Finding Ben Orr

“Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars is unique in a genre where tawdriness and tell-all are common.”

NH writer publishes bio of late Cars bassist

Once upon a middle school Christmas, Joe Milliken asked his dad for a Cars album. He became a fan first via the pages of Creem, Trouser Press and other rock magazines, later as the band became ubiquitous on late 1970s radio.

Born in Boston and raised primarily in North Walpole, New Hampshire, Milliken grew up to be a writer. He freelanced for the record collector magazine Goldmine and other publications, and runs a web site calle Standing Room Only. Recently, he published his first book, about the band that made such an impact on him as a youngster.

Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars is unique in a genre where tawdriness and tell-all are common. Instead of focusing on rock stardom and its trappings, it tries to learn how a young Benjamin Orzechowski – “Benny Eleven Letters” to friends – grew up to be Ben Orr; Cars bassist, singer and general hearthrob, as well as the first Cleveland native inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

It took 11 years for Milliken to complete Let’s Go!, primarily due to a fact he learned early on – Orr was a very private person out of the spotlight. On top of that, he’d passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2000. “It’s not like I had a chance to talk to him myself and draw insights,” Milliken said in a recent phone interview. “I didn’t have that luxury.”

Many of the people he interviewed were reluctant. “My biggest challenge was as much as they liked what I was doing and thought it was a cool thing, they were also very apprehesive. They’d say to me, ‘Joe, I’m sure you’re a nice guy and your intentions are good, but … I’m a little hesitant to talk to somebody I don’t even know about this man’s life.”

One by one, he won them over, from grade school pals to members of the house band Orr performed with in the early 60s on Cleveland’s version of American Bandstand. Milliken spoke to a huge swath of the Cars’ orbit, though Orr’s bandmates Ric Ocasek and Elliot Easton declined interviews, as did producer Roy Thomas Baker and Maxanne Sartori, a Boston DJ who was key in launching their career.

Milliken did manage to talk with Orr’s two ex-wives, a long term girlfriend, the mother of his son, and the partner at the end of his life, who later managed his estate. “I’m pretty proud to say that all the significant women in his life in the end trusted me enough to participate in the book,” he said. “That really meant a lot.”

The interviews draw a portrait of a young man driven to play music from an early age, first on drums and later guitar. Anyone who’s ever wondered about the journey from musical aspirant to rock star will find many clues in Milliken’s book. It also contains a wide range of photos, from baby pictures to his final appearance with The Cars before his death in 2000.

“A lot of people have asked if I’ll follow up with a book of just photos,” Milliken said at a hometown book launch in October, adding that more than a few women readers who followed his progress on Facebook were a bit crestfallen that Let’s Go! contained more words than images. “I ended up with hundreds of pictures from Ben’s friends.”

His timing is fortuitous. Published by Rowan & Littlefield, it arrives during the holiday gift giving season in the year The Cars were inducted into the Rock Hall. In the spring, Milliken traveled to the ceremony as a menber of the media, and a guest on television and radio stations.

As a native New Englander who grew up admiring one of the region’s most successful bands, it was a dream come true.

“Here I am at media day before the ceremony. I’ve never been to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame or even Cleveland, and I’m there doing a TV interview,” he said. “It was surreal; I’m a little local guy, being able to participate in all that. Every once in a while I had to pinch myself – am I really doing this?”

Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars
Author: Joe Milliken
Price: $34 hardcover, $29 e-book
More: standing-room-only.info

This story originally appeared in The Hippo, 6 December 2018

Join the band

Danielle M & the Glory Junkies put it all together

Appeared originally in Seacoast Scene, 20 September 2018

Playing alone, Danielle Miraglia is a dynamo; all stomp, holler and fiery slide guitar; with a voice like Janis Joplin’s – if the late singer had mixed honeyed tea with her Southern Comfort. Miraglia has built a solid living as a solo performer, leaning toward the blues and earthy folk with a probing world view.

But growing up in Revere, Mass., she’d locked onto J. Geils Band and The Cars; the first album she bought was the Stones’ Tattoo You. Someday, Miraglia was bound to be in a band.

So a few years ago, with the help of husband and fellow musician Tom Bianchi, she enlisted violist and longtime duo partner Laurence Scudder, guitarist Erik White, drummer Chris Anzalone and bass player Jim Larkin. Borrowing the title of her then-current solo album for the band’s name, she unleashed Danielle Miraglia & the Glory Junkies on the world.

The five meshed immediately. “We have this chemistry because everybody is in a band with someone else,” Miraglia said in a recent phone interview. Scudder, White and Larkin are in Spotted Tiger; Anzalone is ubiquitous around Boston, along with a steady gig playing in Roomful of Blues. “I just love these guys, enjoy their company, they’re my friends for a long time, so it’s a no brainer. It’s my favorite thing to do right now.”

Towards the end of last year, the group released its debut album, All My Heroes Are Ghosts. Recorded live in the studio, it’s badass to the bone, blending crunchy power chords, rootsy harmonies, Americana shuffle, swampy blues and straight up rock and roll.

Highlights include the churning rockers “Everybody’s Wrong” and “All on Fire,” both songs lamenting the modern world, and the whimsical “Aim Low.” The latter questions the notion of hard work as its own reward – “don’t set the bar too high” is its refrain – or whether it’s worth it to try hard at all. “I was probably feeling lousy about where I was in life … it was a quick write,” Miraglia said. “I stand behind everything, though.

The title cut is a tribute to the many musical greats lost in recent years, leaving “smoothed out edges” and “a pile of dusty records.” It came to Miraglia shortly after Tom Petty’s death, and it name checks her biggest hero. “Prince is gone, you can burn the stage, he’s the only one they’ll ever make,” she sings, while proclaiming to remain a “grown woman with a child in her heart, reaching anywhere and everywhere to find that spark.”

“Rock Star” is a charming love song dating back to her earliest days with Bianchi; they’ve been together 15 years, married for seven. One line, “you look at me like you understand/you’ve been right in my shoes,” hits at why their union is the only possible dynamic for Miraglia.

“It’s probably easier for a man to be married to a woman who’s not a musician than the other way around,” she said, adding it takes a person “at least in the arts to understand why I’m driving to Pennsylvania to play an hour gig … what the point is for that.”

Miraglia spoke those sentiments as she prepared to play a set in Hershey’s Chocolate Town Square, after a showcase in Stroudsburg, but constant touring isn’t her ideal. “I have a lot of little projects [and] I love to be home doing that stuff, like giving lessons,” she said. “It helps me not have to take a crap gig I don’t want. I know people who are willing to live on the road and I have so much respect for that, but a lot of us want a balance. … having many irons in the fire makes it easier.”

Like most performers, she uses crowdsourcing sites to rally her fans. Lately, Miraglia launched a Patreon page. “I’m still figuring out how it all works,” she said. “I like the idea of putting exclusive stuff and covers that I wouldn’t want to post for the world … it will grow as it goes along. So far all the people on there are generally good supporters. They’re willing to be patient with me while I figure out what I’m putting up there, and why.”

More: http://www.thegloryjunkies.com