The cover of the first album by The Cars is, arguably perhaps, one of the five or at least ten most instantly recognizable rock and roll album covers of all time. The pale-faced girl with the almost impossibly red lips with her right arm held over her forehead while she holds the see-through steering wheel almost dangerously with a few fingers on her left hand, her Julia Roberts mouth wide open as she laughs at something apparently quite amusing. It is probably the gothically dark eyeliner and lipstick glaze that makes this album cover so memorable. Or maybe it’s just that laugh which, despite being a still image, still manages to be infectious. That album cover adorned countless radio stations as well as the walls of bedrooms in the late 1970s and early 1980s and the girl on the cover seemed appropriate as Ric Ocasek and friends made songs that seemed almost to verge on an obsessive relationship with girls.
Have you ever stopped to wonder who that girl was? I watching a show on TV the other day and I noticed one of those wall posters of the album cover of the first album by The Cars in the background and, as every writer can tell you, I just suddenly was struck with a curiosity. Who was that girl who is so incredibly famous in one manner of speaking and so incredibly anonymous in another. Her name is Natalya Medvedeva and if she’d been just another model I would have stopped at just discovering her name. The fact that the vivacious young lady from the album cover died in 2003 at age 44 might have been enough to consider writing about her. The realization that Natalya was not just another pretty face on an album cover but led a life far, far more fascinating that Ric Ocasek or Benjamin Orr or almost any other musician who became famous in the late 1970s prohibited me from even not thinking about writing about the girl on the cover of The Cars’ first album.
If you find out that Natalya Medvedeva posed for Playboy you will be anything but surprised. You can almost look at that album cover and predict that. But how many people who have ever looked at that Cars album cover would have predicted that the laughing girl would go on to write three albums, including one titled Hotel California about her years in Los Angeles that takes some very biting and satiric jabs as the very industry that gave her a boost. It may be a case of biting the hand that feeds you, but even if she hadn’t been a model and found her place in rock history by sitting behind the wheel of that car she might well have achieved some sense of fame. She also wrote two novels in French and was a very popular French cabaret singer. Natalya Medvedeva may not have been Edith Piaf, but chances are you could make an Oscar-winning movie of her life as well.
Take her politics. She was married to Eduard Limonov, a member of the National Bolshevik Party at that period in Russian history when the quick deaths of three consecutive premiers brought about a political instability that led to the downfall of communism in Russia typically credited with absolutely no validity to Pres. Ronald Reagan. The politics of her husband were radical, indeed he is still quite the radical figure in Russian politics, and some elements of those politics informed her writing not just in her novels, but in many articles for French
publications took equally satiric jibes at the patently phony underbelly of so much bohemian life. After their divorce, that laughing girl from the Cars album cover turned to punk music. She released two albums in her native Russian language. Click here to get a look at her a few decades after the photo of that album cover was taken as she sings with her band.
Natalya Medvedeva died tragically young at the age of 44. She passed away in her sleep, the victim of a heart attack. Most who own the Cars’ first album, myself included, never had the slightest idea that the girl with the bright red lipstick was anything other than just another one of the endless masses of young girls who pose for a photo to be slapped on an album cover, a billboard, or a Kohl’s catalog. Quite clearly, Natalya Medvedeva was something a fair bit more than that.