“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 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
With the passing of Ric Ocasek on September 15, the world has gone into mourning. Rock legends and up-and-coming musicians (and everyone in between) have been paying tribute to him all week long, in all sorts of meaningful ways: posting photos, tweeting remembrances, and singing his songs in live sets across the country. Not only do they celebrate the man they loved and admired, but they give us a gift in revealing more about who Ric really was. I am deeply appreciative.
Seeing all of the headlines day after day, my sixteen-year-old daughter remarked, “Wow. I didn’t think it would be this big of a deal.” You see, here in my house, my family obviously knows about my fixation with Ben and The Cars, and they lovingly humor me about it, but they think it’s just my ‘little thing.’ They don’t know how important The Cars have been to the world at large, and none of them really understand how much the band matters to me. They don’t get that it is more than just an obsession or a hobby. Ben, Ric, David, Greg, Elliot… these guys move me. Their music is part of my brain matter, intimately inseparable from my emotions and memories. Their existence is important to my existence. And when they are no longer leaving fingerprints in this world, I feel it deep down inside. Not many of my peeps around here get that.
And so it has been all the more precious to me to see how the Cars fans have come together over the news that Ric is gone.
A few years ago someone coined the term ‘Fanorama’ to encompass the members of the Facebook groups and Twitter pages (and anywhere on social media, really) who regularly check in to geek out about The Cars. Over the years I’ve developed many solid relationships inside the Fanorama; people who I may or may not have ever met in ‘real life’ but that are part of my daily landscape. And while I’ve long considered them friends, I believe that Ric’s death has made us a family.
When someone you love dies you automatically want to go to others who also loved that person and express your shock and sadness. You want to share the memories and pictures, you want to cry together and tell of regrets and give words of hope. It’s a natural human response, right? “Misery loves company.” And you bond as brothers and sisters in your grief.
And that’s what we did, our Fanorama. When Ric died, we virtually looked at each other in disbelief and said, “tell me it’s not true!” We collapsed on each other’s shoulders and cried together in grief. We gave strength and we took strength and we squeezed each other’s hands and asked, “how are you holding up?” We wrapped our arms around each other and held on tight and assured each other, “it’s going to be okay.” And we shared memories, music, stories, artwork, awe, laughter, frustration, gratitude. I felt it — I still feel it — every time I get on social media, the healing comfort of my dear Cars family.
I find that in the midst of this devastating loss there is so much love. It’s a beautiful thing.
So many offerings I’ve seen and heard this week have helped me, but I think this video comes the closest to encompassing my emotions in a visual form. I woke up the morning after Ric passed away feeling confusion and achy longing and at a bit of a loss. My FB feed was flooded, but this post from Becky B caught my eye. As I watched the incredible video she created, the tears came again, but as much pain as I felt watching it, it was different somehow. I saw the celebration of Ric and Ben. Her tribute skillfully addressed the hurt and the healing and the hope, all at the same time.
The song choice, the photos and live footage, the spiritual aura… I’m not sure how to explain my impressions. I’ll just let you watch it. Be sure to grab some tissue.
I send out a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to Becky. I can’t imagine how late she stayed up the night Ric left us in order to create this tribute, but I’m so glad she did. It went straight to my heart.
And thank you, my Fanorama family. Being able to stay in touch with you this week has been such a consolation to me, and I know you are comforting one another, too. We’ll see each other through this, like a family should.
“The time with Ben before and while he was ill were some of the most important, exciting, life- and spiritual-expanding moments I’ve ever shared with anyone. Ben taught us so much about life, in the way he went through the process of cancer treatment and in day-to-day life. He was also an absolutely fantastic father to his son, and loved him more than he ever loved anyone.” — Julie Snider-Mennie, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars, page 192
Silver (written by Ric Ocasek, ©2005)
Appearing as track five on Ric’s 2005 solo album Nexterday, “Silver” was apparently written as Ric’s tribute to Benjamin. Greg Hawkes played the keyboards.
You were my silver, you were my gold
You were all the things that can’t be told.
You were my star falling through the night
You were the one that showed me grand delight
I can’t see you, but I need you, you’re gone… yeah, you’re gone… yeah, you’re gone away
You were my right hand, you were my friend
You were always strong until the end
You were my good time, you were my rave
You’re the one that always set the stage
What I once knew, now I miss you, you’re gone… yeah, you’re gone… yeah, you’re gone away
Now I spend my lonely nights wishing you were here to make things right
And turn my darkness into light
‘Cause you were my party, you were my tea
You’re the one that had some faith in me
You’re what I once knew, now I miss you, you’re gone… you’re gone… you’re gone away
You were my good time, you were my rave… you’re the one that always set the stage….
