Twenty-four-years ago today, we lost one of the greatest singers of the rock & roll era. While Roy Orbison will be forever known in the pantheon of rock/pop legends, for me he will always be the voice that I melded with during turbulent high school years, and that I love to this day.
Roy Orbison wrote and (more importantly) sang about love. Mostly, it was tragic love, not the happy-go-lucky love that so many of his contemporaries sang about. No one could do depressive songs better than Mr. Orbison. This is probably why I identified with his music so much. I mean, we all have had our down times but, during high school, I'd cornered the market.
Imagine if you will a young lad, confused about his sexuality, liking both boys and girls, rejected by both. It didn't stop him from having crushes on them, and developing some sort of unrequited love. You know how people are at that age: It doesn't take much to stoke one's passions.
At any rate, this fellow felt quite alone from his peers, and would therefore spend many a solitary night alone in his room, the lights turned-out, only the soft blue glow of his stereo system to keep him company. From that stereo system would emanate the sorrowful tunes of Roy Orbison.
One such downcast bit of lyric & music was The Only One. It is -- no surprise -- about someone who feels all alone (although I detect an air of aloofness within its dejectedness). Have a listen to it here:
Another oft-listened to song was Windsurfer. Featured on Orbison's sublime Mystery Girl album (like The Only One), it tells the story of a man with big dreams for himself and the object of his desires, yet it is not to be. She does not want him. In fact, a portion of the lyrics allude to this so strongly, they became my private mantra for some time:
He said 'Let's sail away together'She told him 'No, no, never, no.'
Pretty straightforward, eh? Doesn't get much clearer than that.
Of course, these were some of the more recent Orbison songs. His discography went back to the 1950s. His earlier work has the more typical '50s & '60s Do-Wop sound, but are still fairly dark. One of the more pathetic, gut-wrenching songs is Falling. The portion where he sings, "But it's different now, I've kissed you now, so forgive me, forgive me somehow," always tore a hole in my soul.
Not long before his death, Roy took part in a rock & roll 'super-group' as it were, known as The Traveling Wilburys. Consisting of Orbison, Tom Petty, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Bob Dylan, the group's lead single is still one of my favorite songs. The main vocals are by Harrison, but Roy has two stand-out parts -- which could be considered the chorus -- and, once again, his lines are the ones that I identify with the most.
I'm so tired of being lonelyI still have some love to giveWon't you show meThat you really care
A few (a very few) of Mr. Orbison's songs were positive. One might even say 'uplifting.' I first embraced these tunes during my Junior year of high school, when I spent an inordinate amount of time with the first person I ever truly loved (in a romantic sense). His name was Kyle. I've written about him on this blog before. For a few, brief months, were spent a great deal of quality time together, and my feelings for him sealed the deal as far as determining my sexuality. During those months, I would come home after our times together and listen to Roy's song You're the One.
To be honest, it's difficult for me to listen to You're the One to this day. The emotions of youth burn strong and, even though situations change and we grow older and wiser, those emotions still burn whenever they are triggered. And that is what music is all about, isn't it? Music is like a time capsule of our lives, one that we can re-open again and again. Even though Mr. Orbison's songs represent a particularly wounded time capsule, I still want to open it.
In truth, what Roy Orbison represents to me is: a fragile young man alone in the dark, comforted by a voice; a voice that was the epitome of imperfect perfection; a friend when I had no friends; someone who, though dead for four years before I discovered his music, spoke to me through his voice. He still speaks to me to this day. That is the eternal power of songwriting and recorded performance. They are there for us whenever we need them. And, despite a vastly-improved life from some twenty years ago, I still need Roy's music. I probably always will.
That young man, alone in the dark, still exists somewhere.