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Gender, genius and rock and roll in ‘Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night’

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 September 2011

Mark Laver
Affiliation:
Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Improvisation Community and Social practice/Improvisation, communouté et pratiques sociales, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada E-mail: mlaver@uoguelph.ca

Abstract

To a considerable extent, the mythology of rock and roll rebellion is predicated upon a similarly mythologised male sexual potency that Simon Frith and Angeld McRobbie have characterised as ‘aggressive, dominating, and boastful, … [constantly seeking] to remind the audience of [its] prowess, [its] control’ (Frith and McRobbie 1990, p. 319). In this article, I look to Roy Orbison – a musician who was a key figure in the genesis of rock and roll, but who nevertheless subverts this phallocentric meta-narrative. Focusing on the 1987 concert film, Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night, I argue that Orbison's staid performance style, unusual voice and unconventional songwriting as evidenced (and amplified) by that film trouble the purportedly monolithic rock and roll masculinity, and the concomitant mythology of rebellion. At the same time, however, I propose that even as normative masculinity appears to be destabilised, a close reading of the film reveals that the performance situates Orbison within a different masculinist discourse: the 19th-century Romantic discourse of masculine genius that continues to inflect 21st century notions about artists and art music. Thus, in Black and White Night, normative and non-normative masculinities are thoroughly imbricated, each simultaneously destabilising and reaffirming the other.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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