The week’s podcast gets an extra shot of rock and roll with our very special guest, Mr. Kirk Johnston! Kirk has long been known in the Fanorama as a highly talented vocalist and bass player. He is beloved for his album, Full Circle, featuring beautiful versions of some of Benjamin Orr’s best known songs. He further won the hearts of fans with his generous work for the Pancreatic Cancer Foundation in Benjamin’s name.
In this episode, Dave and Donna explore Kirk’s musical background, when he got hooked on The Cars, and how Benjamin Orr shaped and influenced the course of Kirk’s musical career. Kirk gives Ben all the credit for stretching the boundaries of Kirk’s talent, from pushing him to be a better bassist to teaching him to sing, to being the compass guiding Kirk toward a radical change in his sound.
From there they dive into the making of the Full Circle EP and its progressive expansion, covering aspects like:
With Kirk currently remastering and re-releasing music from his career with the hard-rocking Texas band Snowblind Revival, Dave and Donna walk him through the rollercoaster of the group’s heyday and what led to bringing the music back in 2018.
Featuring the late Dennis Clevenger on vocals, drummer Wes Korner, bassist Nathan de los Santos, and Kirk on lead guitar, the four friends went from high school jam sessions to playing gigs all across the United States. After being on the verge of a record deal that was never realized, the band imploded and relationships fell apart. Kirk shares how amends were made, the tragedy of Dennis’s early death, and some of the parallels between Dennis’s story and Benjamin Orr.
Never one to do a project without a heartfelt purpose, Kirk explains his motivation for releasing this music now: to offer help and healing to those struggling with thoughts of hopelessness, and to solidify a creative and financial legacy for Dennis’s young son.
We highly encourage you to check out Snowblind Revival’s incredible music, watch videos of their performance, and support Kirk’s vision by visiting www.snowblindrevival.com. And be sure to follow Kirk and the Snowblind Revival project on Twitter, too!
The episode closes out with Kirk’s amazing version of Benjamin’s hit, “Stay the Night,” showcasing a swaying tropical sound and a little Texas flair.
Don’t forget… Find us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @TheCarsPodcast (individually we’re @night_spots and @sweetpurplejune ), and subscribe to our audio outlets! You can listen by clicking the Youtube link below, or visit us on iTunes or Soundcloud. Wherever you connect, be sure to subscribe, share and comment. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us know your thoughts — we’d love to hear from you!
Don’t wait another minute to get to know Kirk. Click below and enjoy!
Regarding honoring Benjamin Orr during the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony: “I feel like he definitely was represented. I think we all made mention. Just because we didn’t do ‘Drive,’ I don’t think there’s any disrespect meant towards Ben. If anything, I almost think the opposite, that as far as Ben’s vocal there, you can’t really replace the guy, so why attempt it?” — Greg Hawkes, NiGHT THOUGHTS: The Cars Podcast Episode 31, June 8, 2018
“Ben had the best sense of time of any person on the planet. He also had an amazing grasp of the way vocals fit into a song. Ben had a way of singing things and of putting emotion with his vocals into things like nobody else.” — John Kalishes, former guitarist and co-writer for Ben, The Boston Herald, October 5, 2000
What was the discussion in moving forward without Benjamin? “In a nutshell, we felt as though we couldn’t replace Ben, so we wouldn’t even try, and we would just come up with technological solutions to the huge gap that his… absence leaves in the band… That’s just not The Cars, you know; that’s just not us.” — Elliot Easton, interview with Slacker Radio at Lollapalooza, 2011
Do you remember those late night infomercials they used to play on television in the 1990s, advertising ‘greatest hits’ music compilations? Back before the internet and iTunes could put together your mixes for you? Well, I don’t know how successful those efforts were at actually selling products, but I do know they sold one young kid on his future: “I can remember seeing a ten second spot of The Cars’ ‘Just What I Needed’ promo video; seeing these guys in ties and aviator shades; Benjamin Orr playing a Stingray bass with bleach-blonde hair, and I thought, ‘That’s what I wanna do.’”
And that is precisely what he went on to do. Scott Bell was instantly hooked on that addictive sound of The Cars, and it would help to define his career. Though Benjamin passed away before Scott’s first professional project even got off the ground, Scott would end up making a connection with his rock hero in a unique and unexpected way.
