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Dallas, Texas, United States

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Cars: Unlocked

Keep your eye on the swinging watch......swing to the left.....swing to the right.....your eyes are getting heavier......swing to the left.....swing to the right.....you're getting very sleepy.....very sleepy......The year is 1979. Disco is dead. British punk rock is trying to pound it's way into the American psyche, but you're not completely enthralled, are you? It's a little too angry and brash for many US teens and young adults. But if it could be softened somehow to make it more playable, more danceable, more rhythmic, more hypnotic, less harsh, wouldn't that just be too cool?

Enter The Cars with their self-titled first album (remember albums?). Can you remember? "My Best Friend's Girl," "Let's Go," "Drive," "Let The Good Times Roll," "Just What I Needed," (yeah, the Circuit City ad) "Shake It Up," "Don't Cha Stop," "It's All I Can Do." This was the future. This was New Wave. This was the beginning of the 80's, ladies and gentlemen.

I got to watch a DVD this past weekend that came out in late 2006 called "The Cars: Unlocked." The former lead singer Ric Ocasek has compiled rarely seen live footage along with their home videos (including a taping of Elliot Easton reading the directions of their new camera). And it's nothing but fun and a quick trip back to a time of originality in music.

Ric Ocasek, the main singer/guitar player looked somewhat like The Fly. Elliot Easton, their lead guitar player looked like the marching band wienie next door, except you would forget that image when he wailed away on upside-down guitars restrung for a leftie. Greg Hawkes, the keyboardist extraordinaire, looked like he'd had a bowl haircut done by his mommy, along with specs worn by the likes of John Denver. David Robinson, drummer for The Cars, was a contradiction in terms: a quiet personality but fierce on the drums. Benjamin Orr (bassist, co-lead singer, and resident hottie of the band) had a dreamy-eyed, sultry sexiness and pounded out clean clear basslines. (Sadly, he passed away in 2000 from pancreatic cancer.) But they were THE thing in the early 80's. And according to many of today's bands, they remain a very strong influence. The Killers, Interpol, and Jason Faulkner all cite The Cars as early influences. Not The Beatles. Or Led Zeppelin. No, it was The Cars.

What surprised me most while watching the DVD was that my own ideas of the band were somewhat wrong. I was a fan - oh yes indeed - but only in the sense of listening to their records and watching their videos on MTV. Someone (and if I remember who the F it was, they're going to pay dearly) led me astray and said The Cars were terrible live; they never moved around, never interacted with the crowd. So I never took the chance to check out their live show, though I worked for Ticketmaster at the time and could have scored myself some wicked tickets. From watching the DVD, I was duped. Can you say regret? Also, I had a picture of the band in my mind's eye of five very stoic, serious, dead-pan guys who showed their personality through their clothing (peg-leg pants, lots of black and white, usually striped shirts, sunglasses, pushed-up jacket sleeves and skinny ties). If you watch the DVD you will see a group of goofy 20-somethings, putting pillowcases and lampshades on their heads, blowing pot smoke at the camera, and falling down face first on the floor in a heap of giggles. These guys were loaded with fun, though they kept their backstage antics a secret from the general audience. But that was what made them a standout.

The Cars brought the word "tremelo" to the American public. They wanted to "Shake It Up." They knew a girl named "Candy-O." They were "Magic." We liked them, we really liked them. Rarely did the words to their songs mean much, but the feeling was always clear. They changed fashion. They were truly ground-breaking in so many ways. I can proudly say that not a single one of my friends was neutral about the band. We all loved them. From their first album to their last in 1987, The Cars ruled New Wave. There were many who tried to copy, but never got it quite right.

In 2006, Easton and Hawkes wanted to revive The Cars. Of course, with Orr gone, he would have to be replaced, but they hoped Robinson and Ocasek would come along for the ride. They did not. Robinson is in the restaurant business now, from what I hear and was enjoying his life and passed on the offer. Ocasek never liked touring (and would you leave Paulina Poreskova?) so he declined, but gave his blessing to the guys. They replaced Ric with Todd Rundgren (okay, I'll shut up), Orr was replaced by Kasim Sulton, long-time right-hand man of TR's, and Robinson was replaced by Prairie Prince, drummer for The Tubes and many many other bands, past and present. It was a brilliant combination - and that's not just my opinion. Deal with it.

Thus was born The New Cars. They toured America during the summertime (until an unfortunate bus accident injury to Easton that caused them to derail for a few months) and then started up again in late '06 to finish out the tour. Though the promotion was almost non-existent, those lucky few who had the privilege of seeing one of their live shows were on their feet dancing and singing every word and wanting more! They were The New Cars - the old Cars with an edgier edge. A rockier rock. New and improved. And better.

The New Cars will be back. Their engines are revved and the paint is shiny and new. They'll play the old songs (only better), but they've been writing some new stuff that sounds awesome, yet remains true to it's older counterpart. I should know. I have amassed 1000's of airline miles going to see their shows across America. So if they stop anywhere near you, do yourself a favor and check 'em out. You will not be sorry.
Now go on - check them out on Amazon.com or iTunes. You'll be wearing the stripes and skinny ties in no time at all.


Steven Novak said...

MY wife likes the Cars...

I myself don't get it.


CruiserMel said...

Yay for Tami!

Lightning Bug's Butt said...

My wife, too. She loves her some Cars. I think they're OK.

CruiserMel said...

Maybe it's a girl thing? Hmmmm.

jeremy said...

i'm pretty sure "drive" was on "heartbeat city."

i think.

CruiserMel said...

Jeremy - okay, it's a good thing I don't call myself a writer. I should've included a bibliography for each of the songs listed. You are correct, indeed. Nice catch.

Williebee said...

Don't you just love that New Car smell? Oh, ...wait.

CruiserMel said...

Willie - Um, yeah.

Swishy said...

I totall have "My Best Friend's Girlfriend" in my head now!

Dezdmona said...

We're gonna have to get together and watch that DVD...with some lucious libations, of course.

Then I'll go see the New Cars with you when they pass through our town. ;)

CruiserMel said...

Swishy - Ooooh, that's a good one to have stuck in your head.

Dez - Most definitely, I'll fire up the surround sound and uncork a bottle..come on over!

Bev said...

Are these the same ones who made that video where all the band members are shrinked down and they're all stalking some girl, popping out of her medicine cabinet and stuff like that? That video gave me the creeps.

starlet said...

don't remember them.

CruiserMel said...

Bev - Yup, that was "You Might Think" and it won video of the year at the 1st MTV Video Music Awards. But I have to admit, Ric with insect wings was a little freaky. Good song though.

Starlet - Okay, I'm going to say something nice, which is so not conducive to us, but perhaps you might be too young to remember?