“We were all obviously devastated for Ben, but we learned a lot of lessons that last summer. He’d already been diagnosed, and check this out. The doctor says you got three or four months, and we’re not knowing what to say, let alone how to ask the question, and finally it’s kind of like, ‘well…’ Before we could say anything, Ben said, ‘Well, start booking as many gigs as possible. I’m going out the way I came in, doing what I love.’ And it was so inspirational.” — Jeff Carlisi, guitarist for 38 Special and Ben’s Big People bandmate; interview with Craig Garber and Everyone Loves Guitar, November 26, 2020 (at about 14:10)
All of Cleveland was thrown into mourning with the recent death of local icon Michael Stanley. He passed away on March 5, 2021, after a seven-month battle with lung cancer.
As a relentless rocker and a longstanding popular radio DJ, Stanley embodied all the dreams and passions of the people in his beloved hometown. He loved them, and they loved him. Author and music critic Holly Gleason wrote of Michael on variety.com, “He’d been produced by the biggest rock producers of the day in Don Gehman, Mutt Lange and Bill Szymczyk … and toured with the Eagles, REO Speedwagon, Fleetwood Mac. Living the rarest air of rock ‘n’ roll without ever forgetting the folks in Cleveland, he was ours.”
I’m afraid I am not well-versed on Michael’s extensive discography, but I definitely know his name. In fact, I had really hoped to meet him when I was in Cleveland in 2019 with Joe Milliken promoting Let’s Go!, but it didn’t work out. The familiarity for me came through Michael’s connection to Benjamin Orr. Born only 6 months apart, it seems like the two had the potential to be pretty deep friends. They had so much in common: they were both hardworking musicians, native sons of Cleveland; kindhearted, loyal, and generous with their time and talent. It’s no surprise, then, that they collaborated on some very cool projects for their hometown.
- The first one that I know of is the Cleveland C.A.R.E. project. Inspired by the groundbreaking record “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” released at the end of 1984, radio executive John Gorman and media personality Denny Sanders (both legends in Cleveland) secured a roster of dozens of all-star Cleveland artists to create their own charity single. In addition to supporting the efforts to wipe out famine in Ethiopia, profits from the project would benefit the local food banks, too. They tapped Michael Stanley to write a song suited to all those voices, booked nearly two weeks of studio time in April of 1985, and hit the record stores in November with “The Eyes Of The Children.” Benjamin shows up in the music video at 0:58, with Michael right after him. This video also has an interview segment featuring Ben starting at 3:33.
- From what I understand, sometime between 1987 and 1991, while Michael was co-hosting Cleveland’s evening program PM Magazine (later called Cleveland Tonight), Michael interviewed Ben. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the footage of that will surface for us to enjoy.
- Michael and Ben crossed paths again for another Cleveland project some years later. The city’s football team, the Cleveland Browns, went dormant for a few years in the late 90s. When they were ready to get back in the game (literally) in 1998, Michael wrote “Here We Go Again” to celebrate their return, and recruited a pile of big names to perform on the recording and appear in the video for it. In the clip below, the first singer’s face we see is Michael’s, and he’s rocking the stage starting at 2:57. Of course, Ben, who seems to have been a devoted fan, was right there in the thick of it. You can see him in the music video at 2:43, 2:53, and 4:15.
- When Benjamin passed away on October 3, 2000, Michael felt the loss. The very next night, during his concert at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on October 4, Michael paid tribute to Ben by sharing some fond memories, and then he dedicated a poignant acoustic ballad to him. Thanks to MS fan and historian Dave Wade, we have the honor of seeing this touching moment. You may want to grab a Kleenex.
- Only a few short weeks later, on November 10, 2000, Michael would emcee Ben’s memorial celebration at the Hall, opening and closing the service for the family.
I like to think that Ben and Michael formed a solid friendship, bonding over music, the highs and the lows of the business, and over their mutual love and loyalty for Cleveland. I hope, too, that they are now rocking together in heaven.
