The Cars and the Power of Music


Just heard that Ric Ocasek, lead singer and rhythm guitar for the band The Cars, died yesterday.

I had been a big fan of The Cars in the 80s/90s. I’m not sure if it was Dick Clark or Roger Ebert who first said, “Pop music is the soundtrack to our lives.” Maybe it was someone else, entirely. But it’s very true in that the music we’re listening to at the time, conscious or not, will be associated with our memories.

When I listen to the song, Best Friend’s Girl from The Cars, I get taken back to driving on a specific road in Virginia when I was 18-19 years old. The first lines are:

You’re always dancing down the street
With your suede blue eyes
And every new boy that you meet
He doesn’t know the real surprise

I was going to community college at the time, had just moved to Virginia where my parents planned to retire. And I was a bit adrift cuz it was 30 miles to the nearest nothing. My drive to school, which was barely a school, took well over an hour at incredibly high speeds on incredibly narrow roads.

Careers pick you. As much as I wanted to be a ballerina or ninja or theoretical physicist, I didn’t have the skill, talent, and/or inclination for any of them. For my super basic intro to History, I decided to make a video. And that meant camcorder and video CASSETTE which I rented from an actual video store. It was supposed to be a group project. To show us that once we enter the real world, people you have to work with actually suck most of the time.

I told the rest of my team to fuck off, I’ll do it. Let me try and remember some of the stuff. I was basically doing an eyewitness report from the Middle Ages. I wrote the script and filmed it. Which was really hard to do, to narrate and film-focus and move around and shit. Like walking and manufacturing chewing gum at the same time.

I said this is me talking to a knight about his warhorses. Trusty steeds and the equivalent of a battle tank of the era. The loose, conscripted foot soldiers of the time, often farmers with farm-weapons, were simply run over. And such and such. And then I pan up and it’s cows. I asked a farmer to film his cows. And cows are fucking funny as hell up close. I had to jump over an electric fence and he warned me about the bull. So I got out quick. But I still remember as I was talking up these dangerous beasts, a cow stared at me, then started licking himself. And I bust up laughing.

Then I said I had just come across the aftermath of a battle with the Visigoths. And the carnage and horror and such. And it was the meat section at a grocery store. Look at this senseless mayhem. Man, that was tough to get permission to do that. I’m standing there with a camera filming meat and the manager, assistant, and 23893289 other people are waiting for me to do some expose’ on food safety or something so they can knock me out.

I filmed some cops. AKA knights. Again, not easy. They didn’t want to do anything “mean” that made them look bad. I.e., nothing funny. But once we started filming, they got into it and they were mean as fuck.

There were a ton more. And my crowning segment was “here I am with a chef who works for the King.” And I pan up and it’s Burger King. And I ask what the diet is and blah blah. And the original gal I used, her parents said she couldn’t do it any longer. I had to redub her audio because the cars passing by behind us made it hard to hear. And I got to finish this tomorrow and one segment is screwed. And I’m like standing at the door and her parents think I’m some kind of degenerate pornographer or something. If only. I get a new gal, basically begging for her help. And she blows it away. We ad lib and it’s the funniest part.

And she had suede blue eyes that killed me. And hearing that Cars song, I remember me driving around videotaping nonsense, and that gal.

The kids in my group were like, meh, I guess you did okay. Everyone in the class was amazed. This was community college for morons. The teacher wouldn’t give back the tape. She integrated it into her course. I left Virginia within a year, but I had people say they saw my stupid tape as part of her curriculum.

Anyway, hearing that Ric Ocasek passed away, and listening to Cars songs, I was reminded just how powerful those songs were. Kind of like David Bowie or Geneis, they were just on continuous loop for 15 years of my life and I wasn’t really aware of it.

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