Turbocharge: The Unauthorized Story of The Cars

turbocharge movie image final.jpg

Written by David Juskow, Directed by Memo Salazar

Format: Digital file

Website: http://turbochargethemovie.com/

Notable Quote: Maxanne: “Why is Benjamin still just standing around? I told you, he should be playing like an instrument or something.” Ric: “He says he doesn’t want to… in case he gets the motivation to dance.”

My quick 2 cents: This frisky parody rockumentary is full of playful humor and witty references that will hit home with Cars fans and lovers of 80s culture. Watch it!

The full scoop: Rock biopics definitely follow a predictable formula: play it fast and loose with the timeline, pit the downtrodden but uber-talented star against an antagonist saying, ‘there is NO way you’re going to be a success,’ and then finish with a top-of-the-charts victory proving everyone wrong and taking the airwaves by storm. And that’s the way the genre goes, right?

Wrong. At least, not when it comes to Turbocharge: The Unauthorized Story of The Cars.

Created more as an act of rebellion, New York comedian, writer, and filmmaker David Juskow was fed up with the stereotypical rock biopic. One night in 2005, after nearly gagging on the cheesy dialog and overbearing drama in Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story, he had had enough. It was the final push he needed to pursue his own project.

“I made Turbocharge out of spite, let’s just say that. It is completely spoofing the genre of any biopic that’s been made of a music band. That is exactly what it is,” Juskow says with finality.

Inducted into the 2018 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Cars broke into the fairly stagnant music scene of 1978, pulling listeners up short with their captivating combination of punchy guitar solos, innovative synthesizers, and sardonic lyric writing. Over the next ten years they were forerunners of the evolving ‘new wave’ craze while maintaining their foothold in rock and roll. As a whole, they were a low key and private band, holding the media at arms’ length and creating an air of mystery about their deeper identity. Did they have a story to tell? Juskow believed they did.

Exaggerated personalities, terrible wigs, and an unorthodox plot make this hilarious film the breath of fresh air the genre needs. Narrated by a snowman a la Rankin/Bass, the story revolves around The Cars reputation for being robotic and boring during live shows, and their supposed determination to correct that perception with the fans. Running alongside that thread is the assertion that bassist Ben Orr was secretly plotting to wrest the control of the group from co-founder and songwriter Ric Ocasek. In an unexpected twist, Phil Collins is delightfully in the middle of it all.

The idea for Turbocharge actually materialized in the mid-80s during Juskow’s college days when the band’s fourth album, Heartbeat City, took his ears by storm and he became obsessed with everything they did. Lightning hit in the summer of 1985, when The Cars performance on the Live Aid broadcast was hijacked by Phil Collins’ arrival. Juskow recalls, “Being a huge fan of The Cars at that time I was so angry that they got shafted that it turned to comedy in my mind. I was like, ‘Someday I’m going to depict that!’”

Two decades later, the time had come. The 20th anniversary of Live Aid in 2005 unearthed Juskow’s earlier grudge over the Phil Collins fiasco, and that, coupled with his disgust over the Def Leppard movie, prompted him to approach his good friend, television industry veteran Memo Salazar. Memo was in, and Juskow spent the next several months researching The Cars’ history, confirming things he already knew and then going deeper.

And the further he dug, the funnier it became. The peculiarity of Ric and Ben’s early partnership, The Cars ‘trashing’ a hotel by leaving pictures askew, the perceived disaster of the Panorama album… it was the oddities in the band’s journey that propelled everything forward with the movie. Juskow does take an obvious amount of creative license, but there’s a difference: Juskow’s forays into embellishment are not designed to evoke emotion with the cookie-cutter ‘climb to fame’ struggles of the typical rockumentary… they’re just damn funny.

“Everybody takes liberties for drama purposes,” Juskow explains. “What would you have if you didn’t have a fun antagonist? C’mon, you need someone to get mad about Andy Warhol: ‘You hired this guy? Are you kidding me?’”

The cast is largely made up from Juskow’s comedy family and ‘friends of friends,’ including Kevin Kash, Rachel Feinstein, Jonathan Katz, H John Benjamin, John Samuel Jordan, David Engel, Tom Shillue, and Dave Attell. Juskow himself plays Ric Ocasek. The soundtrack includes music from Eric Barao, The Cautions, Frank Stallone, and a couple of Cars-flavored tunes written by Juskow himself.