Cleveland City Council has declared March 25th as Michael Stanley Day on what would have been his 73rd birthday. Sending a hug out to all of my grieving Cleveland friends. ❤
“I will tell you that he was such a champ, and he’s forever my hero because he always got up on that stage, and he was feeling really bad… Everybody helped to make sure that Ben was comfortable and had what he needed. It was an awful, stressful time. And it was a very sad time. And yet, personally, that was the most loving relationship I ever had — and not just between me and Ben, but between Ben and I and those wonderful guys and their wonderful wives. You just felt the charge of love in my house…
“Once Ben was sick, everybody knew the time was short so nobody wanted to miss a moment, and we didn’t. One year… it felt like a lifetime. I didn’t need to really know more about Ben than I did because the time was so precious and condensed, and… he was just a great man… an unbelievably talented, wonderful man.”
— Julie Snider, Benjamin’s fiancée, Benjamin Orr’s Friends and Family Tribute Compilation, recorded September 19, 2020
I’m not sure of the exact date, but this week marks the 20th anniversary of The Cars’ final interview.
From what I understand, Ben flew right from this interview in Atlanta, Georgia, to Palmer, Alaska, for his last performance, playing the August 25th show at the Alaska State Fair. If that’s the case, it is reasonable to assume that he flew out of Atlanta late on the 23rd and arrived on the 24th, allowing time to rest and prepare for their gig. It’s also possible that they did the interview on the 24th and then flew out that day; I’m just not sure.
Here are some things I do know:
- The interview took place at Turner Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, where Ben was living with Julie Snider.
- Well-known Boston writer Brett Milano moderated the event.
- Jeff Carlisi, Ben’s Big People band mate, was there at Ben’s request.
- The footage was released on October 24, 2000, exactly three weeks after Ben’s death, by Rhino Home Video. It was a special feature on a DVD called The Cars Live.
- This reunion was the first time the members of The Cars had assembled in over a decade.
As told in Joe Milliken’s book, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars, everyone went out to dinner together the night before the interview and spent time reconnecting. Although David, Greg, Ric, and Elliot were all aware that Ben was sick before they arrived, each of them has since expressed that they were taken off guard when they first saw him, having to face the finality of the devastating progression of his illness. Still, the men fell back into step and determined to keep things light and positive.
The fact that they were all together again touched a deep chord in the hearts of Cars fans. These five men had labored together to reach the highest heights of fame and fortune only to have their brotherly bond disintegrate. But this reunion brought peace. By all public accounts, amends were made.
I mentioned that this interview was included on The Cars Live. That DVD is the official release of The Cars’ performance for Germany’s pop music show, Musikladen (recorded in November of 1978 and aired in 1979). It is apparent that the band members watched that concert before the camera started rolling, as Milano opens by asking them how it felt to see that show 22 years later. Greg jumps in and the conversation starts rolling.
The guys cover some varied ground in the nearly 50 minutes of discussion. They talk about that European experience in 1978, go through the band’s history and early days, and reminisce on owning their own studio. They laugh over cover songs they used to do and share what they are most proud of when they look back at their time with The Cars. There are some obvious edits to the footage which leave you hanging a bit, most notably at 33:26, when I wish we could hear more of Ben’s thoughts on the duality of his life as a rock star vs. a regular guy.
Their interplay seems very much the way it always used to be, with Ric doing the lion’s share of the talking and Elliot right behind. David and Greg add their funny quips and Ben is largely silent, just like the old days. Ben’s illness does cast a pall, though, as you can see that he is very frail and tired. Still, he is attentive and involved, and chimes in when he wants to, and from time to time he flashes that gorgeous smile.
I know this can be really, really hard to watch, as Benjamin is so physically altered, but I wanted to honor this important event in his history and in the history of The Cars.
One fan left a comment on YouTube sharing that she listened to the interview with earbuds while doing chores and she was better able to focus on the content of the discussion. I think that is a terrific idea for those that can’t get past the visual change in Ben.
But let me also encourage you. Ben was strong right up to the end. He wanted things to continue on as normally as possible, until they couldn’t anymore. He didn’t want special treatment, he didn’t complain, he never faltered. He wasn’t ashamed of his appearance, he didn’t even fully conceal his eyes. He didn’t hide in the shadows. He desired peace, and he desired to give pleasure to his fans.
Though his body is ravaged, the strength of his incredible spirit shines beautifully in this final interview. I hope you can embrace it, too. ❤
A side note about Ben’s final performance:
I learned this past winter that there was a discrepancy over the date of the last show Ben performed. Joe Milliken and I wrote this clarification for the Let’s Go! Facebook page and published it on January 3, 2020.
