, and I’m not sure if me winging my way across the country for a weekend of ‘brushing my rock and roll hair’ falls within the acceptable limits of “Mom time.” Haha!

But enough about what I might be up to… what treats can we reasonably expect from The Cars in the new year? Last January we caught a teasing glimpse of 2017’s offerings from a tweet by Elliot; this month we see Ric and David dropping hope-inducing hints, and giving us some outright revelations as well.

So… without further ado… here is my list of predictions and possibilities for 2018:

  1. Rock Hall Induction (April 14): Okay, so we can count on new merch (I already ordered my RRHOF Class of 2018 t-shirt), but beyond that? Chances are great for a kick-ass musical reunion of Ric, Elliot, Greg and David on the stage! I’m also looking forward to more interviews and photographs with the band members, a heartfelt and touching tribute to Benjamin, a super-cool display of Cars memorabilia at the Rock Hall itself, great quotes from other music industry icons about how influential The Cars were/are, and the increased hype over The Cars in general.
  2. simpsons.gifDebut Album Anniversary (June 6): Right on the heels of the induction comes the 40th anniversary of that iconic debut album. I see SO much potential here for amazing stuff to come out of that vault in Ric’s basement! From a demo standpoint we may be all tapped out; we were given a generous helping of those with the 1999 deluxe edition. And it would be great if there were other original Cars songs that were recorded but didn’t make it to vinyl… Again, I know there are quite a few floating around out there so we may be out of luck. But at the top of my list of “please please please!” requests is FOOTAGE. And number one on the footage list? The Cars’ debut party! There are two clips on youtube from that June 23, 1978, show and I am aching to see the rest of it! I will say that the incredibly talented Paul McAlpine has been tweeting photos from that momentous event and I am over the MOON with happiness.
  3. Catalog Reissues: Remember how electrifying it was to wake up to the news last May that The Cars were reissuing Candy-O and Panorama? Such a thrill! Well, in his interview with Rolling Stone magazine on December 13, 2017, David assured us that the expanded editions of Shake It Up and Heartbeat City were on their way next, possibly in February of 2018. I’m so curious as to what delights will be in store for us there… new photos? Previously unreleased tracks? I can’t wait to see the “Side 4” etchings… and then David had to go and get me even more excited by saying, “There’s going to be a surprise when you see one of the album covers I’ve been working on…” Gah! Don’t DO that to me!
  4. Long shots and ‘magic lamp’ wishes: Okay, here’s where I start flinging snowballs into the underworld. Dare we hope… is it even possible? Will The Cars put out a new album in 2018? Or TOUR??? It might not be as out-of-the-realm as I once thought. When asked the question directly, Ric didn’t demur. “I don’t know. Maybe so. Maybe this will be a good reason to do it again, though I really miss Ben as part of the thing…” (Rolling Stone magazine, December 13, 2017). Holy heck! That would be incredible! Now, given their lack of enthusiasm for touring in general, I know that I’m REALLY pushing it, but could they make it all the way over to Seattle again? I would gleefully drive the seven hours necessary to park my little hiney in a seat for that!
  5. More things I’d summon the genie for: Any previously unreleased concert videos, audio recordings, or photographs… the France show in its entirety would be terrific!… other shows in Europe, a Panorama show… How about footage of their recording sessions? Or let’s go deeper into the archives and dig up stuff from Ocasek & Orr, Richard and the Rabbits, and Cap’n Swing. As you know, my appetite for the band’s history is insatiable.
  6. Other “Cars world” delights: I do have my fingers crossed for a few other things that are not part of The Cars “Official” but that would really roll my little skate just the same: I would love nothing more than to have a copy of Joe Milliken’s biography about Benjamin Orr in my hot little hands in 2018. Also, I am eager for more person-to-person meetings with members of the Fanorama (possibly in Cleveland???). I can’t wait to do some more writing for Standing Room Only — Cars-related and otherwise! On top of that, more researching, more blogging, more sunshine and rainbows… lots of fun and wonderful things to look forward to in the new year!

