Ben Orr’s Grave

On the way back to Philadelphia after the holidays, we took a side trip to Thompson, Ohio, site of Benjamin Orr’s grave. In case you don’t know, Orr was one of the frontmen (the dashing one) for The Cars, a rock-n-roll band that enjoyed great success from the late 70s to the mid-80s. A native Clevelander like me, he was the inspiration for “A Night at The Orr House,” a story from Here Is Ware, my new collection of stories.

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My interest in the Cars goes back many years. Several of the tracks from their excellent first album were on the jukebox at the ice rink at the Brooklyn Recreation Center. A quarter got you three tunes, and “Just What I Needed,” Bye Bye Love,” and “Moving in Stereo” were in heavy rotation.

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My reflection in the stone. Photo credit goes to my daughter.

Candy-O, their second album, was very good as well, but the band became less interesting as time went on. Orr had a brief solo career, highlighted by a banal but commercially successful tune called “Stay the Night.” On the same album (I did not buy it!), there was this abomination as well, the first ten seconds of which should be ample evidence for why I lost track of the musician:

 

A few years ago–for reasons I can’t quite remember–I found myself listening to Cars tunes again. I became interested in Orr’s early career with the Grasshoppers, an obscure Cleveland group that was the house band for a local American Bandstand-like show. On Youtube, I came across his isolated vocals for “All Mixed Up.” I also discovered a video of Orr’s last interview, when he was dying of cancer. He sat among his bandmates in a Cleveland Browns jersey that only accentuated the amount of weight he’d lost. These and other details found a way into my short story.

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“Orangey sky”– a phrase from “Bye Bye Love,” a tune sung by Orr but written by Ric Ocasek

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Unrelated but worth relating: In the plot next to Orr and his parents, there was this humorous stone:

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“Life is changed, not taken away.” In the afterlife, you’ll never lose your remote!

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Support Local Writers

For the last five years, I’ve had the great fortune of co-organizing a reading series in suburban Philadelphia. Over that time, I’ve been amazed again and again by the terrific talent of the writers in our area. Some are connected to major publishers, but many work with small presses. No one, alas, is a household name. If you’re looking for gifts this holiday season (or anytime, really), check out this list of wonderful titles by local authors, most of whom were (or will be) part of our State Street Reading Series:

  • Kenneth Pobo: Bend of Quiet, When the Light Turns Green (poems)
  • Cynthia Dewi Oka: Salvage (poems)
  • Asali Solomon: Disgruntled (novel)
  • Viet Dinh: After Disasters (novel)
  • Rachel Pastan: Alena (novel)
  • Jim Breslin: Shoplandia (novel)
  • Rahul Mehta: No Other World (novel)
  • Eleanor Stanford: The Imaginal Marriage (poems)
  • Curtis Smith: Lovepain (novel), The Species Crown (stories)
  • Sam Gridley: The Shame of What We Are (novel)
  • Lise Funderburg: Pig Candy (memoir)
  • Louis Greenstein: Mr. Boardwalk (novel)
  • Carmen Maria Machado: Her Body and Other Parties (stories)
  • Randall Brown: Mad to Live (flash fiction)
  • Dilruba Ahmed: Dhaka Dust (poems)
  • Jayne Thompson: Letters to My Younger Self (anthology of essays)
  • Alan Drew: Gardens of Water (novel), Shadow Man (novel)
  • Thomas Devaney: Calamity Jane (poems)
  • Nicole Monaghan: Want, Wound (flash fiction), Stripped (anthology of flash fiction)
  • Nzadi Keita: Brief Evidence of Heaven (poems)
  • Elise Juska: If We Had Known (novel)
  • T Nicole Cirone: Gateways (essay in anthology)
  • Josh Isard: Conquistidor of the Useless (novel)
  • Herman Beavers: Obsidian Blues (poems)
  • Nathan Alling Long: The Origin of Doubt (flash fiction)
  • Simone Zelitch: Judenstaat (novel)
  • Michelle Reale: The Marie Curie Sequence (poems)
  • Lisa Naomi Konigsberg: Invisible Histories (poems)
  • Joe Samuel Starnes: Red Dirt (novel)
  • Nathalie Anderson: Held and Firmly Bound (poems)
  • Chris Ludovici: The Minors (novel)
  • Tom Coyne: A Course Called Ireland (memoir)

“Throw it into Lake Erie”

That was the plan, if receivers weren’t wide open. Of course, Cleveland sports history being Cleveland sports history, Brian Sipe tried to thread the ball into Ozzie Newsome, thus ending the Browns’ 1980-81 season on a frigid January afternoon. “Red Right 88,” a story in my new collection Here Is Ware, features a protagonist who uses this sad story to  explore (and, at times, wallow in) a past that, for all its pain, appears better to him than his responsibility-filled present. In short, it’s a story about growing up because, you know, it’s about time.

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Interception. Game over.
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Brian Sipe lamenting his decision.

 

Benny Eleven Letters

“A Night at the Orr House,” a story in my new collection Here Is Ware, is set in a museum devoted to Benjamin Orzechowski (Ben Orr), the late singer and bass player for The Cars. In part, the story is my modest tribute to a Cleveland rock-n-roll legend, gone way to soon. I began the story as a light-hearted piece, but it became more of an exploration of abuse, loss, and displacement. The imagination works in strange and unaccountable ways.

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Here Is Ware Is Out and About

Here Is Ware, my latest collection of stories, is now officially out and about. Many thanks to Marc Estrin and Donna Bister at Fomite Press for their support and patience. Many thanks as well to Remy Groh, my fabulous cousin who allowed me to use one of her gorgeous paintings for the cover. And–of course–thank you thank you thank you to my wife Lisa for reading (and providing feedback on) these stories at various stages. http://www.fomitepress.com/Here_Is_Ware.html