On October 5, 2000, ABC News published an obituary for Ben that, among other details, claimed that he played his last show with Big People on September 27, 2000, in Alaska, less than a week before he passed away. Various other media outlets also picked up that information and it has been widely circulated – and relied upon by Ben/Cars’ fans – ever since.
Unfortunately, it recently came to our attention that this information is not accurate. Big People was actually booked to play at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, Alaska, on August 25, 2000, not in late September. We have since clarified with Big People band member, Jeff Carlisi, that Ben’s last performance was indeed on that August 25 date. He also added that Big People did play one more show on September 27, however, it was in Texas and Ben was not there. It was the only show that he missed, which is indicated in the book.
Although we surely want to bring this correct information to light, we are also distressed, as pieces of the narrative in “Let’s Go!” relied upon the previously circulated news information, along with individual interviews, to describe Ben’s last days, including anchoring the date of his final interview with The Cars. We are continuing to flesh out more accurate details, and will also be working with our publisher to see what corrections can be made to the book moving forward.
We appreciate everyone’s understanding and of course, we continue to strive towards ultimately painting the clearest and most accurate picture of Ben’s amazing life. ~ Joe and Donna
Attention Big People fans:
Limited-edition 20th anniversary Big People shirts are now available!
First, please join me in offering a tremendous ‘thank you’ to Jeff Carlisi for allowing us to recreate the logos and put them back in action, and to Kurt Gaber for designing the shirts in his spare time. I am so grateful to them both! My gratitude to Facebook member Hugh Futch, who shared photos of his original Big People t-shirt purchased in 1999, which gave us the template to build on.
Please be aware that no one is profiting from the sale of these shirts. The price reflects the cost of having them printed and mailed.
Please read this ENTIRE post for details on how to get yours!
The cost is $15.00 for short-sleeved shirts and $20.00 for long-sleeved shirts. Sweatshirts are $24.00 and hoodies are $34.00. The design on the fronts and backs of all the shirts is the same; the only variation is the size and placement of the logo on the front.
The gray shirts are sold in standard sizes from Men’s SMALL to XL in both short and long sleeves. The white shirts are Women’s V-NECK shirts and are sized from SMALL to XL in short and long sleeves as well. Next to the photo of each shirt mock-up you will find sizing charts. I cannot be responsible for sizing issues.
If you prefer XXL and XXXL sizes please add $1.00 and $1.50 (respectively) for short sleeves, and $2.00 and $2.50 (respectively) for long sleeves (see the first sizing chart in the comments). If you need a larger size, please expect $1.50 for each additional step up.
SHIPPING charges in the continental US are $5.00 for the first shirt and $3.00 for each additional shirt. It is more expensive to ship the sweatshirts and hoodies, so I will calculate an accurate shipping quote depending on your zip code. Orders shipped outside of the continental United States will be charged international shipping rates so postage will be calculated individually. All packages will ship via the post office.
You can pay through Paypal using the ID firstname.lastname@example.org. If this is an issue let me know and we can try to work out another method.
ORDER DEADLINE IS JULY 3, 2020. The items will take 2-3 weeks to print and then will be shipped out. I’ll let you know via email when they are on their way.
HOW TO ORDER:
Send an email directly to me, Donna, at email@example.com. I will only process orders I receive EMAILS for! Include ALL of the following information: your name, your mailing address, the style you want, the sleeve length, and the size you need. I will confirm via email that I got your order and finalize the total amount.
Please contact me with any questions, and feel free to share this post in its entirety. Rock on!
~ 🥰 Hi friends! I have some Big People “All Access” stickers to give away! 🥰 ~
In honor of the 20th anniversary of Big People’s heyday, I’ve got plans for a few special items to share with fans. This sticker is the first!
These were made using the image of the actual 1999 Big People all-access backstage passes, given to me by Jeff Carlisi. He’s the best! If you’d like one, all you have to do is send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to me and it’ll be on its way! It is about the size of a playing card, so a small envelope works just fine. One sticker per person, please; quantities are limited.
My mailing address:
P.O. Box 925
Priest River ID 83856
I hope you are all staying safe and healthy!
On Ben’s diagnosis and death: “That was crazy. I went to see him. He was pretty strong; I have to say that. Very strong, considering he knew very well that he didn’t have very many days to live. It was very sad. It’s hard to even comprehend, because a year before that, there was nothing wrong. So no one really expected that.
