Friday, August 24, 2007

Now I'm Home (to Stay)

(Keven McAlester, US, 2005, 35mm, 92 mins.)


I am not a member of the human race (not an earthling)
and am in fact an alien from a planet other than earth.

-- Roky's Declaration, June, 13, 1975


Before watching You're Gonna Miss Me, I had just finished reading Eye Mind,
Paul Drummond's exhaustively researched biography on Roky Erickson and the
13th Floor Elevators. So, I already knew a little something about the psychedelic Texan and his mystical band of miscreants. Not that they're a new interest.

I'm not sure when I first heard the Elevators, but it was probably 20 years ago. Since
then, I've been collecting their records (three full-lengths and a mess of bootlegs), following Roky's ups and downs, and writing about his work for a variety of venues.

That makes me an informed fan. Paul Drummond and Keven McAlester, on the
other hand, are experts on Erickson's strange and fascinating career. The book was eight years in the making, while the film took six (both began in 1999). Further, McAlester, a former Texan, is credited as one of the book's researchers, while Drummond, a Brit-like Julian Cope, who penned the foreword-appears in the film.
To be an expert doesn't just necessitate an intimacy with Roky's recordings, but with Texas, hallucinogens, and mental illness. Texas, for instance, helped make Roky the unique individual that he was-and remains. And in the form of its draconian drug laws, it conspired to destroy him (he did three years in a mental institute for possession). Like the book, the movie recounts Roky's rise, fall, and resurgence.
You may think you've heard this story before-and maybe you have-but that doesn't make it any less interesting. The parallels with Be Here to Love Me: A Film about Townes Van Zandt and The Devil and Daniel Johnston are hard to deny: the three artists hail from the same state, two were subjected to shock treatment (Erickson
and Van Zandt), and two were touched by madness (Erickson and Johnston).
And this isn't in the film, but not only did Erickson and Van Zandt co-habitate for
a spell in 1968-they even dated the same woman-but Erickson and Johnston
used to watch old horror movies together in the mid-1980s, inspiring Johnston's tribute, "I Met Roky Erickson." It should also be noted that Richard Linklater associate Lee Daniel shot both You're Gonna Miss Me and Be Here to Love Me.
That said, McAlester's movie pivots on Roky's guardianship proceedings, and
that certainly sets it apart from these other documentaries (the book covers the same territory, but not in as much depth). After making a splash with the Elevators
in the 1960s, he pursued a solo career in the 1970s and 1980s, but years of heavy hallucinogenic use-over 300 acid trips-combined with pre-existing psychological problems, led to virtual incapacitation by the 1990s. The trial was arranged to transfer Roky's care from his eccentric mother, Evelyn, who doesn't believe in therapy-she prefers prayer-to Roky's younger brother, Sumner, who does.
Consequently, You're Gonna Miss Me revolves around Evelyn as much as it does Roky (his father, Roger, also puts in a brief appearance). While it's easy to sympathize with the sweet, if addled singer, his mother presents more of a challenge.
There's no doubt that Mrs. Erickson loves her oldest son, but doting on
him to the exclusion of his siblings seems to have laid the groundwork for
the trouble to come, since Roky never learned to take care of himself. Instead,
he bounced from woman to woman before returning to Evelyn-which seemed
to be the plan all along. Sumner, a classical musician based in Pennsylvania,
turns out to be a bit of an odd duck, too, but one with a firmer grip on reality.
By the end of the film, Roky is on the road to recovery, although I wish McAlester had been able to film for another year or two (the DVD includes a postscript). As
the book concludes, Roky has progressed beyond what is portrayed on screen.
Since its completion, he's even started playing out again. First, he did a few gigs
in Austin, where he returned after a sojourn in Pittsburgh, and now he's hitting locales that were beyond his grasp as a member of the Elevators (International Artists consistently promised, but never provided any actual tour support).
As a taster for Roky's performance at this year's Bumbershoot, You're Gonna Miss
gets the job done, even if his inimitable music takes a backseat to his mental state. For more on the former, Eye Mind delivers a greater share of the goods.
Sometimes people write something kind about what we did,
and I think, 'Why not the Seeds, why not the 13th Floor Elevators?'

-- Iggy Pop on the Stooges
You're Gonna Miss Me opens at the Northwest Film Forum on Fri., 8/24. The NWFF
is located at 1515 12th Ave. on Capitol Hill between Pike and Pine. For more information, please call 206-329-2629. Roky Erickson and the Explosions play the Mural Ampitheater on Mon., 9/3 (followed by fellow Texan Steve Earle). Eye Mind: the Saga of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators, the Pioneers of Psychedelic Sound is set to be released in November. Images from Palm Pictures and the All Music Guide.


  1. "not only did Erickson and Van Zandt co-habitate for
    a spell in 1968-they even dated the same woman-but Erickson and Johnston used to watch old horror movies together in the mid-1980s"
    no fucking shit. that's amazing. I more or less grew up on the Elevators, courtesy of one Steve Millen. I was introduced to Van Zandt here in Seattle and never in a million years would have imagined their two Austins crossing.

  2. I was as surprised as you. Here's another interesting book revelation:
    Van Zandt: I shared a room with Roky in Houston--he was often sleeping on my records! He was really a friend at that time, we played some guitar together. Some say he asked me to play bass guitar with the Elevators. I was a guitar player only, but Roky took me to Austin where the band was doing some rehearsal. When Tommy Hall found out that I was not a bass player, he put me out of the room.

  3. That is amazing!
    My pal Steve's two big obsessions were Krassner and Erickson - he had all the 60's vinyl and miscellaneous European reissues and handed tapes out like candy. Eventually he attempted to assemble full sets of similar recordings via the 80's reissue wave, every Pebbles, every Nuggets, every damn obscure regional punk-psych band that laid needle to wax. His quest was the assembly of the 'Enspychedelepdia,' a re-curation that eventually ran to twenty 90-minute tapes, all lovingly sequenced and selected for quality. He eventually boiled it down to the 'Re-Enspychedelepdia,' a single tape.
    He committed suicide in 1990 or so, just after I moved here. A couple years after that, Qwestion Marque and the Mysterians started touring again and the hidden connections between punk and 60's garage and folk (from Harry Smith to Townes) started becoming apparent, and I wholeheartedly wish I could have shared that with him. He would have freaked out to see either Roky or Mr. Marque and likely would have smacked me upside the head for my interest in folk and bluegrass... but i wish we had had the chance to dispute upon the topic.

  4. I have an archive of Steve's 80's humor zine up here:
    Probably pretty inside baseball, but it sure was fun to scan all those old zines!

  5. Wow, the world could use more folks like Steve. Actually, he sounds like a one-of-a-kind. The book makes it clear that Roky and his cohorts were *obsessed* with Dylan. He was pretty much their main musical influence.

  6. At Metafilter, I was recently taken to task for misspelling Townes' last name. To which I say: I am terribly sorry. I've got nothing but respect for Mr. Van *Zandt.* Gus Van *Sant*, however, has been on my mind a lot lately--his "Paris Je T'aime" short, "Mala Noche" re-release, and the upcoming "Paranoid Park"--and I slipped. Hey, it happens, and this post has now been corrected.