Roy Orbison: The Invention of an Alternative Rock Masculinity

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Roy Orbison's music-whether heard in his own recordings or in cover versions of his songs-is a significant part of contemporary American culture despite the fact that he died almost a generation ago. Few of today's listeners know or remember how startlingly unique he seemed at the height of his career in the early 1960s. In this book, Peter Lehman looks at the long span of Orbison's career and probes into the uniqueness of his songs, singing, and performance style, arguing that singer/songwriters no less than filmmakers can be considered as auteurs.

Unlike other pop stars, Orbison was a constant presence on the Top 40, but virtually invisible in the media during his heyday. Ignoring the conventions of pop music, he wrote complex songs and sang them with a startling vocal range and power. Wearing black clothes and glasses and standing motionless on stage, he rejected the macho self confidence and strutting that characterized the male rockers of his time. He sang about a man lost in a world of loneliness and fear, one who cried in the dark or escaped into a dream world, the only place his desires could be fulfilled. This was a man who reveled in passivity, pain, and loss.

Lehman traces Orbison's development of this alternative masculinity and the use of his music in films by Wim Wenders and David Lynch. Widely admired by fellow musicians from Elvis to Jagger, Springsteen and Bono, Orbison still attracts new listeners. As a devoted fan and insightful scholar, Lehman gives us a fascinating account of "the greatest white singer on the planet," and a new approach to understanding individual singer/songwriters.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
At the height of his career in the early 1960s, Roy Orbison was a powerful presence in the pop charts, penning and performing numerous Top Ten hits that have rightly been described as "miniature pop operettas." With his dark glasses, motionless stage presence, and swooping multioctave tenor, Orbison fit into neither the nice-boy (e.g., Frankie Avalon) nor macho (e.g., Elvis Presley) pop star persona of the time. In what is essentially an extension and expansion of his Running Scared: Masculinity and the Representation of the Male Body, Lehman (interdisciplinary humanities, Arizona State Univ.) here dissects Orbison, his 1957-87 oeuvre, and his influence in exacting-and often excruciating-detail. Caveat: this is not a biography of Orbison per se. Instead, using the language and the tools of poststructuralism, Lehman proffers an analysis of Orbison's locus within the black/white, effeminate/macho, rock/pop dialectics that are so often (and perhaps too readily) used to define popular singers of the late Fifties and early Sixties-a locus, which Lehman fails to note, shared with the equally popular and influential Buddy Holly. While this will make an interesting addition to academic cultural studies collections, the primary, indispensable Orbison document remains 1988's intimate concert video (now available in superbly remastered DVD), Roy Orbison: A Black and White Night.-Bill Piekarski, Lackawanna, NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781592130368
  • Publisher: Temple University Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2003
  • Series: Sound Matters Ser.
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Table of Contents

1 There Are Many Roy Orbisons 1
2 Mystery Man: The Evolution of a Dark, Mysterious Persona 28
3 "Radical Left Turns": The Voice and the Music 44
4 In (and Out of) Dreams 60
5 "Crawling Back": The Masochist Aesthetic 86
6 In David Lynch's Dreams: Roy Orbison at the Movies 108
7 "The Finest White Pop Singer on the Planet": "Oh, Pretty Woman," 2 Live Crew, and Discourses of Race 135
8 Beyond the End: Roy Orbison's Posthumous Career and Legacy 160
App Analysis of Songs and Recordings 175
Notes 189
Works Cited 193
Song Acknowledgments 197
Index 201
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