For a decade, native Bostonian Joe Milliken has penned articles for national magazines such as ‘Goldmine’ and ‘The Alternate Root’ and manning his website, Standing Room Only.

But as of late, he has achieved another major milestone. “This day has been a long day coming, and marks the end of a fulfilling, though sometimes grueling, road,” he said in March after signing the publishing contract for his new book, ‘Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars,’ which is scheduled to launch on November 11, 2018 in the U.S.

Writing a biography is no small feat. Writing one’s first can prove daunting for some writers, but Joe’s work reveals no such growing pains. As such, ‘Let’s Go!’ doubles as a labour of love and a keenly-researched document that is sure to please rock fans worldwide.

Although Joe did not know former Cars frontman Ben Orr personally, he was able to obtain anecdotes and observations from friends and family members (AKA “The Cleveland Connection”) to round out his engaging narrative. Along the way, he amassed over 500 photos from related personal collections, giving Joe another massive challenge – working out what would make the book (rumour has it that Joe has some clever plans for the shots that didn’t make it into the book, however, so readers should keep abreast of Joe’s latest projects).

In his first Pennyblackmusic interview, Joe explains how he mapped out the late Ben Orr’s story and more.

PB: You’ve been a dedicated writer, editor and music journalist since 2000 but became a first-time biographer when you embarked on the Ben Orr project. Was this a stretch for you?

JM: When I embarked on this book project it didn’t seem like a stretch, but rather a natural progression in my writing. I knew I had a compelling subject with a niche audience, it was simply a matter of documenting Orr’s incredible story and then “learning the ropes” about promoting my endeavors and finding a publisher to back my efforts.

PB: Is there a specific song or event that first triggered your interest in rock?

JM: When I was in 7th grade, my buddy Ed brought to school a 45 single of Aerosmith’s cover of the Beatles’ song ‘Come Together’. We played that single in music class, it hit me like a ton of bricks, and I’ve been an avid rocker ever since!

PB: As part of the writing process, you interviewed more than 100 people. How willing were people to come forward? Did the process go as anticipated?

JM: The interview process was quite an undertaking, and not really what I expected. I learned early on in the process that Ben was a very private man off stage and the people who were close to him obviously knew this. Therefore, they were concerned about wanting to protect his legacy and I needed to prove my integrity and gain their trust. In many cases, I needed to show an interviewee their exact quotes from the manuscript for final approval. The interview process was a long journey, but well worth it in the end.

PB: As a music journalist, you have researched many personalities. What made you feel that Ben Orr would be a gratifying subject?

JM: When the idea of writing about Ben was first mentioned to me, The Cars were not on my radar as being the subject for my first book. But when it was suggested that I look into writing specifically about Ben, I researched his early life in Cleveland and discovered this whole other story about Benny Orzechowski as a 17-year-old rocker, and his group appearing as the house band on the nationally-syndicated music television show Upbeat. That was my hook, realizing there were probably a lot of other Cars fans out there who, like me, had no idea that in the early 1960s Ben was a teen star in his hometown.

PB: After amassing enough background material about Ben Orr, how did you go about structuring the book and avoiding the maddening research rabbit hole?

JM: For the first year of the project, I researched and wrote a basic structure of his entire life. From there I just started doing interviews, talking to everyone I could that knew Ben, and started adding quotes to the manuscript and filling in the gaps. However, it can indeed become maddening because you just have no idea how many people a rock star can know (I sure didn’t realize), and I could have done interviews seemingly forever. So, I finally reached a point where I was comfortable with the narrative I had created and set a deadline date to complete whatever interviews I had cultivated to that point.

PB: Ben spent his later years in Vermont where you reside and early years in Cleveland. Do you feel these factors influenced his personality to a large degree?

JM: Growing up in Cleveland definitely influenced Ben. It was a musically rich and rock-and-roll influenced city and he carried that with him his whole life. He was always proud of and willing to promote Cleveland and never forgot where he came from. As for Vermont, I love that Ben lived in the state I’ve called home for 40 years. I’m not sure Vermont influenced his personality because he was already in his 50s, but Ben loved to hunt and fish and loved the outdoors and it was definitely his desire to sell his home in the Boston area and move to the beautiful Green Mountain State.

PB: What do you consider some of The Cars/Ben Orr’s finest work? What are the other must-haves in your collection?

JM: For me, The Cars self-titled debut album and second release, Candy-O, are their seminal recordings. They were groundbreaking recordings of the emerging new wave genre, yet they still sounded like no one else. The debut album is like a greatest hits release and side two features one of the great sequences of rock songs ever recorded with the closing ‘Bye Bye Love,’ ‘Moving In Stereo’ and ‘All Mixed Up.’ Candy-O is simply a pop-rock classic and features one of the most iconic cover designs ever.

PB: Let’s pretend you wake up tomorrow with the ability to play any instrument or vocally interpret any song. Let’s also say you get the opportunity to choose enough other proficient players to make up a band…

JM: Joe Perry of Aerosmith is my favorite music artist so I would always choose to jam alongside him, and of course, wanting to stand side-by-side with Ben goes without saying. But if I could choose a band to sit in with, it would be the progressive band Marillion. We would utilize both singers and eras of the band: vocalist Fish from 1981 to 1988 and the versatile Steve Hogarth from 1989 to the present. Marillion is a highly underrated band with a truly one-of-a-kind sound.

PB: What other projects are spiking your interest these days and what do you see happening with your career in the near future?

JM: As for upcoming projects, once Let’s Go hits the streets and after doing proper promotion, I plan to start a new book project. I have a short list of ideas but have not made any final decisions yet... although I can tell you it will be music related. I also publish a music/art-related website called Standing Room Only (www.standing-room-only.info) which keeps me quite busy, and I also do some freelance writing for various local publications and a couple national music magazines. The writing never ends and that’s exactly the way I like it!

PB: Please describe Ben Orr in six words or less…

JM: Dangerously talented and fiercely loyal.

PB: Thank you.

















Related Links:

http://standing-room-only.info/joe-milliken
https://twitter.com/BenOrrBook
https://twitter.com/thejockofrock
https://www.facebook.com/BenOrrBook/
https://www.facebook.com/joe.milliken.92


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