So, where was I? Oh, yes, the New Cars (featuring real Cars Greg Hawkes and, most importantly, Elliot Easton) pricey VIP concert tickets which I had in my possesion. I roped my sweet new fiance Gary into going with me. I felt he needed to see this side of me before we went any further.
They told all of the VIP’s via email that we were allowed to bring something for the band to sign. Of course I’d bring my copy of Elliot’s 1985 solo album: Change No Change. I was sure he’d be impressed – I’m a real fan, not some poseur who just likes to throw money around. The album’s cover is black, so I bought a silver paint pen for him to sign it with, because I think of everything sometimes.
The day of the concert, we arrived at the Universal Amphitheater and were led in by a cute, college-age girl whose job it was to wrangle us. I hated her. I would have killed for this job as a young woman, did she even know how good she had it? Would she ever? Should I explain it to her?
Okay, so, this girl, who probably had never heard of the Cars before this job, sat us in a spot out of view of the band as they rehearsed their set. Elliot was in charge of things, you could totally tell. Signaling with his hands, saying things with his voice – he was choreographing the dance that was the New Cars. I had never loved him more. Then the rehearsal ended, and the Girl Who Has Had More Than One Exchange With Elliot Easton, You Know It said it was time for the meet and greet. I felt my throat tighten; my body became cold and unmoving. A dream was about to become reality – most normal people think this would be amazing and not be sick to their stomach and want to run crying to the bathroom pretending to have the fast poops.
We filed out and into a tented area where we were instructed to form a line perpendicular to the table where the band sat, open faced and ready to receive us. Then the line started to move. The closer we got to the table, the more I wanted to expire before I got there. I had been waiting for this moment all my life, and yet all I wanted to do was run away and dive into the Waterworld moat.
I felt bad for Gary as well – I gave him the terrible task of getting my Shake It Up album signed – but only by the two original Cars. He’d have to pull it away from the others. To this day I don’t know how he did it, nor do I want to know, because rudeness terrifies me.
We inched forward… Oh my stars. It was happening… what’s happening… where am I? I felt a shortness of breath and my heart race – please oh please let this be a grand mal seizure. Throughout all this panic, I kept the line moving ever forward. The order of it all kept me from losing my mind.
Before I knew it, I was standing right in front of original keyboardist Greg Hawkes. I smiled at him, nodded and said hi, all awkwardly. Next to Greg sat one of Todd Rundgren’s buddies. I smiled at him, too – whatever, I’m nice.
Next was Elliot, looking resplendent seated in the center – like the Jesus of the New Cars. The guy in front of me was slow, so I was stuck smiling at Todd Rundgren’s buddy more. The guy moved on. Elliot looked at me. I stepped up to him and I handed him my album.
“I brought this silver pen,” I said, indicating.
“There’s a grey one here,” Elliot Easton said. I looked down – there were Sharpies in at least three different colors. I felt like an asshole!
“Oh!” I said, and just stood there like a ding dong.
He signed his name and handed the album cover back to me, and I said nothing else. I am such a planner – why didn’t I plan something to say to him? I have written an entire Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tribute speech to the Cars in my head once during a long drive – why couldn’t I summon up something from that?
Mercifully, I reached the end of the slow-scooting line, turned, and rushed toward Gary with a sense of exhilarated relief, the kind you feel when you exit a really scary haunted house, one where they have no boundaries and grab and poke you. But then the girl said we needed to get back in line – we’d each be taking a picture with them! Oh, how I wished Gary would just punch me in the face. Someone – please stab me in the neck with your keys!
With sweet Gary’s encouragement, I found the strength to pose for the picture – and another one for safety! You know, up to that day, I always thought that, had I lived in pioneer times, I would never have survived. I think the strength I showed that day proves otherwise.
Here I am, managing to live through a very pleasant experience.
After the meet and greet, a half-assed buffet, and a trivia contest where I won a t-shirt, of course, we were herded back into the amphitheater and watched The New Cars from our amazing seats. I would have wept through the entire set, but one of Gary’s friends had joined us, so I acted like I was having fun instead of dying inside.
This is me saying to Elliot “Back off, I’m engaged!”
Okay, so here’s the stuff:
The t-shirt is fairly new and it doesn’t fit. There’s a picture disc, a tour program, and a homemade Cars button since I could never find one. Also included but not pictured are my Circus magazines and loose-leaf pictures of the band cut out from magazines I once put into collages. I’m keeping the signed records, obvi. And this other unwearable t-shirt.
OKAY, so… 2002? 2003? I wanted to wait out traffic after work so I stopped at the Chin Chin in Bev Hills for dinner. I walked in, approached the hostess stand and… talk about dim sum and then some… Elliot Easton was there, eating with three dudes! I wondered — did he notice me noticing him, and if he did, was he flattered or creeped? Keep in mind I was alone and staring right at him for like a solid minute.
My table was kiddie-cornered to where he and the dudes sat. I tried to eat my Chinese chicken salad like a person, but it became unwieldy and the wonton crisps were spilling out every whicha way. I wondered if Elliot saw this, and if he did, would he think I was clumsy, like a woman in a romcom? Or clumsy, like a woman who’s just gotten out of prison? I used the time I spent corralling the crisps to try to decide if I should say something to him.
