Bruce Springsteen has quite rightly earned the nickname of The Boss. It’s seemingly a perfect encapsulation of his position in the music business and how he continues to play the game by his own set of rules for close to half a century with great success. Only a handful of people have eclipsed his achievements in the musical sphere and people that Springsteen would bow down to, with the late Roy Orbison being perch at the top table at that exclusive club.
The time came in 1987 when Springsteen would get to make his life-long dream a reality as he not only had the privilege of inducting one of his heroes into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but he got to perform with him too. This performance was only a year before Orbison’s sudden death of a heart attack, and he appeared to be in good health during the performance. However, he fails to match the sheer joy exuberating out of Springsteen’s every pore, who is acting similarly to a lottery winner — despite performing with him on a handful of occasions before. Orbison’s presence made The Boss look like his apprentice.
“Some rock and roll reinforces friendship and community,” Springsteen said earlier that evening during his induction speech for Orbison. “But for me, Roy’s ballads were always best when you were alone and in the dark. Roy scrapped the idea that you needed verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus to have a hit. His arrangements were complex and operatic, they had rhythm and movement, and they addressed the underside of pop romance. They were scary. His voice was unearthly.”
Springsteen also name-checked Orbison on ‘Thunder Road’ when he sang the line ‘Roy Orbison singing for the lonely’. In his SXSW Keynote Speech in 2013, Springsteen once again paid homage to Orbison and how instrumental he was in educating him about the power of music. “Well anyway, then into my thirteen–year–old ears came ’60s pop. Roy Orbison, besides Johnny Cash, he was the other Man in Black.
“He was the true master of the romantic apocalypse you dreaded, and knew was coming after the first night you whispered, I love you, to your new girlfriend,” Springsteen added. “You were going down. Roy was the coolest, uncool loser you’d ever seen. With his Coke bottle black glasses, his three–octave range, he seemed to take joy sticking his knife deep into the hot belly of your teenage insecurities.”
He continued: “Simply the titles, ‘Crying,’ ‘It’s Over,’ ‘Running Scared.’ That’s right, the paranoia, oh, the paranoia. He sang about the tragic unknowability of women. He was tortured by soft skin, angora sweaters, beauty, and death – just like you. But he also sang that he’d been risen to the heights of near unexpressable bliss by these same very things that tortured him. Oh, cruel irony.
“For those few moments, he told you that the wreckage, and the ruin, and the heartbreak was all worth it. I got it, my young songwriters, wisdom said to me: Life is tragedy, broken by moments of unworldly bliss that make that tragedy bearable. I was half right. That wasn’t life, that was pop music,” he poetically professed.
That mantra that Springsteen learnt from being brought up on a diet of the finest pop music from masters of the art form. Orbison made pop music that was filled to the brim with substance and helped The Boss create sounds that both connected with the masses and had an underbelly of sincerity at the heart of his work. These two attributes are the key to both men’s success, and this clip of the duo performing together is a beautiful coronation of Orbison passing the torch along to the next in line to the throne.