My Life

In Memoriam: Just What We Needed – Ric Ocasek

Certain songs can be evocative of certain times. It may not necessarily be the lyrics or the music or the message. Rather, it is often a trigger for where you were, what you were doing or how you were feeling when those songs were playing. Many of The Cars songs do that very thing for me.

Granted, The Cars were not my favorite musicians during their peak. (I was much more into R.E.M, The Human League, Yaz, that sort of thing.) But The Cars were HUGE on my college campus in the early-to-mid 80s. Their songs were always playing in the dorms, at the sorority and fraternity parties and, well, just about everywhere you went. As such, their music became the semi-permanent aural background to everything that was happening.

And there was a lot happening. The Reagan (and Thatcher) years were becoming a Conservative wet dream and a Liberal nightmare, sowing the seeds of the cultural divide which rules this country (and others) today. AIDS was thundering over the horizon at a mystifying pace, and the associated funerals had already begun. The Cold War was still a very real threat. Terrorism was starting to transition from a regional issue to an international one. It was complicated.

On a more personal level, I was struggling with the “traditional” coming-of-age dilemmas, albeit with a few twists. Where do I go from here? What do I want to do with my life? What the hell am I going to do with a Liberal Arts degree? Why am I still living in this ultra-conservative state where so many people hate people like me? Why don’t I just come out of the closet and be done with the lies? And, perhaps most importantly, because every one of us just wants to be loved, why am I crushing so hard on that boy who has given no inclination that he is aware of my existence?

All of this, the big and the small thoughts, the great and the tiny happenings, the yearnings for better and the dreams of different and the furtive sex and the frustration of slipping cluelessly into adulthood and the feelings of helplessness and those quiet, random moments when two strangers open up a tiny little bit with one another and become best friends…. All of this was accompanied by The Cars, playing somewhere, at least for me, in that time.

And really, the music helped. Their songs, at least on the surface, seemed to be happy and fun and feel-good. It softened the various blows of the madness. But they were a much deeper band than that, if you really listened. They helped to subvert what we knew as “pop music”, with the quirky arrangements and sometimes-obscure lyrics. (Some musical historians will say that The Cars were the first introduction to “New Wave” that many Americans would hear, before such a thing dominated the music scene for the rest of the 80s. Perhaps so, perhaps not. Duran Duran comes to mind, for one.)

In any case, The Cars could do deep. And although they weren’t quite my favorite band, they did produce one of my favorite songs, “Drive”. It certainly appealed to me during the whirlwind of my college years. It still does today, as the song ponders essentially everything that I’ve fumblingly tried to say in this piece about finding your way. I’ll close this one out with the lyrics.



Who’s gonna tell you when,
it’s too late?
Who’s gonna tell you things,
aren’t so great?

You can’t go on, thinkin’,
nothin’s wrong.
Who’s gonna drive you home,

Who’s gonna pick you up,
when you fall?
Who’s gonna hang it up,
when you call?

Who’s gonna pay attention,
to your dreams?
And who’s gonna plug their ears,
when you scream?

You can’t go on, thinkin’,
nothin’s wrong.

Who’s gonna drive you home, tonight?

Who’s gonna hold you down,
when you shake?
Who’s gonna come around,
when you break?

You can’t go on, thinkin’,
nothin’s wrong.

Who’s gonna drive you home, tonight?

Oh, you know you can’t go on, thinkin’,
nothin’s wrong,

Who’s gonna drive you home, tonight?


