It was sometime in the mid 1980’s. My then-girlfriend Mary Jo and I jetted to Boston on People’s Express (see January blog entry; The Neighborhoods) for a week’s vacation. Our second day in town, a Saturday afternoon, we were hitting the racks in Newbury Comics’ (Boston’s preeminent indie record store) original Newbury Street location (they’ve branched out since then). Leaning on the counter shooting the breeze with the cash register clerk was a guy with long straight black hair, sunglasses and a black suit. I said to Mary Jo, "That guy at the counter is doing the best Ric Ocasek impression I’ve ever seen." Then I thought a little bit and realized The Cars studio, Synchro Sound, was right across the street from Newbury Comics and that it WAS Ric Ocasek. I had loved The Cars when they first emerged in 1978, loved their first two albums, loved reading about how Ocasek had put them together from the ground up to achieve maximum rock stardom. I had learned a lot from reading about them, I really had, so I wanted to at least acknowledge my big fan status.
At that time Mary Jo and I both worked in Columbus, Ohio, at Ross Laboratories, which was right up the street from the Columbus College Of Art & Design, where Ocasek had attended school in the early 70’s. Also, Ocasek’s ex-wife was still living in Columbus and one of his sons was delivering flowers for the flower shop where my ex-wife worked. None of this was particularly noteworthy to the national rock press but it was fairly common knowledge in Columbus rock & roll circles. Plus his other son had recently spoken to a DJ friend of mine in a bar and brought up his famous dad to try, in her viewpoint, to get a little attention/notoriety/play. So, not wanting to just walk up to Ric Ocasek and start slobbering out a typical fan-boy greeting like, "Oh, Mr. Ocasek, I love your music and I just wanted to say hello." I led with, "Hi, I’m from Columbus, Ohio, and I work just up the street from where you used to go to school."
Ocasek looked down at me (that cat is TALL) from under his insect sunglasses and droned, "Who said I went to school in Columbus, Ohio?" I was a little taken aback by his tone, but pressed on with, "You didn’t go to the Columbus College Of Art & Design in the 70’s?" He replied in the same haughty, deadpan drone he started with, "I’ve never even HEARD of Columbus, Ohio." Okay, so then I was angry. And the problem was, in those days when I got angry I would completely lose my temper. I fully realize that maybe Ric Ocasek didn’t want to deal with fans bothering him when he was "off-duty," but then why was he hanging out in a record store on a Saturday afternoon in full Cars rock star regalia? There was just no reason, in my mind, why he would treat a fan that way.
Since I was mad, and since I knew from the rock press that Ocasek was touchy about his age, the next sentence out of my mouth was, "Oh, so then I guess you don’t have an ex-wife and two grown kids in Columbus, Ohio, either then?" Now Ocasek is pissed. "I don’t know what you’re talking about," he says, his voice going up a little from the deadpan drone. "I’m talking about the fact that you don’t want anybody to know you’ve got a kid at least 16 years old and that you’re almost 40, Mr. Rock Star," I spat back. Now we were both getting loud and people in the store were starting to pay attention. We went back and forth at each other a little more and then EVERYBODY in Newbury Comics was gaping at us. I glanced off to the side and Mary Jo, who hated conflict and public attention of any kind, was literally holding her face in her hands and shaking her head. (I KNEW I was gonna be in trouble there.)
Finally, Ocasek said, "Why don’t we take this outside?" Now, where I grew up, on the West Side of Columbus, "Why don’t we take this outside?" means nothing else, or less, than a challenge to a fight. At that point I hadn’t been in a physical fight since 1978 and I was thinking, "Oh my God, I’m going to have to fight Ric Ocasek." So we wound up on the sidewalk out in front of Newbury Comics and now we were SCREAMING at each other. I realized then that Ocasek had just wanted to take our "discussion" away from the prying ears of the record store crowd, but that idea backfired badly, because not only did the Newbury Comics people follow us outside, but we had also drawn a whole new group of onlookers from passersby on Newbury Street.
We were both yelling back and forth, spitting mad; at some point I threw in something about Ocasek’s other kid trying to pick up my DJ friend in a bar; there was a circle of at least 20 onlookers in a circle around us; it was getting intense; it was BAD. Finally Ocasek had had enough, spun on his heels, walked across the street into Synchro Sound studios and you could hear the sound of the lock being thrown from all the way across Newbury Street. People were laughing and cheering, one guy clapped me on the back and said, "Man, that was great. That guy is always hanging around here being kingshit rock star asshole." The victory was short-lived, however. Mary Jo would not speak to me for the rest of the day. (Though truthfully, that was not always the punishment she intended it to be.) And that night I went to see The Neighborhoods at the Channel club solo. But hey, it was The ‘Hoods in Boston on a Saturday night in the summer, how was that NOT gonna be a good time?
postscript; Two weeks later I was back at home in Columbus and my ex-wife called up to put in an order for baby formula. (My ex had remarried and started a family since our split and during the time I was employed at Ross Laboratories I obtained cut-rate or free baby formula for her. It was the least, really the least, I could do after the way I had treated her during our marriage.) She asked what I had been doing and I said, "I went to Boston for vacation." "How’d that go?" she asked. "It was okay," I said. "Oh hey, I almost got in a fight with Ric Ocasek," I added, recalling my close encounter of the Cars kind. There was a long, pregnant (no pun intended) silence on the other end of the phone. "Are you there?" I said. "I should have known," she replied, sighing. It turned out that Ric Ocasek had called his ex-wife in Columbus after our little tête-à-tête and threatened to cut off her alimony and child support for the boys, as there was some kind of confidentiality agreement in their divorce settlement, and none of them were supposed to talk about Mr. Rock Star Dad. He had somehow gotten the idea the kids were giving interviews about him on the radio when I brought my DJ friend into the fray. "I should have known it was you," my ex said, "you can’t get along with anybody." So, totaling up, that was two women pissed at me over the same incident, in which I was only trying to pay a rock star hero of mine a compliment. That was definitely NOT just what I needed.
post-postscript; Fully five years later, and not even knowing who he was, I almost got into a fight with one of Ocasek's sons outside a rock club in Columbus. I had not one altercation with any other human being in that intervening five years. There was just some kind of weird blood feud going on with me and those Ocasek boys.
I am not suggesting in any way, shape or form that this video is from the same night I've blogged about above, but then again, I have no real way of knowing that it isn't. And, at any rate, I'll take just about any opportunity to upload The Neighborhoods on Bonus Video Friday. inspirational verse; "Tell me a story / 'Cause if I find the truth / I'll tell the world." - David Minehan, 1982