The film originally opened in 2008 with a few private screenings in the New York area, but then sat on a shelf for ten years, until longtime Cars fan David Curry convinced Juskow to dust it off and reconsider releasing it to the rest of the world. Lucky for us! It is now available for a limited time on Amazon Prime: click HERE!

Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars

LetsGo.jpgWritten by Joe Milliken, 2018

Format: Book, 216 pages, 30+ photos

Published by Rowman & Littlefield

Website: http://www.benorrbook.com

Notable Quote: “Believe me, Benny just had this incredible electricity about him. He would walk into a room and whether they knew him or not, people just felt there was something special about this guy…. I swear that in the mid-sixties, Benny was like the Elvis Presley of Cleveland.” — Wayne Weston, friend and former bandmate.

My quick 2 cents: Between the unique writing style, the candid memories of many important people, and the generous number of previously unpublished photos, Benjamin Orr’s inspiring story comes to life in these pages. Buy it!

The full scoop:  Any retrospective on the late 1970s and 1980s HAS to include some focus on the new wave rock legends, The Cars. A debut album that stayed on the charts for 139 consecutive weeks, winners of the first MTV “Video of the Year” award in 1984, creators of what would become the haunting signature song for Live Aid (“Drive”) — they are more than deserving of their 2018 induction in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

While all five guys generally resisted the limelight, bassist Benjamin Orr was arguably the most sought-after — and most private — of the band members. Blessed with versatile vocal chords, unwavering musicianship, and an irresistible magnetism, fans of Benjamin ‘the rock star’ fell hard and with no hope of recovery. But once the show was over and the lights went down, Benjamin flipped a switch. He was a normal guy; he avoided photographers, shunned interviews, and led a low-key lifestyle in the quiet, upscale town of Weston, Massachusetts. Of course, all of this added an air of mystery to his reputation. When he succumbed to cancer in October, 2000, at the age of 53, it seemed the curtain had closed on his legacy forever.

First-time author (and long-time rock journalist) Joe Milliken has spent the last eleven years researching Ben’s life in an attempt to pull back that curtain with his biography Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars, due to be released on November 11, 2018. The book follows Benjamin through others’ eyes as he pursued his rock-and-roll dreams from his happy days as a teen star in Cleveland to the open-minded bars of Boston, to the comforting arms of Atlanta — not ruthlessly, but with a humility and steely determination that left those around him in awe.

As a devoted fan of Benjamin Orr, I’ve been researching and writing about him on my personal blog for about three years. When I discovered that this book was in the works, I felt protective of Ben’s privacy and I’ll admit… I was nervous. What if the author revealed information that was too personal? What if he told things that were not fair to tell, with Ben gone and not able to defend himself? Would the author’s sources be credible? And what if… what if I just… didn’t like the book?

My fears were unfounded on all fronts.

The first thing that impressed me was the writing style. The author uses a distinctive technique where he introduces a player in Ben’s life and then lets that person fill in the narrative with his or her quote. I thought it might be jarring to have the flow stop and another voice come in but it’s really so perfect. It’s truly like a camera cuts to the significant person and you hear them talking about Ben, like a documentary rather than a novel.

Having Benjamin’s loved ones tell about him in their own words is brilliant. I felt my heart and mind busily rearranging my personal ‘mosaic’ of Ben, having it grow in clarity and color, adding texture, as I read their stories. It is such a perfect format to document the life of a man who never enjoyed talking much about himself. The result is this masculine and tender, very respectful, very REAL painting of who Benjamin was.

And of course, by ‘rearranging my mosaic’ I mean that I learned a lot of new things about Ben, especially about his early years and what he was like behind-the-scenes. I also connected some dots, confirmed some things I had suspected from my research, and enjoyed some surprising stories.

While I won’t tell you exactly who is in the book, I was impressed with the long roster of interviewees, including Ben’s former bandmates, record executives, iconic photographers, media personnel, key women in his life, and friends who had known him intimately.

