“Ric and I have always gotten along, especially musically. We’re good friends as well, but probably the reason why we kept playing together so long is strictly because of the music. Not ‘strictly because of the music…’ just because the music and the friendship were wonderful through all these years and it’s continuing on.” — Retro Rock interview, date unknown
It is 1978. The scene opens with an eight year old boy roaming through a record store in a mall. He is drawn to the face of a beautiful woman, laughing openly and gripping a steering wheel. He recognizes this image; he has seen it before in his siblings’ album collection. He has spent a lot of time examining it front and back, inside and out. He finds it wild, mysterious, a little menacing… He buys the 8-track (his first musical purchase ever) and takes it home. It is, of course, The Cars’ self-titled debut album.
In the darkness of his room, he lies on his bed and listens to “Moving In Stereo.” The composition takes him on a “very mystical, space-like journey.” The sounds, the lyrics, the vocals, all stimulate his imagination. He is electrified… he is hooked. He can’t get enough of the intricate, melodic music; he plays the album over and over. He can’t know that those addictive sounds will blend with other strong influences in his life and set him on a course that will define his career and his ability to release his energy into the world… but they do.
February, 2017. Meet Dante Tomaselli: filmmaker, electronic music composer, and soundscape artist. After studying at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute and the New York School of Visual Arts, Dante went on to produce four feature films, all of which he wrote, directed, and scored on his own. He has also composed three dark ambient albums, with a fourth due to be released in 2017. (See his project list below.) Dante feels the influence of The Cars in all he creates.
“The band has a painterly style. The lyrics and sounds are usually a touch surreal, dreamlike. There is something bright and cheerful on the surface yet the core is often moody and dark. The effect is intoxicating… That’s what I try to do with all of my films and music.”
In Dante’s field, this is particularly important. He works in the realm of horror surrealism. This is not the same category as the traditional scary movie genre like “The Shining” or “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” though he was heavily influenced by such classics as a child. Instead, Dante’s films and music are more representative of the chaos and lack of logic found in one’s own nightmares; the images and emotions that overwhelm the mind in such a state of dark fear.
Because Dante has sound-color synesthesia, certain sounds produce colors and patterns that are projected right out in front of him, like a slide projector. For example, when he hears rain, he’ll see little fiber optic dots, floating specks of colored light, even if he’s indoors. When it comes to The Cars, Dante says listening to them in the dark creates different colors and shapes depending on the song. “I’m triggered by certain kinds of baritone sounds and Moog-like synthesizers. Low-toned and crispy glacial sounds… they glow. Synths are yellow, gold or white. Ric Ocasek’s voice is always dark purple and Ben Orr, royal blue.”
Most of the time, Dante is swirling in a whirlpool of pictures and sounds, which he channels into his work. “Everyone who loves music knows that pleasurable feeling of being completely swept away in a song. The Cars opened that door for me time and time again.”
Dante recalls his first exposure to the Panorama album. “I was 10 and it was 1980. I was in my sister’s room… I remember staring at the cover and back and inner sleeve, reading the bizarre lyrics in a daze. I was in love with their first two albums and was foaming at the mouth to experience Panorama. Soon it was playing on her excellent stereo and I was one of those people that never needed to warm up to Panorama… for me, everything just clicked.”
“You Wear Those Eyes” was one song that immediately jumped out at Dante.
“When I first heard it, I was shocked. ‘You Wear Those Eyes’ didn’t sound like a normal song in any way. I couldn’t believe that the beat – the electronic crashing sound – kept repeating itself over and over. It never stopped. I thought it was very bleak and cold. Yet there was an underlying warmth in Ben Orr’s rich vocal bass sounds and deep hypnotic voice. I enjoyed Elliot Easton’s churning, flickering guitar; the hallucinogenic lyrics. Greg Hawkes’ 3-D-like electronic soundscapes trapped me in a synth pop dungeon.”
For a man who is so visual, it is no surprise that “You Wear Those Eyes” would encapsulate him in such a strong, unusual visual atmosphere: “I imagine what it would look like to see eyes that never blink. I visualize a missing link. Something that’s never been seen or discovered. Very weird, disconnected imagery, no doubt.”
