As I drove around a borrowed car doing my job today, numerous songs by the band The Cars played. The reason was that lead singer Ric Ocasek had died of heart disease at age 75. For many Americans, The Cars are a band whose music instantly transports your mind back in time. It brought back some memories of driving my first car as a youth (a VW bug).
Their songs were a big part of the soundtrack of my teenage years. When their first album was released, I was just a couple of years shy of the perfect age of hearing their music and seeing their videos on MTV. But I soon caught on and caught up and became a fan. I even was in a garage band that played their song “My Best Friend’s Girl.” As I drove on my job, the band played on.
(Gas) Tanks for the Memories
l never saw The Cars play live in concert, but their music was ubiquitous in the 80’s and still is a staple of classic rock. At the time, it was quirky, had a pop sensibility and was just fun. But after they stopped releasing albums, I lost track. I was sad when bassist and sometimes singer for the band Benjamin Orr died in 2000. I saw Todd Rundgren at South by Southwest last year, and prior to that many years ago, and recall that he had appeared with the group on tour as the New Cars. I did not pay much attention to the fact that the band reunited in 2011 for one last album.
But Ric was a curious guy to be a lead singer. Tall, thin, and quirky looking, he had a sort of jerky voice made him both weird and accessible. When he met Paulina Porizkova, a supermodel, on the set of the video for the song “Drive,” later they got married and had two sons, it gave gawky teens hope. “Hey, if that guy can get the girl, maybe we can too!” went our fallacious logic. As time went and the spotlight faded, Ric became a successful producer and he and Paulina had two sons.
When you’re a teen, music and motion go together. Whether you’re a marching band geek, into dancing, drama, drill team or singing in the shower, you hear your tunes and it helps get you through your day. Most teens with cars zoom around their town, cruising, maybe racing a little, or also what used to be called parking and necking. But in all cases there is a soundtrack, and an underlying use of music as a way to deal with life. Especially with the drama involved of being a teenager.
Enjoy the Ride …
At some point we all slow down. Benjamin and Ric grew apart, and in 1986 the band split up. As people who aren’t rock starts, and even those who are, our roll is less quick. Instead of zooming around in a car it becomes a bike ride, or maybe a stroll. We grow up and like different music. Our lives change. The road trip of life means different things to different people at different times. That’s I guess what happened to the gangly rock star and his supermodel wife. Here’s a great quote from Paulina:
“Our family always has been — and still is — a well-built car… When the four of us are together, we can go wherever the road takes us. But as a bicycle, my husband and I no longer pedal in unison. So we’re ditching the bicycle. Ric and I have been peacefully separated for the past year. The photos of our happy family are, in fact, happy family photos; we are just no longer a couple.”Paulina Porizkova on Instagram.
… Whatever Your Mode of Travel
How insightful! A tandem bicycle is a great metaphor for being partners. But riding it is challenging to be in sync, and it’s not for everyone. I always wondered what a supermodel saw in a geeky music nerd. Whatever it was, it worked for many years, up until 2018 when they split up but were still a family. If you want to look at a metaphor, since he died of heart disease, did he die of a broken heart? We’ll never know. but I wouldn’t rule it out.
If driving a car is evil, according to some, then I guess I’m going to hell. But at least I’ll be able to afford the rent for a while because of the job. And I’ll be enjoying the tunes on the way down. The New York Times article on him describes him as a “New Wave Rock Visionary,” and I think he was. He also released sol albums, was also a painter and published a book of poetry. So long after his fame had faded, he still created. Of course, he had royalties, popularity, contacts and a smokin’ hot wife, at least until his last year.
There’s no particular lesson here except maybe if he’d ridden a bike more he might have had better cardiac health, but maybe not. And enjoy the ride, including the detours. This is Ric’s last doodle, and it seems like wise words to live by:
To end enjoy these lyrics from the song from the same era, 1979, called Cars, by Gary Neuman:
Here in my car
I feel safest of all
I can lock all my doors
It’s the only way to live
Here in my car
I can only receive
I can listen to you
It keeps me stable for days