Ric Ocasek has passed away and another legend has left this realm to jam in Rock N Roll heaven. He was 75.
I once had a brief conversation with Ocasek back in the early-1990s, about a decade or so after the video for “Drive” was an MTV ubiquity, and after the song itself had become (and remains) one of the greatest rock ballads of all time.
Ocasek and his then-wife, Paulina Porizkova, were frequent shoppers at Tower Records, on 4th and Broadway, and one evening, while supervising the Rock floor for one of the other supervisors who called out sick, the couple were perusing the the racks and I saw my chance to chat with him. After the obligatory small talk of me telling him how much I loved The Cars, and what his music meant to me, I said to him “…and I appreciate that you were smart enough to know that Ben was a better singer, so you gave him “Drive.” You composed one of the greats, and giving it to his mellifluous voice, rather than yours, solidified its eternal classic status!”
Instantly, I realized that what I said could have been misconstrued as an insult, and I immediately started stammering, “Oh, no, no, no, I didn’t mean…I mean, you’re great too, but…you know…”, blubbering some gobbledygook I don’t even remember. When I finally shut up, he looked at me with a raised eyebrow. It lasted a second, but felt like 5 minutes. I thought I pissed him off, but he said, “You’re right.” And then he and Paulina smiled and walked away.
I don’t know if he just wanted to shut me up, if he actually agreed with me, if he thought I was a fool, or if he was being nice to the stuttering idiot trying to explain himself, but at that moment I knew that Ocasek was one of the coolest “rock stars” I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.
Also, as displayed in the below video – where he performed an acoustic version for a select audience in 2005 – his voice suited “Drive,” if not definitively, just lovely still.
Ocasek’s written (and yes, sang) some of the greatest songs of my youth, and he’s been a prolific producer, painter, and even a poet. The Ben I spoke of was, of course, bassist Benjamin Orr, who sadly died back in October of 2000, and who, again of course, also sang lead on other Cars classics.
Whenever I hear “Drive” – or watch its haunting video – it brings me back to my beloved Tower Records days, a moment in time frozen in my memory. And it always reminds me of how much I loved – and will always love – The Cars.