OBITUARY: Ric Ocasek (1944 -2019)
As art is the decoration of space, music is the decoration of time. Memory can bind them together in ways we can never truly express or understand. Such is my experience with the songs of the New Wave band The Cars and its lead singer Ric Ocasek.
The tall bony man with the hidden eyes was all over MTV in my youth, back when the channel played music videos (worn out joke, I know.) He and the band he headlined were as ubiquitous on the channel as Michael Jackson and Van Halen, and it showed. The band took to the format like a shot and the art-form was improved by their participation. I knew of the Cars because of their wild videos with the requisite New Wave design style (thanks to the visual designer of the “You Might Think” video, seen in the top banner image).
The extended riffs and the keyboardist sleeping on the synth keys helped me to find their work visually inspiring…in spite of the videos. Here’s why: I have memories filled with the waving electric blue South Florida sky and the tops of hyper-green palm trees and stringy white contrail clouds. I loll my head on some trip in the back seat of the car on the way somewhere, and in the background the synth trumpeting in “Let the Good Times Roll” goes doooooo-doodle-OO-oo, doodle-OO-oo… Those were happy memories, but the Cars could give us sad memories and songs to cry to. Of course I am talking about “Drive”.
As a little boy learning about love and wanting to share that with someone who was not my family was hard, mainly because I was short on people who felt the same way. I experienced heartbreak and it was amplified by depressing songs like “Drive”. he video was amazing, where there was so much darkness and separation between the brightly-dressed subjects. Learning the lyrics and interpreting the song to be about caring for someone, even though the relationship can’t and won’t work was always something that struck me as profoundly sad.
The music of “Drive” would always pull tears out of me, because of the emotions tied to it and not because of what happened to make those emotions happen. In retrospect, it was perfect: I certainly don’t want to tie lasting bad emotions to Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration”. In later years I stumbled on Mr. Ocasek’s song “Mystery”, from his 1986 solo album “This Side of Paradise”; it was a haunting song with an undercurrent of hypnosis that still had the old Cars feel. I wish I had found it earlier. I keep it on my YouTube playlist in case I want to hear latter Cars songs.
To hear about the passing of Mr. Ocasek at the age of 75 is a sad thing to me for all he and his band did to shape my youth; I don’t know if my sharing this memorial will be able to express my feelings that their music put into me. Maybe it’s just the way kids absorb things like sponges, but I will never forget the deserved Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees The Cars and Ric Ocasek — who always “kept it goin’ ’til the sun went down” for me, at least.
— previously published on 9/26/2019 on Facebook Notes —