And yet, in spite of the strangeness of these internal images, Dante is not uncomfortable with what he sees. “Ric Ocasek’s trancelike lyrics command me to just take my time. He sings, ‘it’s not too late.’ Buried deep underneath the unconventional and intoxicating atmosphere, there’s a hopeful, reassuring message.” For Dante, “You Wear Those Eyes” evokes a feeling of safety.
Dante also appreciates how Ric and the band leave it up to the listener to decipher the meaning of a song. They set up a mood… a vision… and release it into the world, much like Dante himself does.
Because his films and soundscapes are so specifically in the horror realm, you won’t find a piece in his catalogue that screams out “The Cars!” However, on his most recent project, an ambient soundscape called Witches, there is a song titled “Kundalini Serpent”. It is an instrumental but Dante says, “it does have that galloping, percolating Cars’ vibe.” Witches is set to be released this spring.
In the meantime, Dante has two horror films in development. He is working closely with a terrific seasoned writer, Michael Gingold, on the screenplays. While he enjoys all aspects of the creation process, Dante is looking forward to focusing more exclusively on the music side. “Music will always be with me, no matter what. I can be all alone. I don’t need a crew and $500,000. I created all my albums in my home recording studio.”
He also enjoys recharging his creative energy by watching horror films, playing with his dog, visiting the beach or the woods near his home in New Jersey, and listening to great music, including The Cars (of course), Depeche Mode, Laurie Anderson, Coil, Vince Clarke, Wendy Carlos, Jean Michel Jarre, and John Carpenter.
Dante credits The Cars on everything that he creates for himself. “I want to say thank you to The Cars over and over. It’s a humble feeling of appreciation and giving back.”
Be sure to say hello to Dante if you see him around the various Cars Facebook fan groups, and keep up with his latest projects by visiting his website here. You can also listen to his music on his Pandora channel.
DESECRATION (1999) Image Entertainment
HORROR (2002) Elite Entertainment
SATAN’S PLAYGROUND (2006) Anchor Bay Entertainment
TORTURE CHAMBER (2013) Cinedigm
SCREAM IN THE DARK (2014) Elite Entertainment & MVD Audio
THE DOLL (2014) Elite Entertainment & MVD Audio
NIGHTMARE (2015) Elite Entertainment & MVD Audio
Caller: “Have you ever considered going into acting, and if so, what kind of roles would you like to take part in?” Benjamin: “I considered it… but nothing’s come my way…” (laughing) — Rockline interview, 1987
Well, we know of at least one opportunity he had, but it didn’t work out — dang it!
Miami Vice was a hugely popular television show from 1984 to 1989. It starred Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas as undercover detectives whose job was to rid Miami of drug lords, sleazeballs, and other bad dudes. Unlike the normal fare in the ‘cops and robbers’ genre, Miami Vice skillfully threaded their episodes with cool clothing (starting a whole new fashion trend!) and cutting edge music. The show often featured popular rock-and-rollers of the day, like Glenn Frey, Phil Collins, Ted Nugent, Gene Simmons, Sheena Easton, Power Station (and plenty of great actors, too)… the list goes on and on. It is a great tragedy that Benjamin Orr’s name is not on that list.
Apparently Benjamin was scheduled for a cameo appearance on Miami Vice in 1985, but the day set aside for him to film his part was the same day The Cars were to appear on stage at Live Aid. Since he later mentions Live Aid as his most memorable experience with the band, I’m SO glad they did it. And their performance there is EPIC, one of the best… but , oh, how I would have loved to see him act! Could you imagine? His incredible looks, that low voice, his stony facial expressions; maybe even featuring a song with his vocals (a la Glenn Frey and Smuggler’s Blues)… it all seems so perfect for him! It’s a shame he never got a second chance.
Benjamin was asked a few times what he thought about acting. Here are a couple of other clips of his responses…
What do you think? What kind of roles would have liked to see him play — leading man, action hero, villain? Comment below or find me on Facebook!