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My friend Mark suggested we add this track from the Traveling Wilburys to our repertoire. It always makes me sniffle because of the empty chair with Roy Orbison's guitar, but what the heck.

So today I tried it. The introduction does NOT work on a classic guitar with its 12 fret neck. It marginally works with a steel-string with a 14-fret neck. I suspect it would work best of all with one of those jazz guitars with the cutaway at the bottom.

Roy laughed a big laugh when he saw me trying to skitter my fingers down the fingerboard way below where the guitar meets the neck. Grr. It was somewhat better on the beater.

Watch it if you're interested. You can see George Harrison entering the Cutaway Zone to do the intro. But I don't have a cutaway.
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We planned a quiet anniversary dinner, since we're going to Union League Quizzo tomorrow. But we forgot dessert.

So after way too much whiskey and wine we went down to the local hipster hangout, owned by our next door neighbor, for desserts and Grand Marniers. I had two GMs, plus one huge dessert, so I'm not typing too steadily.

But I asked, noisily, about any news regarding Roy Orbison the Vampire King of Mississippi. Which caused massive queries throughout the establishment, because we are Beloved Old Farts (by virtue of being next-door neighbors of the owner of the hangout). A waitstaff person who looks like Andy Serkis finally stopped by to tell us that a recent escapade had a Vampire King who looked a bit retro, complete with black pompadour, like Roy Orbison perhaps, but who was decidedly NOT in any way someone who could be reasonably described as The Roy Orbison Vampire King of Mississippi.

So I am satisfied and feel no need to watch any escapades of what sounds like a really lame show. I do hope I'll feel like a long bike ride tomorrow morning. I will surely need it.
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Can someone who watches True Blood please explain this to me? (Not the photo -- it's Orbison, all right, from a late 80s photoshoot, although the photo is flopped)

I've thought a bit (in a decidedly unserious fashion) about doing a fic on the subject of Roy Orbison, Vampire. That pasty complexion, dark glasses, black clothes, avoidance of sunlight, and all those songs about dark and dreams... Not to mention a certain sepulchral tone to some of his eerier intonations. But if it's been done I guess there's no point, especially since writing anything "creative" is not really on my bucket list.

Or is this writer simply talking about a vampire character who bears a passing resemblance to Mr. Orbison?

Inquiring minds want to know.
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Okay, I am going to have to work hard to wrap my head around this one. David Lynch, of Blue Velvet fame, has produced a song by Roy Orbison (In Dreams) and an entire CD of the music of Hildegard von Bingen.

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2010-06-20_05windowboxesIt has been a day of small but satisfying accomplishments.

The front window boxes had gotten pretty seedy. Literally -- the second year feverfew had bolted, bloomed, and set seed prolifically with some new plants also coming on. The pansies had died back and looked like untidy straw between the center bushes and the feverfew. I had some plants started as rooted cuttings out back for the window boxes:

  • Ipomoea batata
  • Tradescantia pallida
  • Many varieties of coleus, from which I selected two

At the last minute, on impulse, I also stuck in a couple of scented pelargoniums, those ones with minuscule magenta flowers.

The transplants in the window boxes were looking a little peaky, so I've decided to keep them out back in full shade for a day or two until they show some signs of recovery.

I also folded and put away laundry -- not only this weekend's, but the dregs of several weeks' batches that never got put away.

I took some pictures of things in the back and uploaded them to Flickr.

And I found out it is dead easy to copy tunes from my hard drive to my Blackberry -- but not until I went round Robin Hood's barn doing silly things that Verizon wants me to do so that I'll burn minutes. No thank you...

I am trying to decide whether or not I actually like listening to music on my Blackberry. On the one hand, it's interesting to have Roy Orbison resonating right inside my head. On the other hand, I'm not sure I want Roy Orbison getting into my head any further than he already is. But I also found I can plug the Blackberry into the pair of inexpensive speakers I bought to go with the Netbook and take the whole jury-rigged sound system out back, where it sounds remarkably like a transistor radio, for the full retro effect.
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Roy confessed last night: he doesn't really care for the East Broad Top tourist railroad; he has seen one Civil War reenactment and isn't the least bit interested in ever seeing one again; and Orbisonia has no particular charm (without my current obsession it wouldn't be a place I'd think twice about visiting). Spending two days with a reluctant traveler is not my idea of Big Birthday Fun, so I've scuppered the Orbisonia trip, at least as a Big Holiday Destination. Perhaps as a side trip if we have another reason for being in the area some time.

Oh, well. I got a great deal of conceptual glee out of it yesterday. But I'm not terribly sorry that I won't be spending a hot summer weekend out in the baking sun.
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Roy Orbison is the great-great-great grandson of Thomas E. Orbison, for whom the town of Orbisonia PA (pop. 425) is named. Yesterday I was having lunch with a woman who said she and her husband had a small farm in Pennsylvania as a summer retreat. I asked her where and she said "Orbisonia," which got me to wondering if there was a connection. Google on Orbisonia and then on the town's namesake, and I had the answer. That Thomas E. sure had a lot of kids...