P.S. If this one leaves you feeling a bit blue, here’s a link to a music review I did for the “Drive” video. It’s a bit more light-hearted…


31 replies »

  1. There’s a lot of depth to ‘Drive,’ the layers do mean different things to different people. Music just reaches out and BAM- back to certain times that mean so much now, and at the time was mere background music. We all have to shuffle off sometime but I think the musicians leave behind more than a lingering melody. Man, this is getting way too introspective! Cue up ‘Lets Go’ and sing along and shimmy and smile.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Now, no need to worry about getting too introspective. I love it when that happens, especially since the dial on my introspective-meter is always vibrating toward the higher end of the dial. Music does leave a ghost that we can revisit, and the shape of the ghost shifts over time, becoming more fluid, more resonant…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I couldn’t agree more. The second I even read the picture you posted with this I started hearing the song in my head and it took me back. It’s a transcendent song. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The lyrics of this one have always haunted me even though this is not my era. Was mostly a Beach Boys & Beatles chic and distinctly remember hearing I Wanna Hold Hand the first time at 13. In jr. high, all the guys dyed their hair blond and had long bangs flopping over their eyes. High school brought on the afros and uncombed manes flying every which way, bringing to mind the musical Hair, which I didn’t like but loved that song.

    Liked by 1 person

    • By the time I made it to high school, “feathering” was all the rage with hairstyles for both sexes. Of course, this meant that one had to spend hours in front of a mirror, hoisting a blow dryer, but the guys would absolutely perish before admitting that they did such. There are photos of moi somewhere sporting the feathering, but I’m going to pretend that I don’t know where they are right now… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Good times. My own memory is of a strange lost young woman who adored ‘obscure’ music (not that the Cars were that. Exactly. My very ‘normal’ brother loved the band) and equally adored cruisin’ State Street in whatever vehicle she had, until the late hours listening to the music and feeling the best she remembers ever feeling perhaps. “Drive” was especially favored, although the DJs didn’t play it as often as I’d hoped. My old cars never had tape players and CDs and things like Sirius were far in the future. I was normal behind the wheel, could flirt with boys and men in other cars just as if I were a pretty girl. The music was what bound us all together into a group – externals like sexual preference, weight, looks, clothes and all that were unimportant. And of course there were those in the crowd who still weighed and valued by all those exterior and in the end transitory factors. I met more of the former than the latter and I’ll always treasure that. Thanks Brian for taking me along on one last ride to one of my favorite songs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We share, essentially, the exact same memory. I would get in the car and drive for hours, cruising from one “hot spot” to another. (Of course, my spots were slightly different than your destinations.) And while I enjoyed the flirting and interactions, a few of which developed into something more, I mostly relished the drive itself. The radio was always on, waiting as I did for that handful of songs I yearned for, and the solitude was delicious. Just me and the miles and the tunes, singing along…


  5. Ah yes, I remember the soundtrack to that time well (and Duran Duran) and all the angst that accompanied it. The music filled in the cracked nicely.
    When my daughter was in high school she used to say that all the songs by The Cars were written about her, and that’s when I first really paid attention to the lyrics. She was always a far more complicated person than most people took her for — especially when she was seventeen and liked the night life, baby.
    Excellent post, Brian.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, now I need to go back and listen to all the lyrics again, from a different perspective. Not that this would trouble me, mind you. I’d certainly enjoy the ride and the flashbacks and the anticipation of what life could be before reality set up roadblocks…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Good piece.
    I wasn’t a huge fan during their heyday but in more recent years when music has been something of a wasteland I turned back the clock to The Cars.
    When I feel like I want to hear something upbeat I often cue up Touch and Go.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You nailed it, Brian. Whether intentional or not, music flavours the background of our lives and certain artists and certain songs can whiplash us back to that time period in a heartbeat. I don’t tend to get all nostalgic and ‘surf the past’ (as my kids say) but lately that’s exactly what’s been happening … and the music playing has been a big part of it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I find myself much more comfortable with the songs from the past. Frankly, I haven’t bought a new CD in years. Very few things appeal to me these days. (It’s not ALL fleeting and unworthy, but the jewels are rare.) I’d much rather do the surfing… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I always loved Drive. It’s funny because I wasn’t a huge Cars fan but the other night, Ken and I started listening to their playlist and going, “Oh yeah! I remember that one” and “Ooh, that’s a great song–I’d forgotten about that one” and I realized that maybe I was a fan after all. RIP Ric

    Liked by 1 person

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