Ben played all the instruments on his demos for The Lace. When asked why he chose a band when it came time to record the album: “It’s much easier to sit back and watch it be done. I play a lot of instruments, but I don’t play them well. I get through them. The only thing I’m efficient at is drums.” — from “Benjamin Orr: The Cars’ Mr. Casual Steps Out” by Rob Tannenbaum, Musician Magazine, March 1987
“There are a lot of things I’ve done in music that I’ve never really had to think about because it just came natural.” — from “Benjamin Orr: The Cars’ Mr. Casual Steps Out” by Rob Tannenbaum, Musician Magazine, March 1987
On what he was doing during the three years it took to make The Lace: “Horsing around. I went to Hawaii for two weeks and stayed for three months.” — from “Benjamin Orr: The Cars’ Mr. Casual Steps Out” by Rob Tannenbaum, Musician Magazine, March 1987
Anything and everything music: live bands, spinning records, dance clubs, photography, creative coifs… All her life, Crystal Jane Gerard has had a passion for rock and roll and a relentless determination to pursue it. And she’s proved it time and again: from writing an enthusiastic A+ English paper about meeting Adam Ant, to skipping a day of beauty school to catch John Waite leaving his hotel after a show, to walking out on a job for Benjamin Orr.
Since her early days in high school, Crystal has loved The Cars, especially Benjamin Orr, and everyone knew it! Her yearbooks were riddled with comments (and even sketches of Ben!) from friends who would mention her obsession when they would sign off for the summer. She had all The Cars’ albums and would pore over her collection, tallying which songs were Ben’s and which were Ric’s. Most of her favorite songs were Ben’s.
Right after graduating high school, Crystal attended beauty school, finished her certification in 1985, and launched into a career as a hairdresser. She had the world at her feet: she was young and pretty, she loved her job, and she spent all of her free time immersed in the music world.
In November of 1987, The Cars were touring behind their sixth album, Door to Door. Unbeknownst to fans at the time, tensions within the band were running hot. Ben was traveling separately from the rest of the members, and while it is true that he did not enjoy flying, I believe it was also a way for him to separate himself from spending more time than necessary in a work situation that had grown intolerable to him.
To that end, Ben had his own tour bus and his own travel itinerary. The Cars played in Cincinnati, Ohio, on November 25, 1987, and then Ben and his bus left for the next destination: Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After about a six-hour trip, he arrived on Thursday, November 26. The band was scheduled to play the MECCA Arena on Friday, November 27.
On that Thursday night, Crystal was hanging out at her favorite new wave dance club, Park Avenue. In Milwaukee in the 80s, Park Avenue was the place to ‘see and be seen.’ The venue sometimes hosted over-the-top theme nights that literally led to lines of hundreds of people waiting to get in.
I found these photos of the club online. Though they were taken around 1992 when Park Avenue reopened as Nitro, I understand that they are similar to how Park Avenue looked in the late 80s.
And it was here that, much to her delight and awe, Crystal saw Benjamin Orr standing at the bar. “I’m shy, but I had to talk to him or I’d forever regret it!” she said. “I went up to him and he was very nice. I don’t recall the conversation, but I did mention that I was a hairdresser. He said he needed his hair done before the show! I was thrilled and a bit nervous at the chance to not only have met, but to do hair for my teenage idol. He said I could come to his tour bus to do it.
“The next day, I told the salon I worked at that this amazing opportunity came up, that I could do a famous musician’s hair, and I had to take the afternoon off. For some reason they didn’t see the value in it and wouldn’t let me go.”
Crystal was not a slacker by any means; her job was important to her and this was a serious decision. But there was no way… NO WAY!… that she was going to pass up this once-in-a-lifetime chance. “Well, I got fired,” she continued. “I followed my heart and chose rock and roll over my job, and I’ve never regretted it, even for a moment.”
After thirty-three years, many of the finer details of Crystal’s experience that day are gone. As best as she can remember, the tour bus was parked near the loading area behind the MECCA Arena. She can’t recall if Ben showed her around the bus or not, but the two got settled in the main living area, where she cut and colored his hair, likely washing and rinsing in the small kitchen sink. “I packed up my gear, out came the foils, scissors, and so on, and I went to work.”
