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Remembering the wonderful weirdness of Ric Ocasek

RicYouMightThink1

“When you become tired of fitting in is when you truly become yourself.”

– Ric Ocasek

New Wave visionary and self-professed “Master of Doom” Ric Ocasek died back in September and ever since then, I’ve been trying to craft an adequate tribute to him. But somehow the task seemed so daunting: how does one even write about someone so brilliant and enigmatic? I feared that somehow, I wouldn’t do him justice. Now, as everyone reflects on those we lost in 2019, it seems appropriate to do so or at the very least try.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always liked The Cars – dare I say loved them at times. I didn’t get to experience their seminal, debut album when it was first released 41 years ago (obviously) nor did I grow up seeing them during the early days of MTV. But fortunately for me, my Mom did. So, at the very least, I’ve always been aware of them. And in the days before YouTube (or the internet, really) I got to see them on VH1 Classic. Even as a kid, I knew they were something special even if I couldn’t articulate it or comprehend it.

But there was always something about Ric (their songwriter and lead creative force) that intrigued me – even then. Maybe it was his overall look (I mean, he had THE look) or that hiccup in his voice but boy, it was something – that something that everyone talks about but only a few actually have. For context, I’ve always been called “weird” and “eccentric” so for me to be drawn to the oddball really isn’t that much of a stretch.

Thanks in part to a particular scene from season three of “Stranger Things,” I had just started a renewed deep dive of The Cars’ music when I was rocked by news of his sudden passing. It was like losing a friend – one that you’d lost contact with over the years. Like a lot of people, I dove head-first into The Cars’ music. I streamed the songs. I bought digital and vinyl copies of the albums. I went all in and I realized that nearly every band I’ve ever listened to was somehow influenced by them – and more specifically Ric Ocasek. And not just the pop rock-punk bands of the late 90s and early 2000s.

Nirvana played “Best Friend’s Girl” during their final show with Kurt Cobain in 1994. Even Smashing Pumpkins covered “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight.”(Billy Corgan would go on to produce Ric’s excellent solo album “Troublizing” in 1997.)

Though I grew up hearing The Cars’ hits on mainstream radio, Ric’s solo material was all new to me and discovering it for the first time has been quite the experience. I naturally gravitated first to the aforementioned, edgier album “Troublizing.” It’s hard to listen to a song like “Crashland Consequence” and not think it was written just for you – an anthem of sorts for restless souls desperate for change.

“It’s the right time for a change
And you’re tired of waiting
When things are getting really strange
And it’s the right time for a change
And you’re tired of waiting
When you start to feel restrained”

– “Crashland Consequence”

There really is a Ric solo album for any occasion. Feeling kind of moody and ethereal? Try 1982’s “Beatitude,” which is getting an expanded re-release next year. Or perhaps you’re more familiar with 1986’s “This Side of Paradise?” Its most successful single, “Emotion in Motion,” became his only Top 40 hit as a solo artist when it peaked at number 15 (it hit number one on Billboard’s Top Rock tracks).

It’s a tender and sentimental ballad, especially coming from someone who once penned “I needed someone to feed/I needed someone to bleed.”

While Ric continued releasing solo albums throughout his life, it seems unconscionable to not also mention his prolific producing career. In the early 80s, he produced albums for bands like Suicide, Bad Brains and Romeo Void (all of whom were new to me until a few months ago). By the time the 90s rolled around, his creative collaborations were in high-demand.

He produced albums for Weezer (“Blue Album,” “Green Album” and “Everything Will Be Alright in the End”), Bad Religion, Nada Surf, Possum Dixon and No Doubt.

Weezer shared this touching tribute back on September 15.

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The whole weezer family is devastated by the loss of our friend and mentor Ric Ocasek, who passed away Sunday. Ric meant so much to us. He produced 3 key weezer albums, Blue, Green and 2014's "Everything…", and taught all of us so much about music, recording and songcraft. But more importantly he taught us that one can be in a respected position of great power and yet be absolutely humble and have the biggest sweetest heart in the industry. Ric was so kind to us, and never faltered or changed a thing either professionally or personally in the 3 different decades we worked with him. When you were his friend, it was for life, and he was always as generous as could be with his time and care. He is the only producer to have worked with all 7 current and past weezer members, and all 7 love and loved working with him and hanging out with him. There is a massive hole in weezer's heart now. We will miss him forever, and will forever cherish the precious times we got to work and hang out with him. Rest in Peace and rock on Ric, we love you. #RIPRicOcasek #weezerfam #karlscorner

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By most accounts, Ric was the mystery the world thought he was: introspective, quirky – some say aloof – and somber with a dark sense of humor. He once told Rolling Stone that, “as a rule, I’d rather live in the future than the past.” For someone who’s an old soul, that both baffles and inspires me – that notion to always be looking ahead. For Ric (and more importantly for myself), I’m going to try and do just that.

So, I’ve said all that to say this: Thanks, Ric. Thank you for the music, the weirdness and for introducing me to bands that I otherwise probably would have never heard of (Suicide, Bad Brains, etc.). Though it’s cliché, and nearly everyone has used it when writing tributes to him, he really was “just what we needed.”

5 of Ric Ocasek’s best songs with The Cars:

“You’ve got your nuclear boots
And your drip dry glove”

It’s nearly impossible to pick just one song off their debut album (guitarist Elliot Easton joked that it should be called their “greatest hits album”) but it’s hard not to go with “Best Friend’s Girl.” Ric’s love of Buddy Holly is evident here with his breathy “love-ah-of-ah-of.” The album’s reissue includes several bonus tracks, including demos.

“Well, lift me from the wonder maze
Alienation is the craze”

Okay, okay, so maybe “Double Life” isn’t the best song on The Cars’ sophomore album “Candy-O” (everyone knows that’s “Dangerous Type”) but it gets an honorable mention for the “alienation is the craze” line, alone. Random fact: it was the 21st music video to air on MTV.

“All I need is what you’ve got
All I’ll tell is what you’re not
All you know is what you hear
I get this way when you come near”

Most critics and fans alike hated “Panorama” when it was released in 1980. While it may be more bleak than the band’s other albums, “Touch and Go” is a highlight. When they performed it on the now defunct show “Fridays,” they really were at the top of their game.

“You can’t go on
Thinking nothing’s wrong
Who’s gonna drive you home
Tonight?”

1984’s “Heartbeat City” had five, FIVE US top-40 singles and “Drive” was its biggest hit. It’s the one Cars song that everyone knows but it just seems unfathomable not to include it here. Even though Ben Orr took over vocals on this one, it’s still synonymous with Ocasek, who met his future wife, Paulina Porizkova, while making the iconic video for it. After 28 years of marriage, she announced last year that the two had separated.

“But soon the time will come, I know what I put you through
The time will run away from us like time it will do”

A moving song off the band’s seventh and final album, “Move Like This,” “Soon” feels like a perfect bookend to a stellar career. Porizkova told David Browne that Ocasek wrote the song for her and called it “kind of a hard look into the future.” If you haven’t heard it, you’re going to want a tissue. Trust me.

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