Another element that I love about this book is that there is no ‘tell all’ mentality anywhere to be found. The author skillfully balances the heady experiences of a world-famous rock star with the reality of a deeply private, kind-hearted and loyal man. For example, I can see in places where he’s walked that fine line of honoring Ben and respecting his relationships while maintaining the honesty of his attraction to and of other women. Or the struggles Ben faced with the dissolution of The Cars and finding his way back to the stage. Milliken is gentle with the truth, letting the other voices tell their story and leaving it up to the reader to ‘read between the lines’ if they are so inclined.

When asked how he made decisions about what to leave in and what to take out, Milliken said, “Every time I came to a place where I had to walk the line of Ben’s privacy, I had his son in my head. I would ask myself, ‘What would young Ben think of this?'” It seems to have been the perfect measuring stick.

Equally as thrilling as the informative text is the abundance of photos! There are more than 30 black-and-white photographs woven through the chapters, the majority of them new to the public. Such a treat! The book also includes a timeline of bands, a selected index, and a list of everyone the author interviewed over the years.

If there is any drawback to the book, it is that all of my questions were not answered. But how could they be? My curiosity goes way beyond obsession (what IS the story with that one bracelet, anyway???). It’s an impossible task, short of putting Ben’s life under a microscope, which I believe he would have hated.

Others may feel like this book is not ‘sensationalistic’ enough. But the fans… the ones who truly love Benjamin… they will be so moved at the way the author has protected his memory and his legacy. His son, the women in his life, his dear friends, his former bandmates… any and all of the people in those categories… I believe they will finish the book and hug it to their chests and be SO happy at what’s been done for Ben.

Just like me.

Life On The V: The Story of V66



Written and directed by Eric Green, 2014

Format: DVD with bonus features

Website: http://lifeonthev.com/index.html


Notable Quote: “We had a 24-hour channel that said, ‘Don’t f*ck with us. We can do whatever we want. We’re New Englanders and this is US.'” — Ian O’Malley, former V66 VJ

My quick 2 cents: New England-area music fans and lovers of 80s music and pop culture history will dig this. Buy it!

The full scoop: Those of us who grew up in the thick of the 80s remember the jaw-dropping excitement and visual craziness of the ‘rise of the music video’ on television, changing the way people think about, access, and enjoy music (for better or worse). And of course, for many of us, the cable access channel MTV was the vehicle that came driving that crazy world right into our living rooms.

But over in Boston, Massachusetts, a brilliant businessman and consummate radio personality decided that he could give Beantown a better experience, and provide it to the viewers for free. Life on The V: The Story of V66 follows the short but powerful history of this risky undertaking.

Award-winning broadcaster and V66 founder John Garabedian narrates the story himself, interspersed with interviews from several of the channel’s former employees and VJs sharing their insights. V66 was only on the air for about a year and a half during 1985-86, but you won’t believe what they packed into that time. Garabedian details his vision to create a hip, edgy party place for Boston’s music video lovers that followed one very strict rule: anything goes!

But it wasn’t just about the music videos… Garabedian wanted the viewers to feel that this was THEIR channel, something personal, and to this end he included lots of opportunity for watchers to participate through things like phone-in gimmicks, video voting, and live broadcasts from local concerts and Boston hotspots like The Metro. He also threw in plenty of airtime for up-and-coming local bands, alongside Boston news, sports and weather.

The result was a television experience that not only influenced the national and worldwide video markets (guess who premiered A-ha’s “Take On Me” video before anyone else even heard of it?), but one that fans, musicians, and former staff STILL gush over more than 30 years later.

Being from the west coast, I had never even heard of this channel when I popped in the DVD; to be honest, I only bought it because Greg Hawkes of The Cars participated in the project. I was a bit blown away… it was so fun to watch, I viewed it twice!

There are handfuls of cultural factoids in here, and so many interesting sparks of music history that flew off out of that hot Boston station. And the bonus? This documentary is crazy-packed with current and vintage interviews, cameos, and footage from a ton of the hottest artists of the 80s, including members of The Cars, Aerosmith, The J Geils Band, New Edition, ‘Til Tuesday, Extreme, and The Del Fuegos.

The many ‘firsts’ and ‘exclusives’ really made V66 a unique, go-to source for cutting edge music culture, and everybody looked like they were having a blast. It’s a shame it ended the way it did, but no spoilers here. You’ll just have to watch it yourself to find out what went down. It’s very worth it!