This generation does not have its Roy Orbison and is, therefore, deprived. Oh sure, we still have songs of pain and heartbreak, and singers that are trying to get across the extremity of their miseries, but it just isn’t the same. When you hear Bruno Mars sing that he would smother a grenade with his own body for love, but his love wouldn’t do the same, or the Bieb-dawg repeats how his baby, baby, baby broke his heart, a very young audience might get a whiff of sincerity out of these performances.
But performances they remain, and from Mars’ stifling of tears a’la Michael Jackson’s inward breathing, and down an ever-expanding list of tricks to convey these raw emotions, they are carried forth with a precision that betrays a separation from the material, a lack of feeling, or the “tear” in the voice.
Why I should be such a proponent for Roy Orbison is, I guess, a mystery. My musical life really began in the 1970s as a little kid, and on through the ‘80s with the standard teenage awkwardness. Orbison was long off the radar by then, until he was a Wilbury and Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, George Harrison and Bob Dylan venerated him as, clearly, he deserved to be. Yet I knew full well of Roy’s music. It could be attributed to my mom’s incessant listening to the oldies station WCBS 101, but I’d prefer to believe it was Roy himself that made that mark.
“Crying” is probably his most famous track, covered with insane frequency, sometimes for better and often for worse. It comes down to feeling and while the song is nearly an aria, its soul is the blues. If you haven’t really had the blues, you can’t really sing the blues. You can ape the moans, groans and wails, attest to having “woke up this morning, feelin’ like I’m gonna die,” and can pigeon-toe-stomp the rhythm like the devil was trying to escape through your feet, but if you’re just hitting your marks, the listener knows. They can hear it; rather they can’t hear that “tear” in the voice. You might as well have liked to buy the world a Coke to keep it company.
You have to have lived in parallel to get “Crying” on its deepest level, and by that, I mean that you must have walked beside the person you love, worked beside them, waiting for the day those parallel lines intersected only to discover not only will this not happen, but their path is straying farther and farther away…and there isn’t a damned thing you can do about it. It is intrinsically a state of masochism to want to love, knowing it is a doomed scenario, and to witness that other person is so happy and so well without you. It would appear that the person she is with gives her everything she wants and needs, but all you’ve got is you. This is the brilliance of the song.
A screenwriting rule is: never say it if you can show it. The lyrics of “Crying” do that exact thing, for while it would be terribly easy to verbalize these feelings in endless lists of unrequited and spurned emotion, Orbison reduces all of it to, “For you don’t love me, and I’ll always be, crying over you…” Simple, almost simplistic even. You could write it on the back of a valentine and still have room to draw pictures. Orbison instead shows it through sound, the build in his composition, the release of the pain in “crying over you” which sounds incredibly close to crying itself, without a loss of clarity. It is, in so many ways, like the mournful Pagliacci and has roughly the same emotional punch.
When I say that this generation is missing out, it is only with a slight degree of facetiousness. They wouldn’t miss out if they could break from this ever-crushing need for the new, even if the new is old. We turn our gaze to the long-gone summer movie season of 2011, noting with a sense of glee that the majority of remade, revamped and rebooted concepts failed to grab the audience’s attention, and we secretly hope that it puts a death blow to the trend. We are then made aware of what’s coming in 2012 and 2013 and realize that this changes nothing. Television shows are returning after years, sometimes decades, of being away from broadcast, all glammed up, sexed out, and spiced for the tastes of the iPhone generation.
Frankly, if the reboot can perform, there’s no reason to not embrace it, but mostly it doesn’t. Mostly it tries to grab a pre-existing fanbase and feed it the same old business dolled up as new. And in the process of all this shape-shifting, these alternates and substitutes present the shell of emotions rather than emotions, the duplicates of something rather than the real thing, in pristine digital approximation when all one needs to do is walk outside with a camera and take a picture. We are a generation enamored with the digital representation of sunshine, shuttered away to hide from the actual sunshine.
That is the main problem because all one needs to do is dial up Roy Orbison on Spotify or, God forbid, buy the song off of iTunes to get it and hear it in its most perfect original form. Instead, a new artist with a bagful of digital emotion will need to redo the song, tie it to an ironic and unnecessary beat, and pound us over the head with it until we pretend to like it just to make it go away. Why did we need the digital emotion when we had the real thing all this time?
Orbison was the real thing and still is. “Crying” is for lovers and losers and will always be. It’s our aria.