The Return of Ric Ocasek

Interview by ANDREW GOLDMAN 05/06/11  NY Times

When I saw that the Cars were touring and had a new album, “Move Like This,” I thought of what Frank Black said when he was asked why the Pixies were reuniting: “I did the arty-farty part, and now it’s time to talk about the money.” Is that true for the Cars?
I don’t think so. Money is great if it comes along, but when we first talked about it, we were going to just do a record for the Internet. We really didn’t want to do the fanfare thing or the “Hey, we’re back and we’re going to show you what the ’80s were like” thing. I wrote all these songs and then just out of the blue one night thought that, Gee, maybe I’ll call the guys and see if they want to do this.

Would the band have reunited if the Cars’ other singer, Ben Orr, were still alive?
Ben and I had a real cold war going that lasted about 23 years. I could never really figure out exactly why, but I think there was a lot of jealousy because I wrote the songs and I got a lot of attention. And there was all kinds of weird stuff, like he said, “My girlfriend writes songs, let’s use one of those or two of those.” I said, “No, that’s not the Cars.”

Did you speak to him before he died in 2000?
I saw him maybe a few months before he passed away. It was just a solemn little meeting. We kind of got back to a point of no grudge for the moment, and he was being strong and wonderful. But how much can you make up in a day after you haven’t seen each other?

In 2003, you became the head of A.&R. for Elektra Records. At the time, your old bandmate David Robinson said: “Ric’s idea of a commercial group is Suicide. I can only assume he misunderstands the job description.”
That’s 100 percent accurate. I went to Elektra because Sylvia Rhone asked me if I would bring in some new bands. I thought, That’s cool, I’ll bring in Devendra Banhart, the Black Keys. I’ll bring in every weird act I could think of just like Jac Holzman did back in the ’60s when he brought in the Doors, Love, Tom Rush and the Incredible String Band. So I took all of them to play for Sylvia. She loved them, but I could never get any of them signed, because she’d say, “They’re not going to sell any records, are they?”

How long did you last?
Not even a year, really.

Are there any bands that have become huge whose appeal you don’t understand?
There are a lot of bands that have a huge appeal but I don’t understand why. Guns n’ Roses. U2. But you know, that’s just my thing. Music is pretty personal.

Nobody has ever described you as incredibly animated on stage. You once said you didn’t move more because you didn’t want to look “ridiculous.”
I don’t think I’m an entertainer. I never think, Wow, I can’t wait to get the crowd moving. Some of my favorite bands never moved an inch.

Thirty years ago you described fun as a “false sense of ecstasy,” but on the new album you have a lyric that says, “I was looking for some serious fun.” Have you changed your feelings about fun?
It’s an ironic lyric. I have trouble with the word “fun.” And I never liked the word “enjoy.”

I don’t know if I believe you. I could have sworn I saw you at the Ulster County Fair in upstate New York last year.
Yeah, I went to the fair, sure. It was the sheep-and-wool festival, right?

They do have livestock, yes. But there are also rides.
Well, the amusements didn’t amuse me. The general scenery was nice, and my kids, we laugh all the time. It was good to see a couple of sheep.

You might be missing out. Have you been on a water slide?
I’ve never been on a water slide in my life.

They’re fun.
I guess they could be fun, and I guess skydiving could be fun, too. But I would never do it. It would be more fun to sit in a room with William Burroughs and listen to him grumble.

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