'Let's Go': Book gets behind wheel with Benjamin Orr of The Cars

"Let's Go: Benjamin Orr and The Cars." Joe Milliken (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2018)

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BELLOWS FALLS — Local author Joe Milliken is revving up to celebrate the release of "Let's Go: Benjamin Orr and The Cars."

This marks Milliken's first book after about 20 years as a published writer, with his regional music and arts website at standing-room-only.info.

"Believe it or not, it's been 11 years in the making," he said. "The main reason being, writing is not my full-time thing."

Milliken is a mental health worker at the Brattleboro Retreat. He does night shifts there.

His book was released Sunday. At the time of the interview early last week, about 1,200 copies had been preordered — a number the publisher had been happy about, according to Milliken.

A launch party is being held at 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17 at Village Square Booksellers in Bellows Falls. The event will include a question-and-answer session, a slideshow with photographs and a book signing. There will then be a reception at the nearby restaurant, Popolo.

Milliken has lived in Bellows Falls for 40 years. He grew up in Walpole, N.H.

Writing the book about Orr — the bassist, singer and cofounder of The Cars — happened by chance. Milliken said he always knew he wanted to write a book related to music because that's where his passion lies. He had a list of ideas kicking around, but had not made any decisions when a fan of The Cars on MySpace reached out because he had written about Orr before and had the band listed under his favorites on the social media site.

"And this person was obsessed, a total fanatic, this woman, not just with The Cars but Ben Orr as an individual," Milliken said. "She contacted me out of the blue and said someone should write a book about him. ... She wanted me to investigate him as an individual. So I did."

Milliken said he discovered "this whole other part" of Orr, who was originally from the Cleveland area and had been a teenage star there on the nationally syndicated television series "Upbeat."

"This guy knew from a very early age, he wanted to be a rock and roll star," Milliken said. "From the age of 10, he knew what he wanted to do in life."

Band members from Orr's early days in music told Milliken that Orr was like the Elvis Presley of Cleveland when he was 17 years old. That, Milliken said, "was what hooked me."

"I'm like, oh my God, I don't know about any of this stuff," he said.

Milliken did some more research, for about a month, before fully committing to the project.

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Writing the book took more than a decade, not just because it was a part-time job, but because Orr had died in 2000 from pancreatic cancer.

"He died really young. He was only like 54 years old," Milliken said. "I had to find as many people as I could who knew him so they could be his voice."

Milliken spent about one year writing Orr's life story, then started finding people to interview. He said he talked with more than 120 people from all phases of the musician's life, including record executives, bandmates from junior high school bands, rock photographers and family members. He found it took a lot of time to gain the trust of some of those interviewed and stayed away from groupies.

"This is not a tell-all, trashy, backstage-antics kind of book," he said. "It's a respectful account of a hardworking musician who spent his whole life trying to be a rock star and succeeded."

Milliken interviewed Orr's two ex-wives, the mother of his son and another woman with whom he had a long-term relationship.

After the band broke up in the late 1980s, Orr lived outside of Boston. Then, he moved to Vermont, where his son still lives. Milliken described Orr as "a hunter/fisherman kind of guy, an outdoors man."

Milliken said his book "almost reads like a documentary" because most of it relies on direct quotes from those he interviewed. He would email excerpts to ensure he was getting it right.

"I mean, it took forever to do this," he said with a laugh. "It was such a long process, but in the end, it was well worth it because I know I have painted the truest picture I could of Ben without being able to talk with him myself."

Milliken said he was surprised to learn about how private of a person Orr had been, given the musician's stage presence, good looks and "unbelievable voice."

Milliken watched The Cars get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April. There in Cleveland, near where Orr grew up, he did radio and television interviews.

Although Milliken had hoped to release the book around the same time, he said that could not happen because of scheduling conflicts. He seemed just as happy to celebrate locally.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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