R.I.P. Ric Ocasek (1944-2019)
NW musician Mark Pickerel eulogizes The Cars’ Ric Ocasek(1944-2019)
It was the summer of '78. As I was waving goodbye to elementary school and anxious to dive into junior high, my sister Joanne made a mix tape of her favorite new artists, including Van Halen, The Knack, The Cars, Sugar Hill Gang and more. I loved it all.
I was already flirting with growing my hair out when I heard the words, "Let them brush your rock and roll hair, let the good times roll". It was all the further instruction I needed. Ric Ocasek and The Cars epitomized style and cool, so it wasn't long before I tried to adopt their look with whatever crude gear I had at my disposal. My older twin sisters were all too happy to help out, loaning me accessories from their own wardrobes, styling and ratting my hair, offering fashion tips and teaching me how to dance.
It was a pivotal time in my life, and what better soundtrack to a summer that saw me change out of my last pair of flares and into my first pegged-straight leg jeans(probably the same pair, only now majorly modified and re-purposed for my new lifestyle).
The Cars seemed to appeal to everyone, so it wasn't uncommon to hear them on KISW alongside Van Halen, AC/DC and Boston(from their home turf), then hear them over on KJET in between The Go-Gos and Devo.
Roy Thomas Baker producing their first few releases was a perfect fit, managing to take their post-modern, new wave direction and fatten it up with the kinds of textures and overdubs that made his Queen productions so big, delivering a one-two power-pop punch that this 11 year old could never get enough of!
Ric's lyrics conjured a detached view through a tinted window into a sophisticated, custom-tailored world I wanted so much to occupy and as often as I listened to them, I practically did! This was a world where everything was covered in leopard skin, cashmere, black leather(or latex), you viewed everything through rose-colored Ray-Bans and you might walk with a cane— not because of any physical limitations but so you could touch/jab the things you wanted without getting your hands dirty, or worse: becoming emotionally attached to the things you were attracted to. Ric encouraged us to enjoy it all, but from a distance.
Oh, but there were also power chords, the smartest riffs in rock, synthesizer sounds with sinister intent, huge drum fills and killer choruses, all securing The Cars’ rightful place at every kegger, basement black-light dance party, air guitar contest and even into the naughtiest, most memorable, sexy-meets-shameful scene of ”Fast Times at Ridgemont High”! This was the yin and yang of the Cars, and it's why their music still intrigues us to this day, because it appeals to many of our senses, exciting our imaginations, while arousing our most primitive instincts and impulses.
Ric's ability to usher us in and out of so many different worlds was truly remarkable, walking us through the surreal and then right into a sock hop, where Buddy Holly's hologram is kicking out “My Best Friend's Girl” at criminally high decibels, to an arena full of beatniks just back from a midnight showing of Lolita. Then it's time to get back into the limousine. Fellini is at the wheel and Lou Reed is riding shotgun, they gotta get you back to the traveling circus before the sun comes up and your metallic-flake chariot turns back into a polka-dot camouflage Camaro. Are these seats leather or latex? Is it live, or is it Memorex? Who cares, as long as the cartridge we're cruising to is The Cars.
Hey, look there up ahead— in the mirage with a Vargas girl, I think it's Ric— yes it is, and he's just a dream away.
Mark Pickerel is a musician and brick and mortar businessman from Ellensburg, WA. He was a co-founder of the legendary Screaming Trees and later, Truly. When not performing as Mark Pickerel & The Peyote 3, he can be seen on tour and in sessions with Neko Case, Mark Lanegan, Brandi Carlile and Secret Sisters, among others. Mark returned to live in Ellensburg with his wife and two children, Hazel and Rose. He also runs the excellent retail store, Road Trip Records, in Thorp, WA. Mark has been known to work at Easy Street Records while in between his own projects. He’s one of our favorite friends!