“To make it more sad, he had a little boy who was about four at that point, and when I went to see Ben in Atlanta, his little boy was there, too. It was sad for me, because I have kids, like, ‘Oh my God, the poor little kid doesn’t even barely know what’s gonna happen.’ I guess I didn’t really believe it. I was asking some people around, ‘Well, how long do you think?’ They were going, ‘A few weeks.’ I said, ‘Nah. You gotta be kidding.’ But there’s no way to get out from under pancreatic cancer, from what I understand. It’s a horrible thing to have.” — Ric Ocasek, Magnet Magazine interview, 2005
It’s no secret that Jeff Carlisi was heavily influenced by The Cars when he co-wrote what may well be 38 Special’s most recognizable and beloved song, “Hold On Loosely.” He is unfailingly candid about it whenever he tells the story of its creation. But it wasn’t just that one song: The Cars and Benjamin Orr would play a pivotal role in Jeff’s musical career long after he fiddled around with those first chugging 8th notes.
38 Special was a popular 80s band out of Jacksonville, Florida. Well, I guess I should say they still are, since they just announced a new tour for 2020, though I believe Don Barnes is the only original member remaining. Anyway, the group of high school pals started churning out Southern rock songs in 1974 but, in Jeff’s words to me, “the first couple of albums were garbage and got no play.” Jeff felt the band was stuck trying to imitate the genre’s icons of the day, like Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers Band, and The Marshall Tucker Band. In doing so, they were failing to set themselves apart from the rest of the swamp.
In 1979 they got an infusion of fresh water (see what I did there?) when Jim Peterik, co-founder of the band Survivor, joined their songwriting sessions. Their third album, Rockin’ Into the Night, finally put the band on the charts when the title track peaked at #43 on the Billboard Hot 100. 38 Special was finally getting some national attention, but they were still sputtering a bit to find their signature sound.
Jeff clearly remembers the first time he heard “Just What I Needed.” He told me, “I was driving in my car and JWIN came on the radio. I thought I was going to throw up. I thought it was terrible; I couldn’t switch the radio station fast enough.” But within two weeks he couldn’t get enough of it, drawn in by the simplicity and genius of the riffs and the infectious chorus.
As Jeff explains in this video excerpt from iVideosongs, he started messing around with that beginning riff and it morphed into the backbone of “Hold On Loosely.” Don Barnes and Jim Peterik loved it, adding lyrics and fleshing out the music. It was a huge hit, and all of a sudden 38 Special was a staple on both rock and pop radio. Over the next decade the band released “Caught Up In You,” “If I’d Been the One,” “Back Where You Belong,” “Like No Other Night,” and on and on… They now had a sound all their own, featuring, as Jeff aptly calls it, “the ever present 8th note.”
Because of that little opening riff in “Just What I Needed,” Jeff believes that The Cars helped boost them out of the mire 38 Special was stuck in and put them on the road to success.
“I think the one band that I owe the most credit to as far as really hitting my stride as a songwriter, especially when 38 Special started becoming successful in the early 80’s, was the Cars…I really owe Ric Ocasek (the Cars’ leader) a lot of credit as far as enlightening me into how you can create something different, very original and unique – that when you hear it on the radio for the first time it’s like ‘whoa, it’s that band.’ Some people say ‘as soon as I hear your songs on the radio I know that it is 38 Special because nobody else does it that way.’” — Jeff Carlisi, American Songwriter interview, July 1992.
When Jeff left 38 Special in 1996, he could not have predicted that The Cars — or at least, one member of The Cars — would have an even deeper impact on his life.
38 Special and The Cars were both at their most popular in the 80s, though the two groups didn’t really cross paths. Jeff never met any members of the band until 1999, when he and Ben ended up together in the supergroup Big People. Jeff recalled in the book, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars, “Derek picked Ben up at the airport, and I was in awe of this guy. I’ll never forget the first time he walked through the door for rehearsal and I said, ‘Hey, you’re Ben Orr!’ and he just said with a smile, ‘So, that’s what I’ve been told.'”
