Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The One and Only: Roy Orbison: "Dream Baby"

The singer for once is happy. As happy as he will ever be? Perhaps. Once upon a time he wanted to give a song, to sell it, to Elvis, to the Everlys, but neither were in need of it, so he sang it himself; by the time this song was a hit, he was undoubtedly in his stride, a stride it took him a long time to find, just as sometimes the less showy but more beautiful flower will bloom after others have faded. If he has suffered before, if he will suffer again, he is exempt in this song; without sounding at all righteous or brave. He is dreaming night and day, you can see the clock's hands swing and become meaningless as he dreams; he sings as if he is enjoying dreaming about his beloved, his Other, as much as he undoubtedly loves her. At the same time, he knows she is dreaming too, maybe of him, maybe not, it doesn't matter (and what a relief, when at some times in his songs it seems as if the whole world rests on whether she will be his or no, right down to whether she even looks at him - there is nothing frivolous in Orbison's songs, they are practically Greek in their insistence on the essence of things). Still, how long must he dream? When will she make his dreams come true? His voice hangs between pure pleasure and the longing for the realization of that pleasure, and since Orbison is also earthy and direct (how many girls fell for him, glasses and all, just because of his voice?), his longing is getting to be overpowering, his dreams feverish in trying to keep up with them. The song grows more intense and crowded with other voices and instruments as it goes, echoing his need, and his knife-keen Tarzan call rises at the end, showing that perhaps his dreams will be fulfilled, that she will wake up and the dream will become a reality.

That Orbison was the last of the Sun label's boys to prosper makes sense, as he was the shyest and not given to much showbusiness action onstage; instead he found power in stillness, in writing songs to match the grain and grandeur of his voice, to literally give of himself in his singing without fanfare or references to others. (It's impossible to think of his doing a twist song, for instance.) Hearing him sing is like hearing a short story compacted even further, told from perfect memory with every feeling and nuance intact. With this song he might be looking at a girl, at a girl he knows or hopes to know; he gives us the power to enter into that world, to inhabit it, in an intimate way, not to mention an inspirational one. That he got a second chance to bring that vulnerable and noble voice to us is something of a miracle; the first being his faith in that voice and patience with it, over many years. Orbison died the same year my father did, and in some ways I see him as a father of rock to anyone who needs him, who needs to know someone else felt just this way, once.