When Ric Ocasek learned the Cars were finally entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in December 2017—14 years after they were first eligible—he was overjoyed. “It’s certainly a wonderful feeling to be accepted by peers,” said the singer, who was found dead in his New York townhouse on September 15th. “It’s kind of a big thing for me and the band.”
At the time, the Cars hadn’t performed since a quick 12-date reunion tour in 2011 to support their comeback record Move Like This. It was their only activity since breaking up in 1987, and Ocasek insisted it be as brief as possible. “I’ve always been more of a songwriter than a performer,” he told Rolling Stone. “I didn’t want to do things like, ‘Hey, let’s do some casinos and some boats.’ I didn’t want to get into that. That’s just a different reason to do it. That’s really just being mechanical and playing your songs for whatever it is.”
For the Hall of Fame, however, he was willing to put those feelings aside for a four-song set that included “My Best Friend’s Girl,” “You Might Think,” “Moving in Stereo” and “Just What I Needed.” Weezer bassist Scott Shriner sat in with the band to fill the hole left by the late Benjamin Orr. Here’s video of the last song, which wound up being the last time the Cars played together before Ocasek’s death.
They were incredible that night and they gave fans hope that perhaps it would lead to more band activity in the future. “Maybe this will be a good reason to do it again, though I really miss Ben as part of the thing,” Ocasek said. “As much as I want it to be the Cars and I love everyone so much in the Cars, without him it just feels different. It feels different.”
The Cars were able to still be a credible version of the group without Benjamin Orr, but without Ocasek now it would be impossible. (Yes, guitarist Elliot Easton and keyboardist Greg Hawkes did tour with Todd Rundgren as the New Cars in 2006, but it only proved that it simply cannot work without one of the two singers.) The sudden loss of Ocasek is a shocking tragedy, but at least the Hall of Fame gave him the opportunity to end his band on a very high note. When the group got in, he did suspect it might be their final hurrah.
“It would be a good cap on the bottle,” Ocasek told Rolling Stone. “I thought [to myself], ‘I kind of started playing here and I could stop playing here, in Cleveland. This could be the bookends. One guy on a guitar playing bad songs and then I’m in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 45 years later.’ It’s kind of weird because it’s like a lifetime. It is a lifetime. I had three families during that time. They are like lives that go by and millions of people and things and artists and writers and business people and fans…It’s a lot of stuff. It’s been a pretty eventful life, I can say.”