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Emotion In Motion - Being Ric Ocasek 

20 September 2019

It is as if everything happens in threes, first Daniel Johnston, then Eddie Money, and now Ric Ocasek. All three legends have passed over the past fortnight, each contributing a vital role in their heyday which still echoes across the airwaves in this twenty-first century atmosphere. The importance of the recent Ric Ocasek cannot be dismissed as another one-time vital voice of music, the essence of his art and the contribution he made is staggering. Though the question is as always-should we mourn or simply celebrate their lives, and the contribution they made to ours? 

Perhaps the celebration is best, looking directly  at Ric there are moments in time which earned him the respectable legend label with more than just the words he wrote or his voice when he sang. Originally The Cars consisted of singer, rhythm guitarist, and songwriter Ric, singer and bassist Benjamin Orr, lead guitarist Elliot Easton, keyboardist Greg Hawkes, and David Robinson on the drums. That original duo of Ric and Benjamin came together in the sixties, forming folk-styled outfits such as Milkwood. As the change in music began, the duo opted for a more conventional rock sound and so The Cars were born. To understand what Ric Ocasek was aiming for, is to look at the sounds and textures created by the outfit along with their importance. 

The Cars were musically three things, the past, the present, and the future combined. When they first came to prominence the backbone was anchored in the Rockabilly sounds of the fifties, played in the style of Punk, and lashed with the synthesizer layers of New Wave. The Cars were all things, New Wave before it became a term, whilst still igniting with the minimalistic punk-stylings of the day with a steady dose of nostalgia behind the beat. That noise from the melting pot spearheaded by Orr and Ocasek earned the band the title of “Best New Artist” in 1978’s  Rolling Stone Magazine. The fact that the songs written by Ric became airwaves staples, which were rife with energy and optimism, a departure from the darker mood which had embedded itself within most other New Wave contemporaries. This set the lyrical themes apart, making The Cars stand out, especially with tracks such as “Good Times Roll” “My Best Friend’s Girl” and “Just What I Needed”, enjoyable music in a time when despair was the popular premise. 

“The creative part for me is making songs, and that’s what I really love the most, and that’s what I’ve always done for every band I’ve ever had”.  -Ric Ocasek 

Of course The Cars biggest hit, “Drive, came in 1984, the mournful number hit a high of #4 on the US Billboard charts. But it was the following year when the number created an impact which would never be forgotten. In July 1985, at the London Live Aid event, the song “Drive” was used to capture the devastation of Ethiopia, as the music formed a backdrop to a montage of clips. The message within the words drove home the importance of the concert that day, the very purpose summed up in the words penned by Ocasek. Following the concert, the emotive track re-entered the UK Singles Chart, peaking at #4 that August. All proceeds from the sales of that re-released song raised nearly £160,000 for the Band Aid Trust, and Ric Ocasek presented the charity’s trustee Midge Ure with a cheque for that amount in November 1986. 

As The Cars split in 1988, Ric shied away from the limelight, returning with a self-produced  solo album Fireball Zone in 1991. Where the album was only a moderate success, the fact he was now turning his hand more to production led to some of his greatest works post-Cars. Although producing the Suicide album Why Be Blue and Celtic-Punk band Black 47’s Fire of Freedom, it was not until 1994 when he had a stratospheric hit with the self-titled debut (Blue Album) by Weezer. This release would be the start of a relationship between band and producer that would last another two albums The Green Album (2001) and Everything Will Be Alright in the End (2014).  Weezer aside, Ric went on to produce Bad Religion’s The Gray Race, The Wannadies Yeah, D Generation’s No Lunch and cuts on No Doubts Rock Steady. From behind a control desk Ric made his mark, helping develop a sound which defined the alternative-nineties music scene. 

In 2010 Ric showed a further side to his prowess with a display of his artwork in Cinders Gallery in Brooklyn titled Teahead Scraps. Not his first art show but the one that gained the most interest. An apparent love of art as a visual medium had already been well documented, although, perhaps missed by audiences of the day. Those music videos by The Cars became groundbreaking in their day, with the early use of computer animation, making the video play an integral part of the music. An example is of course the “You Might Think” video, where Ocasek appears in the bathroom mirror of the girl he’s chasing (Susan Gallagher), as well as inside a submarine in her bathtub, in her mouth, as a fly, as King Kong swatting attacking airplanes on top of the Empire State Building. The video hailed at the time as revolutionary, went on to win the Video of the year award at the first MTV Video Awards and five further awards including: the best overall, the best conceptual, most innovative, best editing, and best special effects at Billboard’s 1984 awards. 

There are lots of reasons as to why Ric Ocasek will be remembered fondly, and these examples only scratch the surface of both his talents and achievements. Truthfully, he typifies the word artist and its connection to music, his ability to approach and embrace all forms of music, and mediums, combining them fearlessly will always vibrate through culture. The Cars will never go out of style, in their time they were never ‘in’ style, instead they were the sound of the future, while still faithfully connected to the past. 

Richard Theodore Otcasek March 23, 1944 – September 15, 2019