I Went to See “In Dreams: Roy Orbison in Concert — The Hologram Tour” and I Have Some Questions

I saw In Dreams: Roy Orbison in Concert — The Hologram Tour at The Sony Centre last night, a show I was anticipating so highly that I completely forgot about it until my partner politely asked me to put some pants on ten minutes before we had to leave our apartment.

The official site for Base Hologram, the company behind this mild necromancy, describes the show as “an extraordinary event that sees the man himself take to the stage via hologram, accompanied by a full live orchestra.”

It goes on to promise that “as you watch Orbison sing his first notes into the microphone, you will thrill to the realization that you are part of rock and roll history — totally being rewritten.”

That is not exactly what happened last night. I did see a Roy Orbison hologram emerge from an imaginary trap door in the stage, play some songs with a full live orchestra, disperse into mist, stardust, and fireflies at random intervals and then reemerge from the imaginary trap door to play some more songs. But it was only an “extraordinary event” in the sense that a thing that feels like a planetarium laser show and an animatronic cabaret had a baby and then Charlie Brooker wrote a particularly smug episode of Black Mirror inspired by this development could be considered an event that goes beyond what is usual, regularly, or customary.

I did not thrill to the realization that I was part of rock and roll history — totally being rewritten so much as I spent 65 minutes, contemplating the entire spectacle with steadily increasing confusion of both the practical and existential variety. It might be a stretch to say that anything is being rewritten, or that we should thrill to this revolution, but this swelling wave of hologram shows does represent a shift in what we consider rock and roll. And it did leave with a number of questions about how we will interact with these “performances” and the very concept of performance in the future.

Questions like: How will “authenticity,” which has always been more of a marketing device than a concept in rock and roll, anyway, continue to lose all meaning as we fork out money to sit and watch loosely resurrected dead people go through a limited range of motions to the tune of their corporeal counterparts’ digitally remastered recordings? Will the value of live performances be devalued by the increasing quality of these hologram shows? Will Baby Boomers ever tire of cannibalizing their pasts in their flailing efforts to feel young, relevant and anything other than the flagrantly selfish driving forces behind our current societal collapse?

And, most importantly: Why does he have to come through the floor?

Seriously. Why can this hologram only appear on stage via this imaginary trap door?

The fine folks at Base Hologram have the technology and the power to make their Roy Orbison do so many things. He can turn to the left. He can turn to the right. He can play at least four notes on his hologram guitar. He can say “thank you.” He can turn from side to side. He can strum his hologram guitar. He can say “thank you” again. He can, as needed, disappear into various clouds of ethereal effects including, but not limited to, smoke, lights, and sparkly shit. So why does he always come to the stage and return to the stage via this imaginary trap door?

This isn’t just an issue of technological capability, either. I’m not simply asking why they didn’t make Holo-Roy do more cool shit. I am asking why, given the scope of things that they could make Holo-Roy do, they chose to have him repeatedly appear on stage via this same effect. And I’m asking what this tells us about Holo-Roy in the context of the show.

For a show like In Dreams: Roy Orbison in Concert — The Hologram Tour to work at all, there must be some kind of contract between the audience and the performers/creators. We agree to suspend our disbelief and they provide us with entertainment that makes at least some sense within that state of mind. Let’s just call it kayfabe because my brain is 80% wrestling these days. We know that he is a hologram and that the answer to any questions we might have is actually “because he’s a fucking hologram and this technology is still in its relative infancy.” But, in the context of the show, there has to be more to it. We haven’t come to see just a hologram, we have come to see a hologram that we are willing to pretend is, to some extent, Roy Orbison. And so we must ask why this “Roy Orbison” is doing what he does within the said context.

To start, what is he? Yes, we know he’s a hologram. But what is he supposed to be to us when he is on stage? Are we just supposed to accept that he’s a hologram? We know that he’s not supposed to the actual human being, because he sometimes vanishes into clouds of smoke and whatnot and actual Roy Orbison, as far as I know, could not do that. So is he a hologram? A ghost? A spectral conjuring? A collective dream? And why would any of those options need to repeatedly enter the stage via this (also holographic) trap door?

Whatever he is, we have established that this Roy can transmogrify. Or, at least, we know that he can disassemble. If he can do that, why does he have to enter the stage via the trap door? Can he not reassemble from smoke and lights just as easily as he disappears into them? Is he shy? Is it kind of like getting dressed?

Or maybe the trap door isn’t just a trap door? Is it, perhaps, a portal to another world, where holograms/ghosts/visions of dead rock stars live? Is this portal the only way that they can access our world? Do they wander in this holographic realm, waiting to be called upon to satisfy the desperate nostalgic needs of people who feel their own mortality pressing upon them?

And, if this is a portal and said portal is the only way to our world… how does Roy get back to his world if he doesn’t ever lower back down into this trap door? When he disperses, do the pieces of stardust/lights/whatever have to rapidly race through time and space and dimensions to get back to the hologram world so that he can reenter our realm via the trap portal? Is this something that Sapphire and Steel would be addressing if they weren’t trapped in a gas station in the middle of nothing for all eternities?

Or maybe the boundaries between our worlds are a little more permeable, but reassembly is not nearly as easy or aesthetically pleasant as dispersal, so the bits of Roy must return to the origin point and realign themselves before returning to the stage in our world? And this is why he only enters via the trap door? Because anything else would be unseemly?

Or maybe Holo-Roy is an unwilling participant in this? Have Base Hologram kidnapped him from the hologram world? Are they keeping him captive under the stage? Are his dispersals actually escape attempts? And do they keep tracking him down again, sending him to his prison under the stage, and forcing him back up via the trap door to play again? It would also explain why he’s so listless up there. It would also cast a whole new and truly horrifying light on the first verse of the tour’s eponymous song.

I suppose, in the end, there are no actual answers to my questions. If someone like me, someone who has watched copious amounts of Jem and the Holograms, Sapphire and Steel, and the works of Ingmar Bergman can’t piece together a coherent theory about the ways in which a hologram navigates space and time — and the existential terror of those experiences — then the hunt for such a thing is probably as futile as everything else in life.

So, much likes so many other things in life, the story of hologram is half-assed and confused. Our heroes die and we try to recreate them as if it will do anything to change the fact that we are racing toward the same ends ourselves — nor will it do anything to alleviate the uneasiness and agony of that realization. Death comes for us all. No one is going to pay money to see our boring selves perform as many as five different movements on stage for 65 minutes when it does. And there’s no trap door waiting to pull us back there, anyway.