“Just What I Needed” – Remembering Ric Ocasek

I discovered music when I was 16.

Mike Lochner came into the boys locker room at Bishop Gibbons High School before cross country practice, bearing a giant silver boom box. He set it down on a bench, and reached for the Play button. Then he stopped.

“You have to hear this,” he said.

The button clicked, and a crisp synth beat came out. There were about a dozen of us, and we stood silent, waiting to understand why we had to hear this.

let the good times roll / let them knock you around
let the good times roll / let them make you a clown
let them leave you up in the air / let them brush your rock and roll hair
let the good times roll / let the good times roll / let the good…times…roll…

And then we got it. We’d never heard anything like it. It was the first time I heard something and thought: I have to own this. “The Cars” debut was my first album. Within a year I also owned Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” The Cars’ follow-up record, “Candy-O,” and a few more.

The man responsible, Ric Okasek, died last week.

If you’re old enough to remember 1978 and were listening to music when “The Cars” hit the streets, you might have felt something like what I did. “The Cars” changed the way I listened to music. Hook, melody, lyric – I knew that before but didn’t quite understand it. In that album it gelled. Joy, sorrow, I’m going to live forever, I might die tonight. I wrote their lyrics on my school desk. I can’t really sing, but I had to sing these. And a few years later, in 1984, I heard the song “Drive” (from the great album “Heartbeat City”) and realized that I finally understood heartbreak.

Should you decide to take a trip back to The Cars, make a detour for some of Ocasek’s best work, his solo records. Start with “Beatitude,” and give it more than one listen.