When they were pulling together each individual member’s contribution to the setlist, Ben made it clear that he would only perform Cars’ songs that originally featured his vocals. Jeff was surprised to learn that Ben actually sang many of the band’s hits; like so many others, he assumed it was all Ric on the albums. Learning the songs for Big People elevated the music to a whole new level for Jeff. “I was always a casual fan, but I became a much bigger fan of The Cars after playing those songs with Ben.”
One day Jeff tried to explain to Ben how “Hold On Loosely” came from “Just What I Needed.” He even went as far as playing the two riffs side by side to illustrate the influence for Ben. Remembering, Jeff laughs, “Ben just looked at me, and he had that dry wit, you know. He said, ‘Sorry, pardner. I just don’t hear it.'”
The friendship between Jeff and Ben was immediate and permanent; they were as close as brothers. They had so much in common: the music in their blood, their deep love for kids, and the desire for copious amounts of hot sauce. They were even near the same size physically, though Jeff told me with a laugh, “His feet were much smaller than mine. I couldn’t figure out how he could walk around on such tiny feet!”
While Julie Snider, Ben’s fiancée, was tirelessly and tenderly caring for Ben’s every need throughout his illness, Jeff with right there with her. Together they saw to it that Ben’s last weeks were as active and comfortable as Ben wanted them to be.
Jeff finally met the other members of The Cars when he attended the video shoot for the band’s last interview in August of 2000. Ben emphasized that he really wanted Jeff to be there, and that he was looking forward to introducing Jeff to the other guys. Jeff remembers Ric as being rather stoic and aloof, but overall everyone was friendly.
After Ben’s memorial service in Cleveland, Jeff went to lunch with Greg Hawkes and David Robinson and enjoyed swapping stories with them about Ben and their respective bands. It was good to connect; it was good to bond through Ben.
After Ben passed away, Julie gifted Jeff with an incredible treasure: Ben’s Gibson EB-6. Jeff had long admired it, and Julie assured him that Ben would want him to have it. It remains one of Jeff’s most cherished possessions to this day, a tangible reminder of the love of a best friend, gone too soon.
Isn’t it so incredible that 40 years after Jeff was repulsed and then inspired by “Just What I Needed,” Ben would come along and rock Jeff’s world once again? It’s a beautiful thing. ❤
A couple of additional factoids (because how can I not include a number list?):
- “Hold On Loosely” was the 13th video played on the first broadcast of MTV. Jeff vividly remembers a cameraman from MTV coming out to film their live show, back when ‘music television’ was an untried concept. He recounts the memory at about the 17 minute mark in the Youtube video from iVideoSongs.
- Jeff has always had a huge desire to connect kids and music. In 2003 he founded Camp Jam Co., an organization that hosts a variety of music experience programs for learners of all ages and skill levels, in cities all across the nation.
- Wanting to also come alongside adults, in 2009 he co-wrote a book called Jam: Amp Your Team, Rock Your Business. He weaves his personal rock-and-roll success story with sage advice for business executives looking to rise to the top of their game. (True to form, he gives full inspirational credit to The Cars.)
- Jeff will be a guest on Madame Perry’s Salon on January 27, 2020. Listeners can call in and ask questions during this interview. The studio number is 646-716-9922. Tune in!
- I’ve included a few more videos below, including another example of Jeff talking about how “Just What I Needed” influenced 38 Special, as well as some original performances by 38 Special, The Cars, and Big People.
Now, it’s time to rock!
“Ben was the kindest, greatest, most loving man I ever met. In the span of one year, we lived a lifetime together.” — Julie Snider, People Magazine, October 23, 2000
“Ben was an interesting guy. He liked his privacy and stayed that way to the end. He sort of went into seclusion when he knew things weren’t going well for him. He really didn’t want to see many people.” — John Kalishes, former guitarist and co-writer for Ben, The Boston Globe, October 5, 2000
“Ben had a calmness about him that I related to. He wasn’t ostentatious like you’d expect a rock star to be. He was gentle and kind, and loved family.” — Julie Snider, Benjamin’s fiancee at the time of his death; A History and Retrospective on the Life of Benjamin Orr, by John Colapinto
In describing what he was most proud of about The Cars: “Enjoying the music that we played and still having it recognized by the kids… the kids of the kids that used to be at the concerts. Good camaraderie, glad we’re all friends and lived through all that for about ten years apiece. It’s been great fun. Proud to do that; they’re great people. ‘Bout it.” — The Cars Live DVD, final interview, 2000