The Final Interview

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. 

full band final interview cleveland browns david ric ben elliot gregAs 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

Boston in Pictures

Boston in Pictures

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

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

Okay… here we go!

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

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

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

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

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

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L-R: Eric Green, Joe, and me

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

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

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Inside Eastern Standard

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

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L-R: Me, Judith Orr, and Joe

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

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

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

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Me and Dave… oh, and the Marriott dudes.

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

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

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Boats aplenty at Rockport Harbor!

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

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

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The view of the Atlantic Ocean from Bearskin Neck.

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The view of Back Harbor.

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Natalie Gaber and me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Me, David, and Joe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Brett Milano and Joe Milliken

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

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

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

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

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

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Bob, Matt, and Danny

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

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Powerhouse trio!

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

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

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Benjamin Orr by Kathy Sullivan, 2019

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

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Nicole and me!

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

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Me with Brett Milano

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

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Me with Hirsh Gardner

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

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Me with Eric Barao

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

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

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

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

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

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Me with Ralph Fatello

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

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

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Me, Joe, and Paroo Streich

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

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Kurt and me

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

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

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

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Joe, David Robinson, and Ralph Fatello

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

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Me with Peter Van Ness

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

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Me with Vicki Van Ness

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

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Joe and me

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

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

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

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

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

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On the Verb’s wall of famous patrons….

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

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Another Cars mention on the wall of The Verb Hotel.

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

A couple of extras:

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

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