I decided against it, because I do not approach those I admire, for fear of their contempt. I learned this the hard way at 9 years old at a skating rink in Texas, when I made the mistake of telling this girl who had just won a skate-dancing competition that she was a good skater. In truth, she was just little and sassy and won the crowd over without having to skate particularly well. And back then I was really impressed by girls who were small for their age. After I congratulated her, her two guy friends started harassing me and hurting my feelings. I can’t remember what they said, but if it upset me back then, chances are it was either “That girl has dandruff” or “That girl just farted.”
Now, I knew Elliot was way too awesome to say I have dandruff or anything, but if his reaction to me was less than “this encounter has made an indelible impression on my life,” I would be heartbroken. And I was sure another, more ideal opportunity to meet Elliot would present itself – maybe something that involved working together on the internet.
A couple of years later I heard a commercial on the radio (which is a miracle since I always flip past them because I like to rock): the New Cars would be playing the Universal Amphitheatre as part of their Road Rage tour. The New Cars? I was intrigued and hopeful. I got home and went to their website and discovered that the members of the New Cars were: Elliot Easton, original keyboardist Greg Hawkes, Todd Rundgren, and a couple of guys he knows.
I had only seen the real Cars in concert once, when I was 14 with my friend Craig Rodgers and his brother and his brother’s girlfriend. Seeing them live moved me so profoundly that I cried when it was over. Craig asked if I was okay. Inside I thought “no, I’m not” and I said “no I’m not.” I didn’t know how I was supposed to just go back to my life after that — but I managed to, and good for me.
Now! How was I going to get good tickets to this show? You can’t just camp out on the sidewalk outside a Sears like a hobo like you could in the 80’s. As a teenager, I did this many times with varying degrees of success. There was Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A tour, where I couldn’t get off work early enough from Baskin-Robbins, so I was, like, 30th in line. Then the sprinklers went off — people scattered, there was lawlessness. But then I got front-row tickets for being first in line for the Moody Blues. I was actually the only person in line for nearly 3 hours. I didn’t get it – what teenager wouldn’t want to see the Moody Blues play the hits from their parents’ records?
I found out from the New Cars website that for $500, you could get a VIP experience, which included a premium seat and you could watch the sound check and meet the band! This situation brought together two of my favorite things: Elliot Easton, and throwing money at a problem.
Come back everybody and find out what happened next!
When I was a teenager, the rock band the Cars were my everything. When I discovered their first album within the record collection of a Tennessee cousin, I didn’t know how I had lived eleven whole years on this earth without them. To the back of the stack with you, Donna Summer and Olivia Newton-John albums, Fame soundtrack and the like! (P.S. I still have all of those.)
Good thing all I needed to know about this exciting new band (it was 1981, the record was released in 1978) was right there on the album’s sleeve: their names, what instruments they played. Right away I had a favorite Car – Elliot Easton: guitar, backing vocals. I started to fantasize about how I would meet him: I’d be picking out earrings at Miss Bojangles. Elliot would be lurking behind a kiosk, watching me entertain friends with a really funny story. Lots of friends. Then he’d walk up behind me, and when everyone stopped laughing and widened their eyes, I’d turn around and he’d take the cigarette out of his mouth and introduce himself. For much of my teenage life, this is the kind of thing that would fill my thoughts as I would listen to The Cars’ music. Especially in times of great emotional distress — which was most days for me, as the girls at school were what would later be called “mean girls” and my mother was what would later be called a “hoarder.” Also I ripped my shorts in gym — that could not have helped.
So in 1985 when Elliot went on the nationally syndicated radio interview show “Rockline” to promote his new album Change No Change, I was totally stoked. What if I could actually talk to him on the phone?! And what if he’d ask to talk to me privately afterward? What if what if what if?!
Patty Smyth of Scandal was on before him, but I knew I should go ahead and start calling because I am most comfortable being steps ahead of things. After a few busy signals, the line started ringing. I thought maybe I had misdialed, but I did not want to hang up just in case.
I had the volume on my shitty stereo very low so as not to wake up my mother. I say shitty because the knobs on it were clearly not the knobs it came with — Mom had given me some song-and-dance about how the store didn’t have the knobs in stock on this model, but they’d be getting them in and I would get them later. There is no second part to this knob story.
Back to me, phone clutched to my face, waiting. Ringing ringing ringing. After Patty Smyth of Scandal’s interminable interview, which I believe was 30 minutes in length, someone finally answered the phone.
“Rockline, what’s your question?” said some man.
“I… I don’t know!” How could I have forgotten to have a question ready? This isn’t how I am, see ‘steps ahead of things’ comment earlier. The man was really nice, as I was crying now — excited and also worried he would hang up on me and my conversation/life with Elliot would be not happening.
“Well… he doesn’t sing lead any Cars songs, does he?” said the man.
“No!” I said, getting where he was going with this — he was like a beloved teacher who knew I had the answer all along. I thanked the living shit out of that man and waited my turn in the cue.
Mom yelled at me me to turn off my stereo and hang up the phone. I didn’t have time to explain what was happening or the irreparable damage she would to if she barged in and did those things herself.
The recording below, done by putting a transistor radio on top of a tape recorder, is of me asking my question and only part of his answer:
Mom always said I’d outgrow this. And, to her credit, I thought I had. But a few years ago, I went to the Chin Chin in Beverly Hills, and guess who I totally spotted not ten feet from me oh my gosh y’all I spotted Elliot Easton. I’d recognize that buttoned-up polo shirt and round-framed glasses anywhere. I knew this getup well, because I had more than once dressed up like him for Halloween.
Read all about this encounter in Part 2! Vote in Part 3! It’s like the Hunger Games trilogy but no children get murdered!