The Mystery of Ric Ocasek: ‘He Tried for Happiness, But Underneath Was a Lot of Pain’

In 1993, the members of Weezer traveled to New York to meet Ric Ocasek, who was slated to produce their debut album. “ He was one of the most significant icons of our childhood, ” says bassist Matt Sharp, who had grown up seeing Ocasek ’ s hits in rotation on MTV. “ I can ’ thyroxine think of videos without thinking of him. ” Arriving at Ocasek ’ s Manhattan address, the bandmates found themselves entering a courtly 1850s townhouse with 20-foot-high ceilings, an elevator, a pink consortium board, and portraits of Ocasek done by Andy Warhol hanging on the walls. But that was nothing compared to the disorienting touch of meeting the New Wave picture, who greeted them wearing one of his many elegant suit jackets, like he ’ vitamin d walked out of the video recording for “ Magic ” or “ You Might Think. ” “ It would be easy to equate us with four Charlies in the Chocolate Factory, ” Sharp recalls. “ Ric seemed like he wasn ’ metric ton of this Earth. ”

It was an double well known to millions of people. With his black hair, pale complexion, and razor-thin frame, Ocasek, who died at 75 on September 15th, was one of the most recognizable figures of the Eighties. “ I constantly said he looked like an inverted exclamation set, ” says Paulina Porizkova, the Czech-born exemplary who was married to Ocasek from 1989 until their legal separation in 2017 .

His music fit his look : slick so far moody, charming even detached. As the main songwriter and guitarist and erstwhile lead singer of the Cars, Ocasek ( pronounce “ oh-cass-ek ” ) mainlined the edgy exuberance of Buddy Holly and the dark hood energy of Lou Reed into the top 40, while spiking his sleek tunes with barbed lyrics : “ I needed person to bleed, ” the Cars offered on 1978 ’ sulfur “ Just What I Needed. ” “ If the goal was to have great achiever making pop music with a sense of irony, ” says Cars guitarist Elliot Easton, “ then mission accomplished, right ? ” That was Ocasek ’ second voice on many of the Cars ’ biggest hits— “ My Best Friend ’ s Girl, ” “ You Might Think, ” “ Magic, ” “ Shake It Up, ” and “ You ’ re All I ’ ve Got Tonight, ” all of which he besides wrote. ( Bassist Ben Orr took the lead-vocal chores on milestones like “ Just What I Needed, ” “ Drive, ” and “ Let ’ s Go. ” )
After the Cars dissolution in 1989, Ocasek began creating his second bequest : serve as manufacturer, champion and mentor for dozens of semi-established or energetic bands. Ocasek produced records by two generations of kindling and indie acts, including Bad Religion, Guided by Voices, Suicide, Bad Brains, D Generation and Nada Surf. “ He worked with people and changed their lives in concert, ” says Sharp. “ It ’ s not an understatement to say that my life and all the lives of the guys in Weezer would be completely unlike without having that joining with Ric. ” Recalls Bad Religion ’ s Greg Graffin, “ He was truly encouraging. He said, ‘ You ’ re an artist. The basics of songwriting is art. You ’ ve got that. ’ ”

even for all the joy he gave to music fans, Ocasek led a slightly troubled liveliness that included a difficult childhood, three marriages, and the break down of the Cars, walking away from that band when he was at the height of his fame. “ He was person who in truth wanted to be felicitous and in truth tried for happiness, ” says Porizkova, “ but underneath it all was a lot of trouble. .. . His start component was ‘ please like me, ’ and his night lyrics were like the hurt little boy. ” To outsiders, Ocasek could appear to be distanced and aloof, which Porizkova admits. “ You could be intimated by him, his acme and fineness and black-clad persona and sunglasses, ” she says. “ But if he pushed his sunglasses onto the bridge of his scent, you saw his greenish blue eyes, and when he looked at you and smiled, it was like, ‘ Oh my God, the sun came out ! ’ ”
even Cars keyboardist Greg Hawkes, who met Ocasek in the early Seventies, says he never amply knew his on-and-off bandmate. “ In malice of being friends with him and a collaborator for years and years, he was besides in certain aspects of his life highly private, ” Hawkes says. “ There were a batch of things that were never discussed. ”

