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The New Cars nearly off-roaded. On Monday, June 5, guitarist Elliot Easton had to be rushed to the hospital after a little vehicular mishap. It all started in the front lounge of the band's tour bus, when, Easton tells New Times, "The driver he was going quite fast slammed on the brakes to avoid a car that had cut him off. I got launched into a door from across the lounge, hit my head, and snapped my collarbone."
Since breaking a clavicle is pretty much like breaking a rib except, of course, it's not a rib there's no setting of a bone, and recovery is spent on painkillers, which is basically where Easton is at now. That, and he's just glad it was his left clavicle that caught the doorway since, being a left-handed guitarist, his strap rests on his right shoulder. Who says there are no miracles in rock 'n' roll? So Easton (also of the old Cars) can still take the stage, along with the New Cars frontman, electronic and prog-rock pioneer Todd Rundgren.
Rundgren, as you might have noticed, is not the old Cars frontman that was Ric Ocasek (you know, the freaky-looking dude who married that supermodel). But it's part of what makes them the New Cars and not the old ones. Well, there's also the fact that the band's late bassist, Benjamin Orr, and drummer David Robinson are not involved either, having been replaced by Utopia bassist Kasim Sulton and Tubes drummer Prairie Prince.
"It's really a new band," Easton says. "There's a whole new chemistry, and we're aware that we're going to have to prove ourselves as viable with this new lineup."
This wasn't how it was supposed to be, of course. Easton and keyboardist Greg Hawkes, the only other Cars alumnus involved, initially wanted this to be a reunion of America's most successful power-pop/new-wave band some 19 years after its last album (that being Door to Door). But Ocasek and Robinson weren't having any of it.
"The core issue of this is, Ric just isn't comfortable touring," Easton says of his former bandmate, who was notoriously cold onstage. "He never enjoyed it. He never embraced it, even in the old days. And he basically admits as much."
Easton and Hawkes were faced with a dilemma: Both desperately wanted to hit the road again to play their old songs (what Easton calls their "recording legacy"), but, according to some unspoken musical code of ethics, it's not cool to replace your frontman and abscond with the tunes he wrote almost entirely himself. Seems fair, actually. Or does it?
"We're musicians," Easton says. "Musicians have to play. What do you do when some of the musicians you used to work with don't want to work? You get other guys. It doesn't seem right to me if one person doesn't want to do it, then you can't do it either."
And so Rundgren, whom Easton has known since the '70s, was invited onboard. And while Rundgren has suggested elsewhere that monetary needs motivated an ultimately mercenary decision, Easton says the singer/producer has embraced his new role with gusto.
"It's obviously a challenging role to fill for someone who's so creative in their own right," Easton says. "He's not aping [Ric's] vocals as much as making them his own. As he's got more comfortable with the material, he's been able to add more of himself too."
The result is somewhat curious, as the New Cars a supergroup of artists whose heydays ended decades ago have just released their debut, It's Alive. The album is mostly a collection of live classic Cars tunes with a couple of original studio tracks thrown in. Sure, the songs lack Ocasek's trademark quirky vocals. But Rundgren makes up for that in other areas, namely the band's new emphasis on creating frenetic, interactive live experiences something old Cars fans never got much of.
"We rock a lot harder than the original band did," Easton says, stressing the importance of the band's live show. And, he says, the new lineup is more than just a way to cash in on his old band's name or an example of musicians not knowing when to call it quits. "With Todd in the band, we aren't just going out to play oldies on the tour circuit," he says. "What we're most excited about is our ability to make music and build on the legacy that the original cars had."
That's why the New Cars will hit the studio after they complete this touring cycle. "We hope to go on for many, many years," Easton concludes, more than a hint of optimism tweaking his voice. But first, he has to survive the ride home.