Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Farewell Ric Ocasek

It was the summer of 1992 and I was walking downtown from an MTV interview accompanied by Black 47’s manager, Elliot Roberts.  

We were passing by Gramercy Park when Elliot pointed at a house straight out of an Edith Wharton novel.  “Ric lives over there.”

“Ric who?” I replied trying desperately to mask my lack of coolness.

“Ocasek! Who do you think? You wanta meet him?”

We were admitted to an amazing reception room with a ceiling somewhere up in the stars. I was commenting on this when I became aware of a presence behind us. I spun around and a very tall, gaunt figure in black, including shades, loomed over us.

Elliot, used to such spectral appearances, laconically remarked, “By the way, Ric would like to produce your new album.”

That’s managers for you! Elliot managed Ric, Neil Young, and a legion of others, and did well by all of us.

A couple of nights later while onstage at a jammed Paddy Reilly’s I noticed the crowd separating like the Red Sea before Moses, as Ric arrived with a blonde goddess so lovely even Steve Duggan’s worldly Cavan mouth dropped a yard.

Not only that, this apparition in chic designer gear floated throughout the beer-splashed room signing autographs and bestowing smiles on all and sundry.

I sat next to an abandoned Ric who smiled bemusedly at the scenes of abject Paddy adoration.

I refrained from inquiring “Who’s yer wan?” I was obviously the only one who didn’t recognize Paulina Porizkova, supermodel and delight of paparazzi.

 “I can make this independent album of Black 47’s great.” Ric casually noted and fired off a couple of suggestions that made eminent sense.

“That’s fine but there are things I want to do with it too.”

He looked at me for a long moment then nodded. “So it will be a co-production?”

“Your name first, of course,” I allowed, and he chuckled at the thought that it might not.

“We’ll have to finish within 3 weeks as Paulina and I are off to St. Bart’s. So, start tomorrow?”

And we did in the basement recording studio of his amazing house with a ceiling up in the stars.

“You had some ideas?” He said.

“Yeah, I want to lay down some other guitars on Fanatic Heart.”

He pointed over to a rack of axes almost as impressive looking as Paulina. And that’s how we worked. I would add to the independent album. Ric would sketch, listen, and whenever I was stuck – which was often – make a succinct suggestion that was always what the song needed.

Around 4am I would crawl home and he would continue. He never made an appearance before dusk, so in the early afternoon I’d check out what he had added or mixed the night before.

It was always magic. Listen to the intro for Fanatic Heart from Black 47’s Fire of Freedom CD. I still shiver when I hear the gorgeous layer of digital guitar from which the Uilleann Pipes emerge.

And when I suggested that the song Black ‘47 should reflect the pain of the Irish who had endured The Great Hunger, he bade me channel a legion of their anguished voices until I was near catatonic.

He adored Mary Courtney’s voice and one day I discovered two vignettes that he had casually chiseled from Livin’ in America. I named them Fordham Road 8:00AM and Bainbridge Avenue 2:00AM. They became the bookends of the album. 

As the deadline loomed we worked separately and together around the clock. He only once lost his patience – when I was taking too long to mix Maria’s Wedding. 

He swept into the studio, adjusted a couple of faders and knobs that instantly transformed the recording. Then left without a word.

When Paulina would look in all work stopped. Their “love of the century” was so intense I would excuse myself and stroll around Gramercy Park for an hour - be the weather fair or foul.

Ric’s creative mantra seemed to be – trust your instincts but never hesitate to question them! 

He passed away recently. I learned so much from him in those magical three weeks spent in the house with the supermodel under a ceiling somewhere up in the stars.

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