Let’s Go: Benjamin Orr & The Cars by Joe Milliken (BOOK REVIEW)

If you have ever stared into the dreamy romantic eyes of Benjamin Orr from the other side of a video screen and wondered what he was like, then Joe Milliken’s new biography of The Cars singer/bassist, Let’s Go, will put any fears you had of him being an arrogant rock star aside for good. With memories shared from many of Orr’s friends and colleagues, the picture is painted pretty clear that Orr was a quiet, kind, funny man who protected his privacy so well that not even those who played in bands with him really knew all that much about him.

Milliken tried very hard to get people to open up about the musician once locally known as Benny Eleven Letters (his real last name was Orzechowski); but even then what they could tell you about Orr in private was little. Cars bandmates David Robinson and Greg Hawkes talked to the author but Ric Ocasek and Elliott Easton did not, leaving Milliken to quote the latter from older interviews given to different publications. Still, as a whole, a picture becomes clearer and clearer the more you read.

Growing up outside of Cleveland, the young Ben was obsessed with The Beatles and started playing drums at a young age. By age thirteen he was in his first band, by seventeen he was in the Grasshoppers, which gave Orr lots of local recognition for the budding rock star. A roadie for the band, Steve Dudas, stated that, even at that time, “Ben epitomized coolness without even trying.” This trait would follow Orr through the rest of his days.

The book takes the reader through Orr’s meeting Ocasek, formation of the Cars and through the hit records and eventual disbandment, before easing into the painful decline of Orr’s health once the cancer took over. Despite the disease eating away at him, Orr wanted to keep performing, which he did with a new band called Big People that also featured former 38 Special guitarist Jeff Carlisi, drummer Liberty DeVitto and singer Derek St Holmes. “Ben had made it clear that he wanted to keep playing music until he couldn’t anymore,” remembered DeVitto. That came in September of 2000, when Orr told DeVitto he didn’t feel up to singing “Drive,” the 1984 Cars hit song that Orr sang lead on. He would pass away a few days later on October 03, at age fifty-three.

When this author interviewed St Holmes in 2016, he called Orr, “The sweetest man ever,” and Milliken’s book certainly reiterates that via those who grew up with him, played in bands with him, married and dated him, and just knew him from the business.  And they also vouched for that rock star charm Orr exhibited from an early age. “Believe me, Benny just had this incredible electricity about him,” said early bandmate Wayne Weston. “Benny was like the Elvis Presley of Cleveland.”

If you’re looking for torrid tales of rock & roll excess, it’s not in the pages of Let’s Go. But if you’re just wanting a memoir about a good guy living out his dream of being a musician, then this is definitely for you.

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2 Responses

  1. I am a newbie fan of gentle, sweet Benjamin Orr. I want to get this book, just to read a little more about this mystery man! I’ve always loved “Drive”, but never took much notice of the Cars and their music, until now. They were a great band. It breaks my heart that Benjamin passed away with such a nasty, unforgiving illness. No one deserves this pain least of all someone like him. He’s now at peace. Wish one day to visit his gravestone. there will never be another Benjamin Orr.

  2. Fell in love with his music way after his death only new of drive wish I had new of album Lace and his good looks miss him

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