What do you think? How could The Cars shake it up for you in 2018? Leave a comment here or find this post on Facebook and let me know. ❤

Just What I Needed, Under ‘Cover’

As one of the most recognizable and popular songs by The Cars, there are oodles of write-ups out there about “Just What I Needed.” Rather than add my little opinions to the fray, I’m going to focus on cool, fun and noteworthy versions of the song floating around. There are tons!

jwin1976.jpgRic Ocasek penned this tune in 1976, and of course, as you probably know, this was the song that launched the band… Radio DJ Maxanne Sartori heard it, loved it, and began playing it on her show in Boston. It quickly became a local favorite. Later, just before The Cars released their debut album, this was their lead single. Though it didn’t place high on the charts in the US (only reaching #27 on the Billboard Hot 100), critics and consumers loved it, and it obviously played a huge role in keeping The Cars on the Billboard 200 chart for 139 weeks. Many of us fondly point to this song as the one that started our Cars addiction.

In choosing various covers to include here, I started with the ones I enjoyed the most, and then narrowed it down based on the criteria that something unique stood out about the performance. There are so many interpretations out there; this certainly isn’t a definitive list.

I’ve got to start out with this terrific audio consisting only of Benjamin’s vocals, his bass, and the guitar solo. Off. the. CHAIN. I love this one in the headphones.

This next version is actually performed by just Ric on acoustic guitar. He participated in one of a series of artist ’roundtable’ shows at The Bottom Line in New York City on May 21, 1992. Organized by Allan Pepper and Vin Scelsa, the idea was to bring together a small group of songwriters and get them talking and playing, and let the music take over. Take a listen here:

Greg’s been known to jam to this song outside of The Cars as well. I loved seeing this video of him with the Aquabats on May 8, 2014, at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. I’m always delighted with Greg’s participation in children’s programs, and of course, it’s so terrific to expose the next generation to this great music:

And speaking of the next generation, listen to this little cutie pie banging out a drum cover. She nails it!

Then we’ve got a band of teens confidently rocking it out at a 2016 talent show. You’ve got the groovy chick on bass, the firecracker on the drums, and check out the dude doubling up on keys and lead guitar!  I’m loving this:

This next one is more acceptable to MY teenagers, who love the dubstep genre. This modern remix, created by well-known Swiss DJ and producer, Antoine Konrad (aka DJ Antoine) will definitely get a party going. Give it a listen:

If you need something a little more mellow, get a load of this bossa nova version. I still laugh when I hear it… it always reminds me of Flint Lockwood taking a break in Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs… Haha!

Lots of bands have put their own spin on this iconic song. This one is probably my favorite… the vibe is so happy and the variety of stringed instruments makes it extra fun. That banjo, though!

Looking for even more fun than that? This ‘vintage 60s cover’ really takes it to another level, and the video has a host of visual delights: aside from the stunning Sara Niemietz, the background players draw the eye with their goofy antics.

Need to cut about a minute off of your listening time? Ghoti Hook, a 1990’s Christian punk band from Virginia, really ramps up the tempo in their cover… feels a little frantic to me but surprisingly appealing somehow… go figure! Just give it a try:

More recently, American country music singer Eric Church performed “Just What I Needed” during his May, 2017, show. I love how accessible this song is across genres, and the reaction of the crowd is terrific.

“Just What I Needed” has also been used in commercials, movies and in TV shows. Here are just a few samples, starting with this quick spot from Circuit City, 2005.

Over in London, EDF Energy used the song, too, featuring their little mascot, Zingy. Aw, so cute!

And you can’t overlook this terrific scene from the Emmy award-winning television cartoon, Bob’s Burgers.

Even in recent films, “Just What I Needed” fits the bill: here is a trailer for the new Reese Witherspoon movie, coming out in September of 2017. I love how this song (and much of The Cars’ catalog) is timeless.

Okay, this final audio is so interesting to me. Since I sometimes have a hard time discerning the different instruments in full studio versions of songs, I am always fascinated by recordings that isolate various elements. The segment plays twice and it is well worth the second listen… it’s utterly delicious. Ooooh, that bass!

