Thursday, November 5, 2009

Roy Orbison, That Heartbreak-er

When I was driving down the street in Nashville last week, a Roy Orbison classic song came on the radio. I sang along as loud as I could, belting every syllable I knew and humming over the ones I didn't. Tears pooled in my eyes and streamed down my cheeks and I kept driving as I kept singing as I kept crying.

Two Christmases ago when my parents came to Nashville to stay with me, I was jazzed about showing them "my town." We went to all of my favorite places: Noshville (seated next to Amy Grant!), Jackson's (we argued a lot there), FIDO (I think it may have been a little confusing for them), and the Loveless Cafe (oh, the biscuits).

That was also the year that my dad picked out a Christmas gift for me completely on his own, and it's the only time that I can remember him doing that. He was excited about it, telling me in advance, preparing me for something special. The gift was two music CDs; it was actually two different albums from the five sibling piano quintet, "The 5 Browns." The special-ness of this gift was that--I guess you could say that we shared a love; a zeal really, for wild and erratic piano players. I can remember that once, during one of his mid-afternoon phone calls, I became so sentimental about Liberace that I started searching for YouTubes of his performances, and narrated his theatrics over the phone to my dad.

On that Christmas trip, because of some degrading conversational remark of mine about the irony of the Nashville music scene, Dad began a historical talking tour of Roy Orbison's greatest life moments, including a recounting of wise and eloquent quotes from Roy himself.

Before that moment, I didn't realize that Dad loved Roy Orbison. When I think of the "music of my childhood," like so many American children living the 1980s television dream, my natural inclination is to think of the echoes of NASCAR engines around a track or the auctioneer-like WWF announcers shouting, "HERE COMES JAKE THE SNAKE WITH A CHAIR!!"

Just as on other occasions, I learned that Dad had a whole storehouse of personal feelings that I didn't know about. For every connection we shared, for every moment of collaboration between us, there were equally as many mysteries that shadowed our knowledge of one another, and so many, many things that we didn't share in our thirty years together. After Dad mentioned Roy singing for "The Traveling Wilburys" and vehemently persuaded me to listen to them, I ran up to my room and under the pretext of getting ready to leave for lunch, downloaded the whole collection of songs off iTunes and burned him a copy to take home.

In all that you have, there is something that you still cannot attain. Roy Orbison. Roy Orbison and all the things he represents to me--all the mysteries locked inside Dad's heart that faded away with the turning off of that damned machine.

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