Ric is completely eccentric, lives in his own time frame," Robinson says, drinking coffee in his one-room art gallery, Windemere, in the Massachusetts seaside town of Rockport. "He probably thinks very little time has gone by."
Robinson was a Boston-scene star even before he joined the Cars; he'd played with Jonathan Richman in the Modern Lovers. Although Robinson never attended college or art school, he was responsible for much of the Cars' visual class, designing album covers and creating the group's striking license-plate logo. Robinson gradually left music after the Cars broke up and, five years ago, opened Windemere, where he sells jewelry of his own design and paintings by local artists. The drummer, now 62 with long, graying hair tied back in a ponytail, had not played rock or a regular kit in years when Ocasek called in December 2009 with an unexpected proposal.
"He said, 'I thought we would do a Cars album, if everybody wants to,'" Robinson recalls. "The thing is, he could have said that at any time in the last 20 years. We would have responded the same way."
Easton, 57, has spent the past two and a half decades combining solo work with session and touring jobs. "The side stuff is not by choice," the guitarist says. "If the Cars had been busy all that time, I would have been perfectly happy."
Ocasek is one of rock's enduring puzzles, both deliberate and enigmatic in his music, manner and choices. Born Richard Otcasek in Baltimore, the son of a NASA systems analyst, he dropped the "t" in the mid-Seventies (Orr also shortened his surname, from Orzechowski) and has always been cagey, for the record, about his age. He admits to being older than 62 (cited in many Internet sources) but not by much: "I'm somewhere around that area."
A mantis invariably dressed in black and shades of gray except for the blood-red lenses in his glasses, Ocasek moves like the songs he writes and how he likes the Cars to play them: with stylish, unhurried purpose, singing and playing his clicking-gallop style of rhythm guitar (a trademark of hits like 1978's "Just What I Needed") with deadpan calm. As a leader, he is more implicit than demanding. In rehearsal, when the Cars play a new song, "Keep on Knocking," Ocasek presses the air with one hand, showing Hawkes how hard to hit a synth chord. "You have to watch," Robinson warns. "Ric could say, 'This is what we're doing.' But he doesn't."
"Ric taped everything – the rehearsals, the shows," Hawkes, 58, says of the Cars' early days. "He was always giving me cassettes: 'Listen to this.' I learned from listening to those cassettes how to play more economically."
Ocasek is also a fascinating mix of mystery and candor when it comes to his private life. Hawkes first met Ocasek at a session for Milkwood's 1972 album – Hawkes played sax on it – and played with him in other bands on the way to the Cars. The two men were in a hotel elevator during a 1979 Cars tour when Ocasek mentioned that his son was coming to the show that night. Ocasek was then married to his second wife, Suzanne.
"It turns out that it was his earlier son, from an earlier marriage, that he never mentioned to me," Hawkes explains. "And it was another year before I found out he had two sons by his first marriage, not just the one who came to the show." Hawkes, a diminutive guy with mop-ish blond hair, laughs brightly. "Ric is not revealing in that personal sense, as in 'Oh, yeah, I've got a couple of other kids.'"
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