Crystal has generously shared her before, during, and after pictures with us. As you can imagine, she treasures these photos! A friendly reminder: If you share them on social media, please do NOT crop out the watermark!
The process took a couple of hours, and Ben was low-key and friendly. Crystal remembers that one thing they talked about was scuba diving, as it was one of Ben’s hobbies. Though she considered herself a newbie hairdresser at that time, Ben was happy with her work, and he invited her to come to the show that night, giving her tickets and backstage passes.
“I brought my bestie and ‘partner-in-crime’ and we got to go backstage. We briefly met the other Cars and I had them sign my Creem magazine. Paulina Porizkova was doing some sort of needlepoint work. Ben was eating jalapeno peppers out of the jar and offered some to us. He loved them! I took another photo of Ben before he opened the door to go onstage.”
That November 27 show at the MECCA Arena in Milwaukee rocked. The tickets were only $16.50 — can you believe it? The set list included:
“Tonight She Comes”
“Touch And Go”
“My Best Friend’s Girl”
“Everything You Say”
“Since You’re Gone”
“Strap Me In”
“Moving In Stereo”
“You Are The Girl”
“Good Times Roll”
“You Might Think”
“Just What I Needed”
Crystal and her friend had a blast! Here are a couple of shots from the concert:
Ben generously invited Crystal and her friend to see The Cars play at another nearby show the following weekend, and they were happy to attend. Crystal had printed one of her photos of Ben and he signed it “love Ben Orr” (see above).
She later had the pleasure of seeing The Cars play at the Roseland Ballroom in New York in 2011, where Ric also signed one of her photos from that long-ago show. It gave her goosebumps to hear their wonderful music played live again, though she missed Ben very much.
Even though she is to not be able to bring all the particulars of that first weekend fully back to life, the experience of doing Ben’s hair shifted the course of her career. “Benjamin was my first celebrity client, and [working with him] inspired me to later pursue this type of clientele because to me, musicians usually have the most creative looks. Image is everything onstage.”
Crystal would go on to ‘brush the rock and roll hair’ of many other notable rock stars, including Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Butch Walker and the Marvelous 3, Brett Anderson from the Donnas, the Cocktail Slippers, Dale Watson, The Struts and The Posies.
The day after her October 2 birthday in 2000, Ben passed away. Crystal heard it on the radio and she was crushed. “I felt this personal connection because I did his hair. I felt close to him; I loved him all my life. He was so kind.” She couldn’t help but cry at the loss; Benjamin had changed her life. She will always be grateful to him for the way he influenced her career.
Crystal moved to New York City twenty-six years ago in order to pursue her passions. “A lot of people do many creative things at once. You can’t do that in a lot of cities,” she noted. She has stayed close to the music biz: She was a New Music Scout for Little Steven’s Underground Garage from 2006 to 2017, while maintaining her salon clientele. She also worked as a DJ at NYC’s Beauty Bar for many years, and spun an eclectic mix of garage rock from the ’60s-’80s for the SXSW festival and other special events. In fact, she DJ’d for The Empty Hearts in New York in 2017… but that is another story for another time. Stay tuned!
Today, Covid-19 has limited her DJ work, but Crystal is not letting go of her musical pursuits. She is in the process of creating an Instagram page to showcase her incredible rock photography, a skill she’s had a lot fun cultivating over the years. She is also available for hair appointments. If you’d like to connect with her, you can shoot her an email at email@example.com!
I’m so grateful that Crystal was willing to share her experience and her passion with us! ❤
I owe a HUGE debt of gratitude to Kat F. for making me aware of Crystal’s story. Thank you, my friend!
All photos are courtesy of Crystal Jane Gerard (unless otherwise noted) and shared with permission.
I used this article from onmilwaukee.com for the background information on Park Avenue.