Born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, in 1979, Scott has spent his life pursuing music. Not long after seeing his first glimpse of The Cars, Scott picked up the bass in 1992 and began learning how to sing shortly thereafter. Benjamin’s voice was the perfect teacher.
“When you’re learning how to control your voice, his songs are the perfect template. His nuances, his throat, arrogant strut, pompous bravado, and his phrasing… somehow I found when I was learning how to sing, I could also do that. Take something like ‘All Mixed Up.’ In that song Benjamin’s range is all over the place and really, that’s an ideal song for someone who wants to learn how to sing! It even has falsetto!”
Scott began singing and playing in bands at the age of 15, playing local parties and every gig they could get in the Windsor area, but it wasn’t until 2004 that he went professional with his talents. His band, Solidarity, had modest success with their single “Transgression,” from their 2005 Materializer album. Later, he released two albums with Doug Peters under the name Peters and Bell . The year 2009 saw Scott’s first solo album, The Voyage, which he describes as “a very Vangelis-meets-Oldfield ambient project.”
After that, Scott changed directions a bit. “Benjamin was about 31 when he recorded [‘All Mixed Up’]. He was already a seasoned singer, he had already cut his teeth blowing out PA systems in clubs for years. So, when I was about 31, I kind of left on my own on the music scene and I thought that I would like to try performing some cover songs to post on Youtube. The first band that came to mind was The Cars.”
Scott began working on covers of his favorite songs from Benjamin’s vocal catalog, including his solo album, The Lace, and selections from Benjamin’s unreleased tracks. Working alone in his own home studio, which was still under construction, he recorded all the parts fairly quickly. He started with “In Circles” and “Just What I Needed” (“Horrible guitar solo and all!” he laughs) and uploaded them to Youtube in the fall of 2010. About a year later he added “Stay the Night” and “Coming Home Tonight.” Another groan. “’Stay The Night?’ It’s funny. I can’t listen to my version of it now, it’s so bad. I should re-record it properly!” Rounding out his collection and with his studio now complete, he added “Cruiser” and “Don’t Tell Me No” this spring. (Here is a full playlist of Scott’s covers.)
Scott was inspired when he heard that The Cars would be reuniting for another album and tour. “I knew that they weren’t going to replace Benjamin and that Greg would be playing all of the bass parts, but something inside me said to do a few tracks, just in case. What’s the worst that could happen, right? I’d die for THAT gig!”
And of course, he was right: The Cars did reunite… and they were not in the market for a bass player. As it turns out, though, Scott’s Youtube uploads brought him as close as he could come to standing in for Benjamin as one could expect at the time. Not for The Cars, but in an another, more unusual circumstance.
About 600 miles south of Scott, a charity album was in the works benefitting the rare but serious childhood condition known as Kawasaki Disease. Part of that project included a song that was originally written by Benjamin Orr and Diane Grey Page sometime in the mid-1980s, and never released to the public. Left largely unfinished, the composition was completed and polished around 2011, and a search was begun for a vocalist who could do justice to this rare piece of Benjamin’s legacy.
In late 2014 Scott was contacted out of the blue by a music producer in Nashville, Tennessee. Apparently someone had passed on the videos of Scott’s cover tracks and wanted Scott to have a go at this new song. He recorded a rough vocal track and sent it off. While his interest was piqued in the project, he tried to keep his expectations low about what the outcome might be. He didn’t hear anything back for about a year. Then in October of 2015 he received an email letting him know that Elliot Easton and Greg Hawkes were ready to record the track, along with famed drummer John “JR” Robinson, and would Scott be interested in officially joining in on the project?
Scott jumped at the chance. With Benjamin gone, Scott felt that this project was the closest he was ever going to get to collaborating with the artist who had basically taught Scott to sing. Not only that, but getting to work with Elliot and Greg – members of the band who had set the musical standard for Scott’s career – was a dream come true. Within a week he was on his way to Nashville to join a host of talented musicians united for a common cause.
“Elliot, Greg and I all stayed at this great house that was rented for us in Franklin, Tennessee, about 50km outside of Nashville, where we got to hang out and get to know each other before we recorded this new song. Both great guys, we hit it off right away. Had a cocktail or two and both of them were very open to any Cars-related questions that I threw at them. I’m sure they got the vibe that I was a bit of a superfan, but I thought I played it pretty cool.”