Born Richard Theodore Otcasek in Baltimore on March 23rd, 1944, Ocasek grew up in the kind of home that can create an inwardly conduct artist. “ His ma drank a set and his forefather was pretty cold to him, ” says Porizkova. “ His childhood was not a good one. ” He would frequently escape to local boardwalks, sometimes for weeks at a time, and it would be his grandma, not his parents, who gave him his beginning guitar when he was approximately 14. During his adolescent years, his family moved to Cleveland, where his dad worked as a computer analyst for NASA .
After graduating from eminent school, Ocasek enrolled in two Ohio colleges, Bowling Green and Antioch, without getting a degree, and finally turned his attention to music. “ I thought that was the thing to do, ” he told Rolling Stone in 1979. “ sometimes I ’ vitamin d put together a ring equitable to hear my songs. ” On the Cleveland music scenery, Ocasek met Orr, who had paid his dues in the house ring of the local rock television show Upbeat ; Orr finally joined Ocasek ’ sulfur group, ID Nirvana. By then, Ocasek was married ( to his first wife, Constance Campbell, in the early Sixties ), and he and Orr spent several years playing around the country as a couple before Ocasek settled down in Massachusetts. By then, Ocasek was divorced and had met and wed Suzanne LaPointe, to whom he was married between 1971 and 1988. ( He had two children with each of his inaugural wives. )
Around 1972, Ocasek answered an ad in the Boston Phoenix  for a singer in a screen band led by guitarist James ( then Jas ) Goodkind. Goodkind wasn ’ t impressed with Ocasek ’ randomness audition, but afterwards, Ocasek sat toss off and sang some of his master material. “ He had a courteous, cushy gamey voice with a vibrato, ” Goodkind says. “ Cool lyrics, truly great changes. I was like, ‘ God, this guy, there ’ s something about him. ’ He was identical magnetic and charismatic. ”
The two began gigging as a folk music duet before Ocasek convinced Orr to relocate to the sphere to turn the group into a Crosby, Stills & Nash-style trio, ultimately named Milkwood after Dylan Thomas ’ play Under Milk Wood. Signed to Paramount Records, Milkwood made one album, 1973 ’ sulfur How’s the Weather?,  that reflected the harmony-laced, soft-rock times ampere well as the Nick Drake and Fairport Convention albums in Ocasek ’ s eclectic record solicitation. ( Ocasek ’ s mustache on the top was besides identical yacht Rock. ) The album flopped and the group disbanded the pursuit class ; Goodkind remembers his acquaintance being so destitute that he was on wellbeing .

