Eddie Money and Ric Ocasek’s band the Cars emerged at almost the same moment, had a similar run of hits, exited the main stage together. A few weeks back, Money and Ocasek exited this world within a few days of each other, mutual testimony to how far a work ethic and a commitment to rock and roll at the expense of all else could take you.
Money was just about the definition of a bread-and-butter rock and roller, a guy who always looked and sounded like he had dropped off his lunch bucket on the way to the arena…and sang like he feared he might be found out at any moment. Inside that arena (the stage, the recording studio, the star machine), he carved out a dozen hits and at least half a dozen radio staples, most of which he wrote. He was easy to take for granted–I can’t have been the only one–until he was gone and you realized how few of his kind there had really been, and that there wouldn’t be any more.
Ocasek was the tall, shy guy in the corner who somehow found himself fronting a semi-glamorous hit machine. The Cars’ bassist, Ben Orr, was a heartthrob and the band’s best singer by miles. Their keyboardist, Greg Hawkes, gave them their distinct sound with his unique ability to seamlessly link a purely synthetic, electronic vibe to good old rock and roll rhythm, again and again, making every Cars’ hit stand up to endless radio play and rendering each of them instantly recognizable.
Through all that, no one ever doubted that Ric Ocasek was the leader of the Cars. He wrote virtually every song they ever recorded, sang lead on the majority, and gave the band its strange mix of cool/uncool identity, one that allowed them to be respected across the board until they were finally, like only the best rock and roll bands, just….there.
They saw Rock and Roll America to it’s deathbed, but they weren’t handmaidens. You can still get back there through their music.
That’s a quality I’ve learned not to take for granted.