Dead rock star. Film at 11.

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The Cars
Released: June 1978
Label: Elektra
Cover Art: Elektra (the model was the late Natalia Medvedeva)

By Stewart Schley

When rock gods die, as the Cars frontman Ric Ocasek did this past weekend, social media and the popular press reliably light up with homages and memories and an outpouring of love and sadness and the rekindling of fondness for songs and albums and That Time We Drove to Landover to See Them Open for Foreigner.

I’m one of them, I guess, in that moments ago I traveled down the Twitter-hole to read dozens of concise typed laments and sketched out in my mind my own clever Tweet I was going to send. It was going to be about the time I saw Ocasek’s band mate Ben Orr* faithfully reproduce the searing recorded vocal on “Bye Bye Love” in a live performance at Denver’s McNichols Arena in 1978. (The part where Orr just goes mad on the second iteration of “Substitution, mass confusion…”, yelling it like a maniac.)

The kids loved it. And it was, to be sure, a great live concert moment. This was their first U.S. tour following the release of the iconic debut album with the sexy lipstick girl on the cover that leaped from the speakers the second you plopped down Side 1 and the irresistible syncopation of “My Best Friend’s Girl” blasted down the hallway in your college dorm and Mel, the oddball lovable goof you’d met earlier that semester, stood there in your room and just howled — literally, the guy howled — with joy every time. Mel came around unannounced once a week, typically a Tuesday or Wednesday late afternoon, brought a loaded-up one-hitter wooden pipe out of good manners and begged you to put on The Cars and of course you did and the moment unfailingly was awesome.

Except I didn’t post the Tweet. Because, let’s be honest: When’s the last time I consciously and intentionally marveled at Ric Ocasek or got out my plastic-protected copy of The Cars or sat in the kitchen with the Sonos turned up loud and re-lived the majesty and the shimmer of that sound? The answer is: awhile. Like, a long time. It’s been around for the last 40 years, nearly, that sound, that record, and for most of those 40 years it has leaned up against a hundred other great albums in a wooden peach crate tucked inside my crawlspace in the dark. I haven’t paid it a whit of attention.

This is my bad,  not yours. Failing to revel in greatness like that album. Ignoring art I once loved. Letting amazing people just sort of fade away. Like a lot of people, I’m guessing, I might fire up some Cars later this evening just because they’re back in vogue and back on Twitter and of course because Ric Ocasek just died.

But this is exactly the problem, right? That we wait for somebody we haven’t thought about in decades to die, and then we lament that they’re gone, even though they’ve really and in all candor been gone (from our lives) already.

This same thing happened when David Bowie died: A day later they’re playing “Space Oddity” at low volume in the waiting room of the physical therapist I’m visiting. “Bummer about David Bowie,” I say to the young woman at the desk, being sure to announce his full name because it’s possible she doesn’t recognize this song, every strum, every vocal intonation, every beloved warble, as I do. “For sure,” she answers. “Bummer.” And of course I Tweet this moment because that’s what you do.

We’re to be forgiven for this coarseness. Modern life is an impossible parade of economic demands and credit card payments and needless yet hurried emails and news headlines from the current hellscape and enough Slack messages by 9:25 a.m. on Monday (which is today) that you already know the week is going to be crap.

So we get a pass here. At least we’re paying respects to a great one. But still: I feel it’s borderline disingenuous for me to be doing this. To be joining in the parade right now. The more valorous behavior I think would be to pick out a lovely song or favorite album or amazing artist and throw it out into the mediasphere regardless of whether the creator has just passed, or passed long ago, or better still remains living and still making art. Nobody will pay it much heed, of course, as it will immediately be stormed by a hundred other, newer Tweets, and the chance of somebody actually clicking on the suggested link, which right now I’m thinking might by early  Faces Rod Stewart out of respect, is nil, but this way at least I can momentarily satisfy some inner desire I’m trying to convince myself is virtuous. To drink in some joy, beauty, color and/or resplendence from a gifted human. Before, or regardless, of whether their day has come.

* Thanks to eagle-eyed reader Carroll Hood for the correction: I originally had Ocasek singing this one. Oops.