Although demoralized by Milkwood, Ocasek was driven to succeed and, with Orr, dialed through any count of gold current rock styles in the mid Seventies : a hard rock ring called Richard and the Rabbits, an Ocasek and Orr tribe couple and last Cap ’ n Swing, an attempt at Steely Dan-style dad featuring a fresh guitarist, Berklee College of Music graduate Elliot Easton. But after Aerosmith ’ south managers gratingly critiqued Cap ’ n Swing after a case gig, Ocasek took mission and clean house ; Hawkes ( who had played on the Milkwood album ) was recruited on keyboards, along with drummer David Robinson, once of groundbreaking proto-punk ring the Modern Lovers. In late 1976, the Cars were cook to go .
With the Cars, Ocasek had ultimately found the right voice and trope, even if Orr frequently sang moderate. ( Ocasek, then in his thirties, besides shaved five years from his senesce. ) “ He developed that guitar style, those clicky one-eighth notes you can hear on ‘ My Best Friend ’ s Girl, ’ ” Hawkes says. “ And his song expressive style got quirkier. He developed that Buddy Holly hiccup phrasing. ”
soon a show of “ Just What I Needed ” was getting played on Boston radio, leading to a deal with Elektra Records. In his previous bands, Ocasek had tried to tap into in-vogue styles with assorted success, but the Cars ’ self-titled 1978 debut was both his most concenter and seasonably ferment. Produced by Queen confederate Roy Thomas Baker, who went on to work with the ring on respective more records, 1978 ’ s The Cars was Ocasek ’ s Venn diagram—a blend of his radio-ready pop side and his affectionateness for edgier types like the Velvet Underground. Everything in it–Ocasek ’ s songs, he and Orr ’ s alternating leave vocals, Hawkes ’ synth hooks—cliqued, and the album would ultimately be certified platinum six times and spawned the hits “ Just What I Needed, ” “ My Best Friend ’ s Girl, ” and “ Good Times Roll. ”
later, when he began working with Weezer, Ocasek convinced the isthmus that it shouldn ’ thyroxine work in L.A., its home base, but relocate to New York for the feel, and Ocasek brought up his adoring memories of the form of The Cars  to convince them. “ He said they had spent about two weeks making the first Cars read with Roy Thomas Baker, and they had gone to England to make that first album and they weren ’ metric ton sleeping in their own beds and not living their convention daily lives, ” Sharp says. “ He remembered every infinitesimal of that record, even how the food tasted. He could access every moment of that first album. ”

With the success of that record, Ocasek ’ s life was transformed ; when Goodkind visited his friend, who had previously lived in a second-floor walkup, he found Ocasek in a newly base in tonier Newton, Massachusetts, complete with a circular driveway and a Jaguar. With his newfound clout in the business, solidified with 1979 ’ mho Candy-O,  Ocasek besides ventured outside the band to produce other, even artier and more subterranean bands like Romeo Void and Suicide. He was particularly drawn to Suicide, the two-man New York sonic assault. Ocasek saw the band in Boston in 1977 and ended astir not only producing their sophomore 1980 album but besides inviting them to open for the Cars at choose gigs. “ In a way, Ric about would ’ ve been happier if he could have been in a dance band like Suicide, ” says Hawkes. “ A more or less arty, outside band. Some of the pop fame embarrassed him. ”

On enlistment, Cars fans were not amused by singer Alan Vega ’ s dark baritone and keyboardist Martin Rev ’ s synth attacks and would frequently boo the isthmus ( or hurl rolls of toilet newspaper at them ). But Ocasek didn ’ thyroxine care. “ He held to what he liked and what he felt was right, ” says Rev. “ He didn ’ thymine buckle to diligence coerce. We did what we wanted to do, and he loved all of it. ”
Yet the Cars ’ leader promptly began to chafe at the demands of stardom. Hawkes says Ocasek was embarrassed by the ease of late hits like “ Shake It Up. ” And as an audio control freak out who admired James Brown ’ s oppressive hold over his band, Ocasek was never fond of live performances and their sonic hazards. “ He was decidedly not one of those ‘ Hello, Cleveland ! ’ kind of guys, ” says Easton. “ Ric was a lot happier in the read studio apartment. ”
In 1984, the Cars reached the acme of their achiever with their fifth LP, Heartbeat City,  and its hits “ You Might Think ” and “ Drive. ” But the album ’ s closely yearlong recording with pop-metal producer Robert “ Mutt ” Lange left Ocasek drained, and he later expressed those frustrations to recording engineer Chris Shaw, who worked with Ocasek on some of his former alone albums and outside projects. “ I grilled Ric about working with Mutt, ” Shaw says, “ and he said, ‘ I never want to make a record like that again. You spend four days getting a bass audio for one sung. It ’ s very demoralizing. ’ I think the process took a bunch out of him. ”
Hawkes agrees that the pop music machinery was beginning to get to Ocasek during this period. “ For a while, it inspired him, but the fame thing wore him down, ” says Hawkes. “ It equitable seemed like it became more of a job for him. After Heartbeat City, a lot of seeds of discontentment were sown. ” Ocasek and Orr had had disagreements dating back to the Milkwood days, but those issues came to a fore when the Cars made their following record, 1987 ’ south Door to Door. “ Ben and Ric were not getting along, ” Hawkes admits. “ The read sessions were basically unpleasant. In retrospect, we should have had an outside manufacturer to mediate. ”

