Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Roy Orbison performing his classic Sweet Dreams, Baby with an all-star backup.
In Dreams: The Greatest Hits: Roy Orbison, Roy Orbison, Virgin Records, 1987
Strictly speaking I am only doing this review, In Dreams: The Greatest Hits: Roy Orbison, as a favor to my old-time friend Peter Paul Markin. When he found out that I was crazy for Roy “The Boy” as a kid, and had some stories to tell, some teenage stories, he begged me (so he could beg off on whoever asked HIM to do the damn thing) to do a guest commentary. Of course being Pee-Pee (his old time North Adamsville junior high school moniker bestowed on his by his corner- boy friend, Frankie Larkin) he had to bring up the nine hundred and ninety-nine things (in exact chronological order) that he had done for me in the past. So, if only to avoid having to hear about the one thousand and one things he didn’t do for me, I consented.
My first refusal of Pee-Pee’s request was based on the simple fact that everybody, at least everybody who loves, uh, classic rock and roll already knows, already has genetically embedded in their brains, a half dozen of Roy’s songs. And already knows that he was the king hell king of a certain teen angst kind of rock and roll song in the early 1960s that spoke to our romantic longings, our fears of rejection, our fear of acceptance, our desire to keep away from wrong gees (male or female) and our fervent desire not to be “has beens” before we even got to first base on being a “has.” Those factors, plus the fact that Roy is safely ensconced in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, and what more can a mere mortal add to the conversation.
Except, except like Pee-Pee coaxed (nice word, huh) out of me there are stories, youth stories, related to various Roy’s songs. So let me sketch out one of them concerning his classic Sweet Dreams, Baby. Naturally it centers on the eternal boy-girl thing (what else is teen-hood, early teen-hood here, for anyway). The early stages of the boy-girl thing when Roy’s lyrics and style meant something, some swoon anyway. (Later, in the super-heated Stones/Doors/Byrds/Hendrix drug-induced late 1960s night, he would draw no play in these quarters).
For those who don’t know, or who want to know, I grew up in Olde Saco, Maine the old- time big time mill town, a town filled to the brim with solid working- class families trying to eke out an existence in those dying mills. These were, mainly, French-Canadian working families, my people (despite my surname I am F-C on my mother’s side). These were (and still are) hard working, hard loving, hard drinking people who nevertheless brought a deeply religious feeling (Gallic Roman Catholic) with them as they migrated in successive waves down from old no place for them Canada. For teen purposes, for boy early teen purposes, for boy early teen F-C Olde Saco purposes this meant keeping a very tight rein on their daughters, very tight indeed.
And the tightest rein the old Atlantic section of Olde Saco neighborhood where I grew up was held by Meme LaCroix over her daughter. Lorraine. Now at this time, this early 1960s time, Lorraine was really nothing but a stick (a stick being a girl, a junior high school girl, who had, well, no womanly shape. Funny, one time when Pee-Pee and I were comparing notes he told me that “stick” term was what they used to use in his old Irish North Adamsville neighborhood. I thought we F-Cs were only ones to use the term. Go figure.). But stick or no stick, Lorraine LaCroix had about three tons of personality, a great smile, great naturally ruby lips, and for those who had the right antennae the look of a stick who would make a few heads turn before she was through. But all that came later.
What really made Mlle LaCroix stand out, and had a few boys, including this writer, lined up at the door, was her collection of rock and roll records, including everything that Roy Orbison had recorded at that time. And her willingness to invite said boys, including this writer, into her living room after school to listen to this stuff. In case you don’t get the import, the economic import, of that last statement, I, for one, did not have a record player, or records, at that time. I used a transistor radio, or went to Jimmy Jake’s Diner and played the jukebox there. In case you don’t get the social import of it, recall that Madame LaCroix held a very tight rein on Lorraine. For example Lorraine could not go on dates, go to dances, or any night activity. Somehow she thought that daytime at the LaCroix resident was alright. Oh, I didn’t tell you, Madame LaCroix worked (worked at the Olde Saco Valley Textile Mill in the same department as my father at the time) so that Lorraine was home alone. So you can see that the good Madame was a little off on her protecting teen daughter wisdom.
One afternoon (actually more than one afternoon but this one time will stand in for the rest which were very similar) she invited me over. I rang the doorbell, she answered, looking very attractive even for a stick (those natural ruby red lips had half the guys in school wondering, dream wondering), and we went into the living room. She started playing some Elvis, maybe Jailhouse Rock, and a little Jerry Lee (I was crazy for his High School Confidential, and could hardly wait to get to be old enough to go to Olde Saco High based just on that record).
After a while, and after a couple of Cokes, she changed the record to Roy’s Sweet Dreams, Baby, and started swaying to the tune. She then closed her eyes and called me over. And right then and there in the middle of the room gave me one of the most passionate kisses that I have ever received. Fifty years later (keep this to yourself) I can still feel the warmth of that kiss, and the bath soap fragrance I could smell coming from her body when we came up for air. Yes, Lorraine LaCroix had lips made for kissing. For the rest of the afternoons we hung around together that song was the signal that I was to kiss her (actually she kissed me but let’s not quibble).
And that little sketch is exactly my point. No great master thesis, simply this. Roy “The Boy” Orbison’s music was what got us through that early teen angst rough spot looking to find out what the boy-girl world was all about. Innocent, innocent as hell, as we were then. Enough said.