Better yet, Orbisonia isn't all that far from Lees Crossroads and Shippensburg, from which two of my own family lines come. Could Roy Orbison be a distant cousin? That would be too cool!

Orbisonia is also the home of the East Broad Top tourist railroad, meaning it has a steam train. I think Roy would be very happy living in Orbisonia.

EDIT: zOMG!!! On August 14/15 they're having a Civil War weekend. With steam trains. In Orbisonia. On my birthday. Fangirls and fanboys will both be delighted!
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Another choice bit from this book I'm reading, about singers who acknowledge a debt to Roy Orbison:

And who would recognize Orbison's influence in the work of Leonard Cohen? Yet, according to Cohen's biographer, Orbison was the musical signature for Cohen's 1988 tour. "In rehearsal Cohen would tell the band to 'make it like Roy Orbison would do it,' which led to an onstage Joke, 'Orbisize this song.' The musicians had a picture of Orbison pasted into their chart folder" (Nadel 1996, 251)

Peter Lehman, Roy Orbison: The Invention of an Alternative Rock Masculinity, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003, p. 167.
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The opening lyrics to this song are sexually explicit (unusual for Orbison and even here it's done in an understated way) and possibly even a little creepy, although the song quickly veers and is more about emotional passion than physical passion. But the backstory of this is intriguing for other reasons, and offers a jumping-off point for musings on the nature of authorship and the possibilities of collaborations across time.

The song was written by Will Jennings, one of Orbison's later collaborators. Orbison recorded this, vocal and guitar only, sung into a boom box, in 1988. And died. His widow, Barbara Orbison, approached Peter Gabriel about producing it. Gabriel, busy with other projects, declined, but asked storied musician/producer Brian Eno to listen to it. Eno produced it, and it was used in Wim Wenders' 1998 film, The End of Violence.

So what are we to make of this "Orbison" song? -- as Peter Lehman asks in his book[1]. How much thought had Orbison put into this boom box recording? What was he trying out? Would he have continued with this song, had he lived, or put it aside? What changes would he have made? Was it a finished work from Jennings, or an intermediate step in a collaboration? Lehman points out that Orbison rarely used a verse-chorus-verse-chorus arrangement, yet this song has three iterations of the chorus. Is this because Orbison was comfortable with three iterations, or did Eno use one of them a second time to eke out scant recorded material? And is that why there are more instrumentals in this than usual?

(It's possible that some of these questions can be at least partially answered by Barbara Orbison, Will Jennings, or other of Orbison's late-life collaborators, but if so I don't think the answers are generally available.)

Lehman goes on to ponder other issues of authorship, issues that are probably well ventilated by many scholars in the age of the mash-up, but that are new to me because I simply never thought of repurposing content in quite this way. Here are some of the salient bits:

Eno, of course, is a rock 'n' roll great in his own right. In what sense, then, is this song Orbison's? He neither wrote it (though it was written for him by Will Jennings, his co-writer at the time of his death) nor produced it nor had any say over its production. And of course he had no control over whether or how it would be used in Wenders's film. Furthermore, the skeleton form in which he left it shows that he was far from finished working out even the preliminary vocals. Yet the song seems to me to be an important Orbison song...

[E]ven when a singer is alive, the issue of authorship is often complex.... As Entertainment Weekly put it, "In the end it's the goose-bump-inducing voice that endures." If these critics are right, how much does it matter whether that enduring voice is part of a record made after the death of a singer? To take the point to its logical extreme, why should we even privilege the original recording, made during the singer's life, over endless possible other recordings made after his or her death? This question challenges the most fundamental assumptions about authorship and integrity. But the recorded pop voice is a complex aesthetic text, and it is what should be compared to the dense notational text of classical music, or the dense aesthetic language of a Shakespeare play. Why can't it endure limitless production/interpretations and still retain its identify and integrity? It can."

I certainly would privilege the recording made during the artist's life, particularly in the case of a singer/songwriter, but the notion of Orbison's voice (or others' voices, for that matter) as a text or score to be "performed" by other arrangers, composers, producers, is an intriguing one. I am imagining a future in which the Orbison vocals of, for example "Only the Lonely", are reconceptualized and reorchestrated by any number of solid artists.

(bonus for [ profile] halfmoon_mollie -- check out the shoes at 2:10!)

[1]Lehman, Peter. Roy Orbison: The Invention of an Alternative Rock Masculinity. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2003.
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2010-06-13_01hastingsrevengeAfter a morning of oppressive heat and humidity it started to rain with a brief thunderstorm a few hours ago and now it is raining in earnest. Once again I have escaped watering except for the bits that are under the overhangs.

It took me an awfully long time to make one batch of strawberry preserves. I had squirreled away some pectin, lids, and rings several years ago and it took me awhile to find them -- oddly enough, in a box marked "canning supplies" in great big letters, down in the basement. Who'd have thought it?

Then there was the matter of hulling and slicing four pounds of strawberries. It is a boring task and it's just too easy to wander the ten feet back to my office and the computer. But it's done and I have hopes that I will have preserves, not syrup.