On recording The Lace: “When I went down to the studio, I was totally on my own. I had no influences… I don’t think anybody who sits down to write a song wants to be thought of as pulling off somebody else’s material.” — from “Benjamin Orr: The Cars’ Mr. Casual Steps Out” by Rob Tannenbaum, Musician Magazine, March 1987
On his early days in bands: “Even back then, people had attitude problems or girlfriend problems. If a guy met a girl he thought was special, he’d choose to stay home. And the guys who chose to stay home are still home now.” — from “Benjamin Orr: The Cars’ Mr. Casual Steps Out” by Rob Tannenbaum, Musician Magazine, March 1987
Once upon a time, in the peaceful hamlet of Allston, Massachusetts, a diabolical plot was carried out: the murder of Michael Mackin! But who could be so evil? So cunning? And so sure that he… or she… could escape detection?
Okay, that’s not exactly what happened… er, at least not for real.
On August 8, 1987, Boston’s public access television station, WGBH, hosted a benefit as part of their annual fundraising events. The theme was “Murder at MYSTERY! Mansion” and those in attendance were charged with the task of solving a faux crime, specifically, figuring out who murdered Channel 7 reporter Michael Mackin. Other local celebrities and notable personalities were there, too, and, as witnesses to the ‘death’, were considered suspects.
One gentleman at the charity event was Massachusetts State Police (MSP) Corporal Bob McKeon. Bob was recruited as a volunteer by Carole Nash, owner of the Nash Modeling Agency in Boston, to play the part of the arresting officer at the end of the evening.
As best as Bob can recall from this night over thirty years ago, the excitement got underway while the volunteer actors were gathered on a stage and the guests were mingling nearby. The lights suddenly went out, and when they came up again, Mike Mackin was dead on the floor — the game was afoot! After his body was removed, guests had to interact with the suspects to try to determine who was responsible for the terrible tragedy.
Bob himself was downstairs in a private room, waiting for his cue for the grand finale. He wasn’t privy to all that was happening above so he isn’t sure how Vincent Price fit in, or if a dinner was served, or in what ways the guests obtained clues to solve the mystery. But he was far from bored: Mike Mackin was brought into the room from the stage, and the two had fun shooting the breeze while the event continued upstairs. A little later, Bob had the pleasure of chatting with Benjamin Orr and Diane Page for a bit when they stepped away from the action of the stage.
While Ben and Diane stayed close together most of the evening, Ben made his way down to the room for a short break. He and Bob conversed easily as they found they had obvious common interests. “Ben was a supporter of the MSP. He asked me about my career. Apparently he was friendly with some of the Troopers on the Mass Pike [located in Weston] and mentioned going to the shooting range with a couple of them. He spoke well of the Massachusetts State Police.”
Diane joined them shortly afterwards. Bob found Diane and Ben to be refreshingly genuine and open, and he enjoyed their quiet chat very much.
Eventually it was Bob’s turn to make his appearance in the drama. He headed back upstairs and prepared for his signal calling him to emerge through the curtain.
“When it came time to see who was responsible for Mackin’s murder, I walked onto the stage. I stood out like a sore thumb being dressed in two-tone blue and not black and white like everyone else,” Bob recalled. He played his part perfectly. “I slowly walked past all the alleged suspects and returned to Diane and arrested her for the murder. Then I surprised the crowd by arresting Ben as a co-conspirator before and after the fact.”
The evening was a success, and remains a wonderful memory for Bob.
“It was all in good fun and they raised a sizable sum of money during the event. I was happy they took a photo of myself with Carole, Diane, and Ben. It is a great memory of a fun event. I found Diane and Ben to just be normal folks when I was one-on-one with them. Ben was really nice and I felt sad when he passed.”
Of course, the ‘charges’ were dropped and no one’s permanent record was affected, though Ben did leave a favorable lasting impression on Bob McKeon.
Thank you so much for sharing your little bit of Ben history with us, Bob! ❤
“I was presented with the idea of doing a solo album. Being the bright, intelligent person I am, I said sure. Why let a chance go by? No reason not to.” — from “Benjamin Orr: The Cars’ Mr. Casual Steps Out” by Rob Tannenbaum, Musician Magazine, March 1987
“I remember one of the happiest days of my life was when we did our first promotional tour for the album. We were in Cleveland and riding in the backseat of the promoter’s car when ‘Stay the Night’ came on the radio for the first time. We were so excited and yelling like kids!” — Diane Grey Page, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars by Joe Milliken