During this period, Ocasek and Porizkova, then one of the populace ’ randomness best-known and in-demand models, met on the fix of the Cars ’ 1984 “ Drive ” video recording, which was sung by Orr. “ Thanks Ben, because it left us the time to woo each other, ” she says. “ Ben was singing and we were falling in love. ” ( Ocasek and his second wife would divorce four years subsequently. ) Porizkova saw what she calls “ petit larceny disagreements ” tear away at the band. “ Ric had been the authoritarian of a very humble state and I think it was wearing on everybody, ” she says. “ All the guys were in truth adoring of each other, but it had run its course at that fourth dimension. creatively he very wanted to stretch his wings and get a short weird. People expected the Cars thing, the hook. He was like, ‘ Fuck that–I privation to do something else. ’ ”

Around that fourth dimension, Easton stopped by Electric Lady, the Greenwich Village studio that was Ocasek ’ s front-runner place to work. As the two listened to live Cars recordings being prepared for a radio receiver show, Ocasek dropped a bombshell. “ We were fair sitting and listening and talking, and he good kind of said, ‘ You know, I ’ megabyte think I ’ meter going to leave the group, ‘ ” Easton says. “ All the blood went to my feet. ” It would be more than 20 years before Ocasek would perform with them again .

Ocasek’s post-Cars life began soon after their last album. In 1989, Ocasek married Porizkova ; their inaugural son, Jonathan, arrived in 1993, and Oliver followed in 1998. The class settled into their New York townhouse, where Ocasek installed a studio in the basement. tellingly, the doorway to his workspace was much propped open with the MTV “ Moonman ” statuette the Cars had won for Video of the year in 1984. Recalls Shaw, “ I ’ megabyte certain he was grateful for the award, but it didn ’ t bastardly much. ”
Whether in his home studio apartment or at Electric Lady, Ocasek was able to make periodic solo albums ( like 1993 ’ second half-pop, half-experimental Quick Change World ) and devote more time to producing other acts. ( evening if he was working alone in his basement studio, he never failed to start the day by donning one of his costly suits. “ He would make up and get meticulously dressed, ” Porizkova says. “ You wouldn ’ t catch him dead in a couple of sweatpants. ” ) ever a fan of pop—he had hanker admired the Carpenters, for exemplify, and had had a sting of a crush on Karen Carpenter—Ocasek finally produced three Weezer albums, starting with their 1994 debut, and worked on albums by No Doubt and Nada Surf. “ He was extremely mellowly and not fully of himself, ” recalls No Doubt guitarist Adrian Young of first meeting Ocasek. “ He wasn ’ t trying to sell himself. He was self-assured in that way. ”

