Actually, at Electric Lady, Ocasek talks warmly and openly of his sons – a total of six, including two young boys with his third wife, the former model Paulina Porizkova. The couple met in 1984, when she starred in the video for "Drive," and have been married since 1989. "These are the first two kids I've seen grow up," says Ocasek, who has a house in upstate New York. "My little one is 12 now, plays the violin. He wants to be Paganini."
In the early Eighties, at the height of the Cars' success, Ocasek lived on "12 cups of coffee and no sleep," as he puts it. "It was all about the Cars. There was no domestic life. I was always sad for the children." Ocasek reveals that one son by an earlier marriage is a recovered drug addict. "I'd always think, 'Is it my fault? I could have gone different ways.'"
Ocasek describes his own childhood in Baltimore, and then in Cleveland when his father was transferred there, with zero nostalgia. "It was not tight at all," Ocasek says of his family, which included a younger sister. "I remember when I brought home the first Bob Dylan album and my father going, 'What the fuck is that? I don't want that in my house again.' Or if I brought home a black friend: 'How could you bring a black guy into the neighborhood?'
"I got out quick," Ocasek says crisply. He dropped out of Bowling Green State University in Ohio and met Orr, then began a long haul of constant aspiration and near-misses – "a lot of bands in different cities, with different approaches. All the work before the Cars was just getting to where the songs were good enough."
Between the Cars' breakup and rebirth, Ocasek briefly held an A&R job at the Cars' old label, Elektra, where he tried and failed to sign then-underground acts such as Devendra Banhart and Death Cab for Cutie. He was at his desk one day when a manager (whom Ocasek declines to name) came in, said he represented Hawkes, Easton and Robinson, and pressed for a Cars reunion. Ocasek said no.
"The shit hit the fan," he says. "Lawyers got involved. It must have cost a ton of money in legal fees that I wasted, the Cars wasted, for fucking no reason." Robinson switched sides; Hawkes and Easton toured as the New Cars in 2006-07, with Todd Rundgren up front. The venture ended when Easton snapped his clavicle in a tour-bus mishap. "Maybe it was a message," he says, laughing. Otherwise, he declines to talk about the New Cars.
Nor did Ocasek bring it up when he called Easton and Hawkes about making a new album. "We blasted all that out when we were in the middle of it," Ocasek says. "This was strictly 'Fuck everything that happened before this. This is a new thing.' And it was great."
"Ric seems relaxed and less angry than he was when he was forced on long tours against his will," Easton suggests. "Everybody is more relaxed. It's not the end of the world, like it always seemed."
Hawkes is "pretty optimistic" that there will be more action after this tour. "We can make more recordings," Robinson says, "the same way we did this one. It was so easy, it was ridiculous."
Ocasek is cautious but keen. "It took on more life than I thought it would," he says of the Cars' return. "A lot of bands re-form, do stuff, and they're crap. I know this isn't crap. And the people are good. They always were." Ocasek smiles. "They might even be a little better."
This story is from the June 9th, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone.
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