Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Roky Erickson

Good morning!

Remember how I said, naught but two posts ago, that I was totally not interested in concerts, and how I don't like going to them, etc? Well, I've broken my rule twice in as many weeks for outstanding circumstances-- last week was Lindsey Buckingham, and tonight after class, I'm gonna get to see Roky Erickson! I really didn't think he was ever going to tour outside of his native Texas or maybe in a few big city, special events, but for some reason, he's playing the Exit/In tonight and Matthew and I are braving the cold and my own lack of interest in standing in one place for three hours to go see him. This is an exceptional circumstance!

A couple years ago, I was absolutely blown away by a haphazard Netflix viewing of You're Gonna Miss Me, a 2005 documentary chronicling the rise and fall and re-rise of one of rock and roll's most unique performers. Lead singer of The 13th Floor Elevators, the psych rock hit from which the doc draws its name is truly just a ear-blistering showstopper and mix-tape staple of my high school years after it featured prominently in the High Fidelity soundtrack (the movie's ok, the soundtrack was one of my favorite cds of the 2000's). What I didn't know about was the post-Elevators' Erickson years-- diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1968 (possibly set off by his massive LSD use), he was treated with shock therapy; a year later, he was caught with one (one) joint and, pleading insanity to avoid a ten year jail sentence, was remanded instead into a state psychiatric hospital where Thorazine and more electric shock treatments were administered, until his release in 1973.

Now, between the schizophrenia, the heavy drug use, the mental health treatments, and the whole being in a hospital for the criminally insane for three years, Roky came out pretty much fried, which is evident throughout the documentary. Byronic looks gone, he moved in with his mother and retreated into some of his more out-there "eccentricities". A cursory look at his Wikipedia article yields such gems as:
  • In 1982, Erickson asserted that a Martian had inhabited his body. He came to feel that, due to his being alien, human beings were attacking him psychically. A concerned friend enlisted a Notary Public to witness an official statement by Erickson that he was an alien; he hoped by declaring so publicly he would be in line with any "international laws" he might have been breaking. Erickson claimed the attacks then indeed stopped.
  • Beginning in the 1980's, Erickson began a years-long obsession with the mail, often spending hours poring over random junk mail, writing to solicitors and celebrities (dead or living). He was arrested in 1989 on charges of mail theft. Erickson picked up mail from neighbors who had moved and taped it to the walls of his room. He insisted that he never opened any of the mail, and the charges were ultimately dropped.

Watching the movie in parts can be actually painful. Roky's day to day existence, living with his over-controlling, slightly villainous mother and collecting random objects and paper paraphernalia, is a far cry from playing the Fillmore. What is amazing, though, is through it all, his musical genius is untouched. From the seventies' to now, when he sits down to a piano, or picks up a guitar, whatever gifted part of his brain that created and creates strange, beautiful melodies and truly awesome hard rock pieces is COMPLETELY INTACT. Some lyrics you'd have to see to on any of the song titles to hear a Youtube video, I promise they're even better in context.

  • "Two Headed Dog" Two headed dog, two headed dog/I've been working in the Kremlin with a two headed dog (the central guitar riff in this is amazing)
  • "Bloody Hammer" Demon is up in the attic to the left/My eye turns to the left to say, "no"/You said, "First, I am the special one."/I never hammer my mind out/I never have the bloody hammer (this also contains the "demon ghost of the 1900's says...drag your chain away! Drag your chain away now-w-w-w-w...." line, which is one of my favorite passages in any of his songs)
  • "I Have Always Been Here Before"It seems like a bell rings time and deja vu/ everything is familiar, I been here with you/all you ever had before you've had to understand/now all you have to do is want to have at your command
  • "You Don't Love Me Yet"--Lightning never strikes anymore/but I can't make it rain/ because it would only mean lightning again/Lightning never strikes anymore/but I can't make it rain/because it would only cause me pain/'Cause you don't love me yet/you don't love me yet/I just would forget /because you don't love me/you don't love me yet 

Reading these out of their element, I know it sounds like they're some silly, Iron Maiden style lyrics (no offense, Iron Maiden, but youknowwhatimean), but mixed with the music, they really have an almost spooky "otherness". Not to mention head-bobbing, heavy rock infectiousness. Try listening to "Two Headed Dog" and not spending the rest of the day muttering, "Two headed! Two headed! TWO HEADED DOG!" to yourself. And having to explain yourself to your coworkers. Or not. I'm just rocking out on my own here.

Here's a trailer for the documentary (and the soundtrack, naturally, is OUT OF THIS WORLD):


So! That's my story and I'm stickin' to it. I'm super-excited to see what kind of a show he puts on and what kind of a crowd shows up on a Wednesday night!

Are you into sixties' psych-rock or garage bands at all? Have you seen the Roky Erickson documentary before? What are your thoughts on the above-quoted songs? Have any neat shows your conscience is just twisting your arm to go to lately? Do tell!

That's all for today...see you guys tomorrow.

Further reading:
NPR's All Things Considered segment on You're Gonna Miss Me
NYT Review of the same


  1. Wow...super-interesting story and what a talented guy!

    1. Right? So completely original. The show was great, too!

  2. I love The 13th Floor Elevators & Roky Erickson’s solo work. I have seen the documentary & had the pleasure of watching Roky perform live. I think you will really enjoy yourself at his show. I agree with you – his songs are so catchy, despite the somewhat disturbing lyrics. However, my favorite Roky Erickson songs are the romantic ones - Starry Eyes & Clear Night for Love, in particular. Be sure to buy a concert tee - amazing psychedelic graphics on soft, quality tees. I love mine!

    1. Re: the show: I totally loved it! Re: the shirt: For some reason, they only had XS women's shirts and XXL men's shirts at the merch booth. :( I'll have to track on down online, in the wild! "Starry Eyes" is one of my very favorites...and "For You" and "You Don't Love Me Yet" romantic, in the midst of all his output on demons and aliens and zombies!

  3. oh i can't wait to watch this! i hope the show is great.

    1. Tell me what you think after you see it! It's really just a top-notch documentary.



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