On a Friday morning, the guys got busy. They were driven to Dark Horse Studios, where they met up with JR and the rest of the recording team. Scott describes the day:
“Everyone had done their homework, so everything went very smooth. Elliot, Greg, and JR laid their parts down on the first day and then Greg started his keyboard overdubs early that evening. Watching them was truly awe-inducing. This was a level of professionalism I had never seen.”
Scott continues, “JR ripped through the song and I think the third take was THE one. Such power and precision. Elliot’s guitar parts were all done pretty quick as well, and watching him build the structure of the song is something that I’ll never forget. Hearing that signature tone come from the studio monitors as he was sitting next to me was a dream come true. Greg experimented with some of his overdubs and magically, The Cars were stamped all over this thing. When we listened back to the mix, it was pretty powerful and I remember Elliot saying to me, ‘This is the closest thing to a new Cars song they’re gonna get!’”
After wrapping up things at the studio for the day, everyone headed to downtown Nashville for dinner and drinks. The down-time spent together, just getting to know each other and establishing a relaxed vibe, was very important in the success of the project. “There was absolutely no pressure from anyone and the guys believed in me, so it was all done out of love: love for one another and love for the music. Of course, it was all done for charity, and if you can have a good time and make great music, that makes it even better!”
On Saturday morning, Scott met up with Cameron Browne, a terrific engineer and fellow Canadian, in the studio. They had the place to themselves. They made some coffee, relaxed and chatted a bit, and then got to work cutting Scott’s vocals. “We punched through the song in about an hour and we were very happy with it. Cameron was extremely supportive and made the recording process as easy as possible.”
(Scott was kind enough to put together a video of ‘behind the scenes’ footage of the recording process; I’ve included it at the end of this article after the video for “Open Your Eyes.” I also want to jump in here and say that Scott’s vocals are terrific. You definitely get the spirit of Benjamin coming through his delivery, but he adds his own flair and personality to the recording. I can’t help but think Benjamin would be honored and pleased with what Scott has done.)
Elliot, Greg and JR arrived at the studio in the afternoon. You might think that Scott would be shaky, having two of his rock-and-roll heroes critiquing his vocal work, but that wasn’t the case at all. “I wasn’t even really nervous or apprehensive about them hearing my vocals because we had already spent a lot of downtime together hanging out, and it was all very relaxed and comfortable.”
The next step was recording the background vocals. Elliot and Greg joined Scott in the booth. Because everything was friendly and natural, it was easy for Scott to take in the advice from these two seasoned professionals. “Elliot would give me little tidbits on how Benjamin used to sing with them, which harmonies to go for, and Greg was helping with my breathing and trying to get the most out of our takes.”
“They told me stories about how Mutt Lange used to drag them over glass cutting background vocals, take after take, and shared awesome stories about Roy Thomas Baker and his famous multi-layered background vocals.” Scott absorbed it all, learning from these artists he admired so much.
It was a very exciting and moving piece of the project for Scott. “That was a real highlight for me, singing between those two like Benjamin had done so many times before on Cars tracks.” But it went deeper than that. “There were a couple of moments while singing and my eyes would close and I could feel something go through me. Positively spiritual. I don’t know what it was but I definitely had Benjamin in mind. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was in that room with us.”
By Saturday night the recording was finished, and the results were left to be mixed and mastered. Other musicians involved with the charity project began showing up, and Scott spent time hanging out and making new friends and musical connections; relationships that Scott knows will last a lifetime.
Since working on the “Open Your Eyes” project, Scott has joined a band called Mrs. Fox — kind of a funk-meets-rock sound. They just released their debut album, Make It Quick, in May of this year. They play around the Windsor, Ontario, area, and have some exciting festival shows coming up this summer. Check out their music here, or take a listen on youtube, and like them on Facebook to hear the latest news.
In addition to playing in Mrs. Fox, Scott is working on his next solo album and hopes to have it completed by the end of the summer. Send him a friend request on Facebook (he loves to meet Cars fans!) or keep an eye on my Facebook page for news of that upcoming release.
Looking back, Scott is grateful for his unique experience. “That was a very special project, and I hope that something comes of it one day. I am extremely fortunate to have worked with my childhood – and adult – heroes.” (As of the time of this writing, the status of this charity project is unknown.)
Even deeper is the satisfaction Scott carries of having honored Benjamin with his vocal performance. “More than anything, I wanted to have a performance that Benjamin would be proud of. I wanted to sing it in his style but still be myself… I feel that I achieved it and I am very proud of it.”
Here’s that awesome behind the scenes footage:
All photos courtesy of Scott Bell and used with permission.
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