Orbison was just a tiny bit ahead of my time. I didn’t come upon his music (and once in a lifetime voice) until I was in my late teens. He was a gentle and brilliant man, and one of the most singular voices in the history of rock music.
When my summer travel took me through Vernon this year, I made a point to plan for a stop. I corresponded with the Chamber of Commerce and City Hall folks and they gave me the address of 5 places where Orbison lived between 1936 and 1943. (He moved to Wink, in West Texas, as a boy.)
On an early summer morning I rolled into a non-descript Texas town – of which I knew dozens from a long stay in the state – and I followed my GPS to the 5 locations. The first one, pictured on top of the strip of photos on the right, is where Roy Orbison was born. It’s just an empty field and has been for as long as a resident who was across the way digging a hole could remember. “Roy Orbison,” I said. “The singer. He was born right there.” The guy shrugged.
The other spots were all within a ten square block radius. Three were empty, and two had homes on them probably built in the 50s or 60s. The neighborhood was overgrown and dirty, more abandoned than inhabited.
I had the address of a park that had been named after Orbison, and I headed there next. It was across town, where the houses got a lot nicer, the yards a lot more tended.
The park was about 6 city blocks long. It had some empty soccer fields, and two softball backstops. There was a gazebo in the middle, a guy on a mower going in circles around it. The only sign was facing the main street: “Orbison Park.”
I had brought a disc of some of his greatest hits to listen to on the trip: “Crying,” “Oh Pretty Woman,” “In Dreams,” “Only the Lonely,” the haunting “Running Scared,” each filled with a mixture of sadness and aching loss. I wondered if anyone in town was listening to the songs at the same time, right now, in the town where he was born.
I found myself at an on ramp back to the highway, and I took it.