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!