Impressions of Cleveland: Native Son Benjamin Orr and The Cars Enter The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Includes An Exclusive Quote From Greg Hawkes of The Cars

CLEVELAND, OHIO – The purpose of my recent trip to Cleveland was two-fold. First, I was there to see one of my sentimental favorite bands, The Cars, take their rightful place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and second, to spend some time promoting my upcoming (and first) book, a biography about the late-great Benjamin Orr, co-founder, co-lead singer and bassist of the aforementioned Cars. I was also thrilled to see two other favorites, The Moody Blues and Dire Straits, also receive the honor. 


Article by Joe Milliken * Photos: 1. "Welcome To Cleveland" 2. The Cars performing at the Rock Hall Induction Ceremony 3. Cleveland-native, Benjamin Orr's presence is truly felt during the ceremony 4. Our powerful "Fanorama" group invades Moving In Stereo's Club Velvet performance 4. Joe talks about the book with the one-and-only Eddie Trunk! Photos 1,2, & 3 by Joe Milliken, photo 4 by Natalie Gaber and photo 5 by Kurt Gaber.

Of course, because of writing this book, I have had special interest in The Cars over much of the last decade-plus; investigating, interviewing various people and writing about this mysterious and legendary rocker, Ben Orr, who just so happened to also be a native son, raised in the Cleveland suburb of Parma Heights.

Just three months before signing my book deal, it was announced that The Cars would be elected to the aforementioned Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and yes, the ceremony was to be held in Orr’s hometown. It does not get much better than that, folks. After all these years of working on this “manuscript,” somehow the timing was perfect. And so, through the gracious efforts of my Public Relations Assistant and jack-of-all-trades editor, proofer, and organizer, Donna Neale, we were able to score two tickets to the ceremony and actually witness The Cars get inducted into the hallowed halls of music immortality at Cleveland’s Public Hall.

The ceremony was a truly epic event, while seeing two other bands that I love and admire, Dire Straits and The Moody Blues, also get enshrined. Others honored included Bon Jovi, Nina Simone, and Sister Rosette Tharpe. Admittedly being very disappointed that Dire Straits were not properly inducted because of the absence of the band’s lifeblood in the Knopfler brothers, The Moodys and The Cars saved the day with fantastic performances that had the sold-out arena enthralled throughout. (On a side note, Donna and I met Guy Fletcher of Dire Straits in the RRHOF gift shop the following day, and although disappointed because the band did not get to perform, he was a classy, humble gentleman.)

Watching The Cars get inducted, was surreal in a way. A band I have loved since junior high school, yet never saw in concert during their hey-day (for whatever reason), and here I was watching them perform after all these years, without the man I just spent a decade-plus of my life writing about. A unique set of circumstances, indeed. It was glorious and bittersweet all at once, seeing Ric, Greg, David and Elliot give their speeches, each of them mentioning the absence of their late bandmate, as Benjamin’s son (who also traveled to Cleveland from Vermont, just like me) sat in the audience observing the festivities.

One can only imagine, the whirlwind of emotions the band was feeling.

“I was on tour somewhere when I got the news,” Greg Hawkes said in an exclusive Standing Room Only interview. “I think it was Dani or Jeff Kramer (from OK Management) who called with the news. It was really the last three days of the week (that were emotional), at first it just seemed like hard work, we hadn’t even finalized the songs when we had to start rehearsing.

“Then, more people started showing up from the Cars’ past, and then it started feeling more nostalgic. I was surprised at how emotional the ceremony was, and I thought it was a nice coincidence to be inducted in Ben’s hometown. He would have really enjoyed the moment.”

Being able to see The Cars get inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame at a time when I am seeing my book-writing efforts finally come to fruition, almost seems too good to be true. If you had told me back in the spring of 2007 when I started this project that this particular set of circumstances was going to occur, I wouldn’t have believed you. Just as I wouldn’t have believed you if you had told me back in junior high school (and totally digging Candy-O) that I would one day, write the life story of Benjamin Orr and watch his band enter the Hall of Fame in his hometown. Yes, I do believe surreal is an appropriate word.

I spent six glorious days in Cleveland, and I don’t even care that it seemed to rain (and even a little snow as I left town) most of the time. Along with the amazing experience of attending the Rock Hall induction ceremony, I also had the opportunity to promote my upcoming book in the very city where Ben grew up, including the participation in a live remote television broadcast from the Rock Hall the day before the induction ceremony. I have a funny story (well, now it’s funny) about the morning of my TV interview, somehow running late and subsequently speeding and getting pulled over by the police, before finally arriving just in time to go on live television for the first time in my life! I got through it okay, thankfully, but there is still more detail to that story, and for another time to reveal.

Overall, the Rock Hall media day was amazing, and thanks to Donna working the room like a seasoned pro, I was able to do several other newspaper and radio interviews, including a cool guest appearance on Eddie Trunk’s Sirius XM radio show “Volume.” The day turned out to be so busy, that it would be another couple of days before we had the opportunity to actually walk around the Hall of Fame as a fan! (More on that later, as well)

I would also be remiss without mentioning getting together with several Cars fans (the “Fanorama” contingent as we like to call it) at the Hard Rock Rocksino’s Club Velvet to kick it with the Cars’ tribute band Moving In Stereo. It was wonderful to see the fans come together like family, and to enjoy just about the closest thing you are going to see to a Cars show, outside of seeing the “real thing” the following night at the induction ceremony! Moving In Stereo is truly one of the great tribute bands I have seen - right up there with Draw The Line (Aerosmith), Blushing Brides (The Rolling Stones), Get The Lead Out (Led Zeppelin), and Tusk (Fleetwood Mac) – and I look forward to collaborating with them as we organize future book events.

My last day in Cleveland was spent visiting Benjamin’s resting place, an emotional time which I talk about more in the book (so I won’t here), and visiting two of “Benny’s” old band brothers, Wayne Weston and Chris Kamburoff. After talking with these guys for nearly a decade, it was great to finally meet them in person and hug and thank them for everything they have done for me and the book. The generosity (Wayne even gave me one of his cool paintings!), kindness, and appreciation they showed was simply off the charts, and they assured me Ben would be proud of my efforts. I like to think that if I can hang out comfortably with Ben’s band brothers, then Ben and I would have been equally as comfortable. What a great feeling to have, and yes, the guys confirmed my assumption.

Upon my return home from Cleveland some six weeks ago, Donna and I were immediately under a deadline with the book publisher, not allowing me the time to properly write about my time in Cleveland. However, I can tell you now that it was truly a "once in a lifetime experience" and one that I will never-ever forget as long as I live.

I met so many cool people; from the aforementioned music media icon Eddie Trunk and Dire Straits’ Guy Fletcher, to original MTV-VJ Mark Goodman, renowned illustrator Chris Morris and music journalist Neil Walls, to Ben’s long-time fiancé Diane Grey Page and life-long friends Wayne Weston, Chris Kamburoff, Diane Kokai-Akins and Marilyn Dudas-Stolz, everyone was so gracious and kind. I also got to meet several Benjamin/Cars fans who have been supporting my book project for years, and it was great to finally meet a few of these loyal friends face-to-face. Donna and I are truly looking forward to returning to Cleveland when the book is released, so we can create more of these life-long memories. Let’s Go!

Editor’s Note: Also watch for an upcoming review article about the complete Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, as well as more book updates leading up to the release of Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars on November 15, 2018. You can also follow all Orr Book activities at www.facebook.com/BenOrrBook/.