Songwriters seldom know what joy and influence they spread, and how far, and in what manner. And though so many of us count music as important in our lives, we approach it differently
For some the recent death of Ric Ocasek will rekindle memories of MTV and the young ladies with all that hair (!) in “Shake it Up”; others will remember the beat you can never quite pick up at the beginning of “Since You’re Gone”; for still others (among whom I would count myself) the unforgettable and baffling—and yet poignant—narrative of “Drive.”
But for me also, a dilettante of the guitar (and I’m never going to get any better!) it was music to play along with. I never had to fake knowing how to really play, I could just strum along with the chords I knew. After all, that’s what Ocasek did—played rhythm guitar just like me! Of course he wrote those songs and sang them and produced records—not so much like me. Oh well.
We often throw around the word genius. I don't know if Ric Ocasek was a genius. I don't think it matters. He wrote great songs and they were fun to listen to: that should be enough.
When Ben Orr, the Cars’ bassist and frequent vocalist, died in 2000, I found it difficult to listen to “Drive” without thinking of him—dead at only 53. (Even that song was written by Ocasek.) Now as more and more performers from that period leave us, the word “only” before the age hardly fits anymore. Now we measure the loss not in its untimeliness but in the void left behind. I have access to all of Ric Ocasek’s songs—we all do—but I’ll still miss him.
At least that void—whether on your bluetooth speaker or Joe Biden’s record player—is never a silent one. So rest in peace, Ric Ocasek, and thank you. If we actually are able to keep moving in stereo, it will be because of what you left for us.