Saturday, November 8, 2008

Researching Roy Orbison

I worked on a project over the summer at the University of Maryland, where I helped to research, plan and write an exhibit exploring the career of Roy Orbison. The Special Collections at UMCP (SCPA) contains, among many other collections, the Hugo Keesing Collection. Dr. Keesing is a guy from Columbia, MD. who has collected pop culture related stuff for most of his life and Orbison was one of his prime subjects (as well as The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino and others). There were boxes and boxes of stuff there -- tons of magazines, photos from concerts, t-shirts, CDs, LPs, singles, a newspaper purloined from Orbison's front porch, correspondence ... all kinds of stuff. Since the 20th anniversary of Orbison's death is in December, SCPA decided to pull together an exhibit that examined both Orbison and the Keesing collection and I'm glad I was able to help. The exhibit is on display now through the spring, so check it out if you can. Go to for more info on the project, including a bio and other stuff that I wrote.

To be honest, I wasn't a big fan of Orbison's heading into this project and I suppose that my opinion hasn't changed much since this summer, regarding the music. It's fine and it has some great moments, but it doesn't speak to me the same way that it does to some others. To me, though, he is a fascinating figure in the history of rock n roll. His influence is undeniable (testimonials from the likes of Dylan, The Beatles, U2, Elvis Costello, Elvis Presley and on and on certainly attest to that), but who sounds like him? Who looks like him? Who does anything like what he did, no matter how many hosannas are sent his way? It's a very interesting case and one that really fostered my respect for what he accomplished over a very turbulent career.