Ric died on Sunday.
You probably already know that. Of course you do. It is all over every newswire; the world is in mourning.
I’m touched by the number of friends and fans that have contacted me to make sure I was aware, to see if I was okay, and to share their tears with me. Thank you for that. It is both overwhelming and comforting to be a part of so much heartbreak. There is shelter in our mutual grief, and I am grateful for the sincere connection with so many people who love the band I love.
Like many Benjamin Orr fans, when I first started learning all about Ben and researching the history of The Cars, I immediately adopted the opinion that Ric was the bad guy. I couldn’t see the necessity and beauty of his role; I only saw things in the negative: lead vocal distribution, video screen time, touring and merchandising decisions. It’s no secret that he was highly controlling (he admitted it himself more than once) and that he gained the most financially from the band’s success, and I felt that he often came across as arrogant and self-absorbed in those early interviews. I pinned everything on him: certainly the break-up of the band, as well as Ben’s drinking, Ben’s sadness, and Ben’s lack of commercial success in those turbulent 1990s.
It was my friend and podcast partner, Dave, who helped me unclench my fist. We’ve always shared a friendly “Team Ric vs. Team Ben” rivalry, and through many lengthy discussions he chipped away at my tunnel vision and illuminated the human side of Ric, the likeable side. My perception slowly shifted.
I acknowledged that Ric was the one who wrote the music that moved me, the lyrics that resonated. I admitted that I loved a lot of the songs Ric sang. I was reminded that he was Ben’s steadfast partner in chasing the dream, the two of them trekking from state to state in one band or another, both aware (subconsciously or not) that they needed each other to make it. Ric introduced us to David, Elliot, and Greg, too, when he finally solidified The Cars. I saw how in his later years Ric mellowed, spoke kindly of Ben and the band, and communicated his deep respect for the men with whom he made his mark. All these things softened me.
I’m not saying that Ric didn’t play a significant part in all of the ugly, he doesn’t get a ‘pass’ by any means. And I’m not claiming to know how deep his regrets may or may not have been. But I do believe that Ben and Ric made amends before Ben died. I believe that Ric’s love for Ben was sincere and deep, in spite of whatever divided them in the past. Elliot, Greg, and David all speak of Ric with the affection and loyalty that reflects the thick bonds of brotherhood they all shared. If those who were actually hurt by Ric can forgive him, how can I, an outside observer, hold a grudge?
I’ve grown to genuinely admire and respect Ric so much over the last two years. He was intelligent, creative, talented, and he was an integral part of the band I love the most in this world. His death is a terrible blow, a sucker punch. Tears came unexpectedly; many, many tears. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I’d have to say goodbye to my rock idols someday… but not Ric. Not now.
There’s just such a finality in Ric’s death. It’s the end of an era. There is really no more Cars. There will be no more albums, no more tours. And what of the fabled vault? It’s excruciating to accept that so much history may be gone forever, too.
And so I focus on gratitude.
Thank you for all that your music gives me, Ric: the hyper, the healing, the escape. Thank you for the way you gave me Ben. Thank you for providing the platform for David and Greg and Elliot. Thank you for performing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2018 so I could see The Cars live. Thank you for changing the course of music history.
I don’t know exactly how the afterlife works but I suspect (and hope) that you and Ben are reunited, rockin’ and happy. Rest in peace.
March 23, 1944 ~ September 15, 2019