Today is the birthday of Roy Orbison (1936-1988). I’ll never forget how shocked I was when my friend told me Orbison had just died; I can even remember right where I was standing. I really thought my friend was pulling my leg — Orbison was riding high on a much deserved comeback at that very moment. He was sort of the hottest thing going, both as a solo artist and as a member of the all-star Travelling Wilburys, probably nudged along by the inclusion of the song “In Dreams” in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986).
10, 15 years earlier that was far from the case. At that time I was aware of Roy Orbison in a way that most other ten years olds probably weren’t. My oldest brother (18 years my senior) played the record of his then-ten year old hit “Oh Pretty Woman” incessantly and my mother world sing along with it when it came on the radio. I assure you that at that point in time I thought Roy Orbison was the unhippest thing on two legs (bow legs, at that) — just mortifying. This middle aged, pasty fleshed, fat old dude with the weird hair and the serial killer sunglasses. When something like this came on tv my sister and I would just groan and cringe. At that moment, the whole world was into, I don’t know, K.C. and the Sunshine Band.
But the eighties rehabilitated his image, and he was justly celebrated again for his astounding vocal range and his rock solid ability as a songwriter. Now, with the objectivity of time and distance, Roy Orbison has reached the coveted stage where he is eternally cool, and that status will never be questioned again.