Do you have a favorite version that I didn’t highlight here? Comment below or find me on Facebook and tell me about it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shooting for You

Two amazing things happened for me last week:

The first is that I got to meet one of my dear “Cars world” friends in real life, the beautiful Lori J., and it was wonderful! Even sweeter in person than over the internet, there wasn’t nearly enough time for me to get my fill of her. I am forever grateful for her kickstarting my family vacation up into Canada, and I am looking forward to planning future get-togethers with her.

And the second? While I was in Canada, Rhino Records released the audio file for “Shooting for You.”

Just so you know, I don’t have any big insights on this release; I’ll summarize what information is already out there, but this article is mainly just going to be me, processing my feelings about the ‘new’ song.

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Painted by Mr. SPJ

While this track is being included as one of the bonus features on the upcoming Panorama expanded reissue (to be out July 28, 2017), evidence shows that it was actually originally recorded as a possible piece of Heartbeat City. Elliot Easton has affirmed that the track is an unfinished outtake, not a complete product. It was, of course, written by Ric Ocasek, and copyrighted in 1983.

Like I said, I was in Canada when this hit the ‘net, and only checking in here and there since I was on a family vacation. I was touched at how many of my dear Cars friends made sure I got the link when the track was released to the public. I confess, I didn’t listen to it right away. I just couldn’t. Knowing that Benjamin was on vocals – that I was going to be hearing something from him I had never heard before – I knew I needed to be in the right atmosphere and right frame of mind to experience it for the first time. That may sound a little dramatic… but there it is.

The Monday after we returned home I had a meeting an hour away, and I decided that being alone in my car was the perfect place to indulge. I’ll admit, I got a little emotional the first time through. It made me miss him so much; sort of brought to the surface those strong feelings of loss that I keep tucked away most of the time. I switched off the stereo and took a little quiet break after that first listen, just to let it sink in.

Once I got myself settled, I played to it repeatedly as the miles slipped away. Several things stood out to me.

  1. Of course, I love his entire vocal, but the way Benjamin says, “I’ll be shooting for you, I’ll be shooting for you tonight” is just addictive. I think it’s especially the ‘tonight…’ his inflection… it makes me crazy.
  2. Also, Benjamin’s voice called to mind The Cars’ cover of “Funtime,” mainly because of the line “you don’t need no self-control.” I like that.
  3. You know how there are two versions of “Night Spots?” The earlier demo of that song is kind of like this one; with some of the parts missing (compared to the album version) and how it has sort of an edgy, raw feeling to it. I like that, too.
  4. Greg sounds like he’s experimenting with lots of different synth possibilities. It’s kind of fun. He does that one little riff that reminds me of Saturday morning cartoons when there would be some storyline having to do with the orient — that just seems SO Greg! Haha!
  5. No guitar solo from Elliot. A little article was posted about it on the web, and when asked about it Elliot explained, “Honestly, I just think it’s an unfinished song, and we never got around to putting a solo on there. I don’t recall any particularly nefarious reason other than that!” So there you go.

Before I continue, if you haven’t heard the song yet, here is the link to it. Lyrics are here. Take your time.

This song was later given to Alan Vega, and he released it on his 1985 solo album, Just a Million Dreams (produced by Ric Ocasek). It gives a good idea of what Ric’s vision for the song might have been, though I’m still so curious as to how our five guys would have worked out a final version to make it entirely their own, had they finished it together.

After saturating myself in The Cars’ track, I switched over to the Alan Vega recording and listened to it a couple of times. His version is obviously fleshed out and polished, highlighting the rough state of the original. It includes different lyrics, a guitar solo, prominent background vocals, and more focused synthesizer work. I liked it, which surprised me, since I only associate Alan Vega with his work with Suicide (which I don’t care for). Here’s the link for his:

Of course, I prefer The Cars. I have had Benjamin’s voice in my head all week, telling me to ‘simmer down,’ and reminding me that I ‘don’t need no self-control.’ My man.

I am looking forward to hearing the other two previously unissued tracks coming out at the end of July: “The Edge” and “Be My Baby.” I’ve got both the CD and the vinyl Panorama products ordered; we’ll see how long it takes me to actually be stable enough to experience them. Haha!

I’d love to hear your opinion of the new release. Comment below, or find me on twitter (@sweetpurplejune) or on my Facebook page and let me know your thoughts.

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.

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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]