Back in 2007 a book titled The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries, written by Marilyn Johnson was published. That came to mind when I read of the death of Ric Ocasek because given last week’s piece on the passing of Eddie Money, I didn’t want to be tagged as the Official Glorious Noise Death Correspondent. [Sorry Mac, you’re now officially the Death Correspondent; your new business cards are in the mail. -ed.]
Still, Ocasek deserves more than a few lines on Twitter. First know that he was a 75-year-old male. And according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control, Health, United States, 2017, With Special Feature on Mortality (I didn’t make that up), in 2016 life expectancy at birth for a male is 76.1 years. So he wasn’t far from that. And being a male is particularly troublesome vis-à-vis, well, living, as the report says, “In 2016, age-adjusted death rates were higher among males than among females for heart disease, cancer, CLRD, diabetes, stroke, and unintentional injuries,” and if there is any dim light associated with that list of bad things, the sentence continues, “and were lower among males than females for Alzheimer’s disease.” Which one could interpret as saying, “If you’re a male married to a female of approximately your same age, she may not know who you are before she dies.” And if all of the songs about love that we’ve listened to over the years—including those by The Cars—that might be even more heart-rending than death itself.
And before leaving that dark subject, know that, again going back to that Special Feature on Mortality, in 2016 73% of all deaths occurred among those 65 years and older, and lest anyone who is from 45 to 64 feels smug, the number of those dying is 19.7%–and while that number isn’t near 73%, the death rate for those from 25 to 44 is a mere 4.9%, so that 19.7 percent isn’t as good as you might think.
But let’s pull ourselves out of this spiral to oblivion and get back to Ocasek.
When I went to Google to search for some facts (and not just CDC reports) on September 16 (Ocasek died on the 15th), there on the homepage was an illustration of B.B. King and, hovering the mouse over the Doodle, “B.B. King’s 94th birthday.”
Which struck me as odd because it seems as though someone who has a birthday ought to be alive, and the blues musician par excellence went home on May 14, 2015.
Do we celebrate our artists only after our artists have passed?
A strange thing about Ocasek and The Cars is that much of the music they made—during a run that pretty much ran from ’78 to ’88, which is a good run for any group under the best of circumstances—is that it is the kind of music that one would listen to while driving around in a car (back then not everyone and their mother was driving in a crossover or SUV). “My Best Friend’s Girl.” “You’ve All I’ve Got Tonight.” Think of being behind the wheel and doing a head-bob to the beat. In 1978 a gallon of gas cost 0.63 cents and by ’88 it was up to 0.90 cents, so there was a whole lot of driving around that was possible. They caught that beat and amplified it through the custom speakers that so many wired into their cars back then.
It was of a place and of a time.
The Cars broke up in ’89. And got back together. And then added Rundgren for The New Cars. And then dissolved. And reassembled. And. . . .
In 2000, Benjamin Orr, with whom Ocasek started the band, died. Evidently that had a lot to do with what was to come, which was not was prefigured by the past.