Only the Boring

Generally speaking, fans of early rock and roll fall into two categories: those who want to hear Roy Orbison's "Only the Lonely" more than once a year, and those who don't—and I belong to the latter group. One of the strengths of vintage rock was that it meant nothing more and nothing less than what its teenage audience said it meant (unless, of course, you listen to rock critics, but nobody does, which is why, impotent and resentful, they write mainly for each other). I always thought the music existed to make you want to laugh out loud, or dance, or take a wallow in adolescent melancholy, the experience songwriter Mickey Newbury called "feeling good feeling bad."

But rock and roll wasn't meant to create pain, and that was my problem with Roy Orbison—his voice and his songs were nothing if not emotionally wounded. In addition, no one in rock and roll possessed a physicality less suited to rock style. Orbison had no "moves" (there was a certain integrity in that,' but it wasn't the kind of integrity I was interested in), and when he covered his small, pale frame in shades, dyed and molded blue-black hair, and a black jumpsuit, he looked like somebody's country uncle dressed up for Rock Around the Clock Night down at the VFW.

But people who love Roy Orbison's music really love it, and he occupies an important, if slightly off-center,...

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