Roy called on his way to Norfolk, cruising down the eastern shore of Virginia and looking at little houses for sale. I was able to look at them on and say there were some tasty ones. But then I looked at the eastern shore and it looks like a place I would not like to be in a hurricane. Ain't technology grand, though? -- he'd read me the address more or less and I'd find pictures and be able to tell him how big the kitchen is, how big a lot, and how the place is heated. It sure would be nice to have a back yard that isn't smaller than my living room!

I was looking at Roy Orbison's dates and realized that he was born a little less than two years before Roy, so they were pretty much of an age -- and he shares a birthday with William Shakespeare and my late brother. How about that...
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Three-Chord Roy breaks down "You Are My Sunshine" with the sort of lame excuse for a G chord you'd teach a six-year-old (which is what his father taught him) at 1:00 in this video:

Check out those guitarists' fingernails on his right hand. (I should have nails that long...) His left hand fingernails are appropriately nubbined. I bet he had calluses like little tiles on his fingertips. EDITED TO ADD. Also: look at that line of knuckles precisely parallel with the edge of the fretboard. **envy** **must remember that for correcting my own approach**
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I offered an LJ acquaintance my personal tips on listening to a song and figuring out the chording. So here they are.

skip this if it's not your thing )
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Why? Because there are no copies of a CD I want available for less than fifty bucks, and I'm not quite *that* obsessed. Now I'll see how this newfangled electronic music purchase thing works... Next thing you know, I'll be putting them on my Blackberry....hmmmmmm......
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The monster CD set of Orbisonia (Roy Orbison: The Soul of Rock and Roll) includes a nine-minute track of an extremely young Roy Orbison goofing around and singing bits of this and that at some social gathering. (There were some girls there, talking in the background.) Rehearsal? Pre- or post-performance event? Doesn't much matter.

It's a lot of fun to listen to him hammer on his guitar. No flights of fingering on bass runs or anything, just strum, strum, strummity-strum. I think he may have known five or six chords altogether, plus some of the associated minors and sevenths. He certainly has a preference for songs in the key of A -- using A, E, and D (with his thumb on the 6th string to make the third). There was one in the key of C where he actually used, I think, six chords, adding complexity to the basic three-chord harmony with a C7, an A7 and a D7.

The Lehman book on his music was a disappointment. It was less about Orbison as musician and more about Lehman's theory of the deep meanings -- most of which I firmly believe is horseshit. I'll accept -- endorse, even -- the notion that Orbison pioneered the redefinition of masculinity in rock music by making vulnerability acceptable. But his talk of passivity and masochism is just silly.

EDITED TO ADD: I'd like to run this recently-released report up Lehman's nose:
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Had something seriously wrong with the miking -- the backup singers are way too far foregrounded.

EDITED TO ADD: But he sure sounds good. Listening to it, it's hard to believe he would be dead within 48 hours.
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Underdone bluefish subsided around 11:00 this morning, returned around 7:00 this evening.

I now have five hours of Orbisonic goodness ripped to my hard drive.
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The Wells-Fargo wagon brought most of my mad Orbison extravagance and I am wallowing in it. I just watched the adulatory documentary, In Dreams,* and am now ripping the multi-disk compilation, Roy Orbison: The Soul of Rock and Roll. I am trying to read Roy Orbison: The Invention of an Alternative Rock Masculinity at the same time, but it's difficult to take the guy's goings-on about Orbison's "masochistic sexual aesthetic" while listening to a young Roy Orbison singing "Tutti Frutti."

Yeah, he wore black all the time. So do I. It may mean nothing more than a decision to quit paying attention to fashion (which is what it meant for me), after being nattily clad for his early/mid 60s English tours, during which he looked remarkably like a Beatle with a pompadour. And if I'm a masochist, then I'm also the Queen of Romania.

*Much of the commentary from this documentary is available elsewhere on YouTube. There's some footage that I hadn't seen before, but I may just not have looked.
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redshoesWatching the Traveling Wilburys "Handle With Care" clip on YouTube, I was trying to figure out why there were flashes of red at Roy Orbison's feet. So I made it full screen. Check it out at :16 -- the man is wearing seriously red loafers!

I've also spent altogether too much time trying to figure out who is playing the twelve string. Too many guys with off-white shirts and no good look at faces with guitars. I think it's Jeff Lynne but wouldn't want to stake my life upon it.

My Bestest Roy is going to Connecticut tomorrow so I can wallow in the music of Mr. Orbison on CDs and DVDs, assuming they arrive as predicted by

(I'm trying to bump up my Orbison tag one point size, or maybe two, in my tag cloud so that I can find it more easily -- although it's right under Nopalxochia, which helps.)
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...because he turns into a fawning fangrrl when he talks about Roy Orbison.

This is as good a time as any to confess that I just spent Too Much Money on You Know Who at Amazon.
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Many happy returns! I thought I could postdate this and have it show up tomorrow morning instead of tonight, but I guess I don't know how to do that.

(He says "happy birthday Roy Kelton," but I'm sure he really meant halfmoon_mollie!)

P.S. -- I've posted links for all the segments of The Fastest Guitar Alive on that links post. If you have nothing else going for tonight, you can treat yourself to some happy birthday popcorn and the worst singing cowboy movie evah! But the best singing cowboy, of course!


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