Between his Cars tax income and her modeling income, money wasn ’ t an exit, and Ocasek was amply able to tap into his underground-music beloved. “ Rivers [ Cuomo ] and I would grill Ric for spinal column stories [ about the Cars ], ” says Shaw, “ and he said he could write a Cars sung in five minutes : ‘ It ’ s easy for me to do–I could write a start song like that. Which is why I gravitate toward the eldritch stuff because it ’ south more interesting. ’ The pop gorge came naturally but he sunk his tooth into the experimental thrust. ”
Ocasek had retentive been drawn to more belowground rock, and as a manufacturer for hire, he was further able to explore that side of him by working more with Suicide angstrom well as the Irish rock band Black 47 and Kathleen Hanna ’ s post-Bikini Kill band, Le Tigre. Thanks in large function to Ocasek, the hood dance band Bad Religion scored its biggest international hit with “ Punk Rock Song ” ( from the Ocasek-produced The Gray Race in 1996 ) despite concerns from some of the band members that it was excessively frivolous. “ Ric said ‘ Shake It Up ’ was a song that could ’ ve done either way as well, ” Graffin says. “ sometimes the silly-sounding sung can actually be an crucial song on an album, and he saw ‘ Punk Rock Song ’ as an crucial tune on the album. ” ( As he had done with Weezer, Ocasek played Graffin show of early Cars songs, featuring good his voice and guitar and possibly a drum machine ; “ it was his way to disarm the situation, his direction of saying, ‘ I was here, excessively, ’ ” says Sharp. )
Porizkova says Ocasek was long puff to more drab, quirkier topic matter : “ When people sing a sung like ‘ Let the Good Times Roll ’ unironically [ “ Let the good times roll/Let them knock you around/Let the effective times roll/Let them make you a clown ” ] … did they pay attention to the lyrics ? Do you know what you ’ re singing ? These are not happy, cheerful lyrics. The dark stuff is more who he was as a person. … He very tried to put his childhood aside and not revisit it. But what was underneath was a bunch of pain. ”
Asked by RS in 1997 about a Cars reunion, Ocasek replied, “ I have no interest. I ’ five hundred rather paint, or write, or do anything else. It ’ mho something that was already done, and those records are already locked away. .. . As a principle, I ’ five hundred rather live in the future than the past. ”

By the beginning of this century, the Cars were distinctly in Ocasek ’ s rear-view mirror. “ He was silent friends with Greg [ Hawkes ] and brought him in for some arrangement stuff, ” says Graffin. “ But he expressed frustration at times with his early band members. He was absolutely committed to not getting the Cars back together. ” Rev recalls a conversation with Ocasek about his disinterest in touring, with the Cars or anyone else : “ He said he didn ’ thyroxine want to go on the road anymore, ” says Rev. “ He said it had messed up his last marriage and he said, ‘ I ’ ve reached a bang-up point in my life and I can do whatever I want. ’ ”
But Ocasek was drawn second into the Cars ’ world when Orr was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and the two reconciled concisely before Orr ’ s death in 2000. “ It in truth scared and hurt Ric, ” Porizkova says. “ He wrote that sung about Ben, ‘ Silver ’ [ on Ocasek ’ mho 2005 solo album, Nexterday ], but I think that was the merely time I in truth heard him say how he felt about Ben. ”
then, in 2006, Easton and Hawkes returned to touring as the New Cars, with Todd Rundgren meet in for Ocasek. Porizkova admits that her husband was “ not very affectionate ” of that project, and when a reporter subsequently admitted to Ocasek that he hadn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate seen that incarnation, Ocasek telegraphically replied, “ Good. ” Easton, who at the prison term said Ocasek was supportive of the idea, claims the isthmus didn ’ thymine wreck their friendship. “ The only time we ever talked about it was when Greg and I were trying to make it okay with the early guys so that we could do it, ” he says. “ After it was done and over with, we never truly talked about it. ”
A few years late, the two were talking on the call and Ocasek mentioned he had written a batch of new songs, and Easton asked if it were time for a new Cars album : “ It was silence on the other end of the line, and Ric goes, ‘ You know, that ’ s an interesting idea. ’ ” The surviving Cars finally reconvened for 2011 ’ s Move Like This, and Ocasek flush agreed to a brief go. In 2017, he explained his decision to RS : “ I didn ’ triiodothyronine want to do things like, ‘ Hey, let ’ s do some casinos and some boats. ’ I didn ’ thyroxine want to get into that. … That ’ s in truth good being mechanical and playing your songs for any it is. I have to say that everyone else in the isthmus would have loved to be constantly on the road. There ’ randomness a set of bands that do that. I guess it ’ s just me personally. ”
Porizkova says her late conserve ’ s primary motivation to hit the road again was not the other Cars but his family. “ Our boys never got to see him as a rock ‘n’ roll star, ” she says. “ And he wanted them to see what Dad did. It was actually sweet. ” But when some of the old band tensions resurfaced, Ocasek decided to limit the reunion enlistment to about a calendar month. “ It was hard to get him to agree to do even whatever we did, ” says Hawkes. “ We were just getting into the rhythm of it, and it was over. ”
As Ocasek approached 70, his life and career seemed in a state of flux density. He reunited with Weezer to produce 2014 ’ s Everything Will Be Alright in the End. But changes in the music commercial enterprise left him disillusioned ( in 2003, he briefly took a job as an A & R executive at Elektra ), and creative frustrations began to surface. About three to four years before they separated, Ocasek played Porizkova some of his death recordings — half a twelve new songs in which she felt he revealed more of himself. “ It got me then excited, ” she says. “ It was entirely new and different. hush identical him and very truancy, but it was like him taken to the extremes — the pleasantness of his music with reasonably darkness lyrics. ” Despite her encouragement, he couldn ’ triiodothyronine finish the album. “ It ’ s not coming to me, ” he told her, and the album ( which, Ocasek hinted to RS in 2017, could have morphed into a Cars stick out ) remained unfinished .

