The Michael Stanley ~ Benjamin Orr Connection

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.

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Image retrieved from the WMMS Cleveland Facebook page.

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. ❤

In other words:

“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… 

Julie Snider and Ben Orr on the Appalachian Trail, circa 2000. Photo courtesy of Julie Snider.

“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

Celebrating Ben today.

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Photo credit: George Shuba

Hello friends! This weekend I am hosting a social media event on Facebook where I’ve invited friends and Ben fans to come and share music, videos, photos, and graphics to honor Ben on the 20th anniversary of his passing. I know not everybody has Facebook, so I’m creating a special page here on my blog where I’ll add the unique things I am sharing over there.

If you look to the left you should see the heading for Pages, and right underneath that there is a link for #CelebratingBenjaminOrr. That’s where everything will be. I’ll keep adding to it over the weekend as I add to the Facebook event to keep everyone in the loop as best as I can.

Feel free to share in the comments what you’re doing today to remember Ben. I’m very grateful that we can all celebrate him together in this small way. ❤

Our Fanorama Family

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.

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Photo by Paul McAlpine

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.

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Artwork by Jim Clarke

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.

In other words:

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Photo from the book Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars by Joe Milliken

“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

Lyrics: Silver

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….

Episode 40: Kirk Johnston!

episode 40The 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.

full circleFrom there they dive into the making of the Full Circle EP and its progressive expansion, covering aspects like:

  1. what the neighbors heard during the recording process
  2. how to NOT sound like Benjamin Orr
  3. getting permission to cover those iconic songs
  4. creating unique videos
  5. the gentle fingerprints of his wife, Kari

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.

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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 nightthoughtspodcast@gmail.com. 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!

In other words:

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

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In other words:

Kalishes 01“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