In April 2018, Ocasek found himself playing with Hawkes, Easton, and Robinson one last time when the Cars were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. “ It ’ randomness funny story, because after that night, I in truth had a classify of sense of finality about it, ” says Hawkes. “ I didn ’ metric ton realize quite how final it truly was. ” Easton says the ring did “ a fortune of healing ” after its generalization ; he and Ocasek evening began exchanging punny text. But whether or not Ocasek would always work with them again, or make any music, remained unknown. When Ocasek spoke with RS this July, he said, “ I ’ ve actually been doing some artwork shows. … but I guess at some item I ’ m gon na mess around with some more music. ” One of his last public sightings was at the New York premier for Martin Scorsese ’ s objective on Bob Dylan ’ s Rolling Thunder Revue, in June .
In early September this class, Ocasek undergo operating room ( Porizkova declines to give details on the operation ). She and their two sons took turns tending to him as he recuperated at family. On the morning of September 15th, Porizkova peered into his bedroom to find him in his usual sleeping position : on his back, “ one of his hands elegantly folded beneath his kuki, ” she says. About an hour late, she checked on him again. “ I touched his cheek, and it was like touching marble, ” she says. Realizing he had passed, she summoned family members ( including sons from his previous marriages ), who gathered around Ocasek ’ s bed to say adieu before Porizkova called 911 .
The New York medical examiner ’ south function attributed Ocasek ’ s death to natural causes related to heart disease, with emphysema listed as a factor. Porizkova says she remains “ baffled ” by the pronouncement because Ocasek gave up smoking 14 years ago and lone suffered from a mild subject of emphysema. She calls his death “ a sleep together shock. ” At the same time, she says, “ In the weirdest way, the surgery was a blessing. Because of it, all four of us had two weeks together every sidereal day. In this cloud of awfulness, that was a argent line. ”

On the day of his New York funeral, Porizkova came across the lyrics Ocasek had written for “ Soon, ” a ballad on Move Like This  that felt like a sequel to “ Drive. ” But reading them afresh, she realized that buried in its reasonably tune was a message to her : “ I know what I put you through/The time will run away from us like fourth dimension it will do. ”
“ I had never actually paid attention to it, ” she says. “ It was a song he had written for me, and it was kind of a hard look into the future. I thought, ‘ Oh, my God. ’ It actually got me. ” To the end, the deeper truths beneath the bright surfaces of Ocasek ’ south music shine through .

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