Thursday, Jan. 3, 2008

The Roky Erickson Story

By David Luhrssen
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The documentary You’re Gonna Miss Me (available on DVD) doesn’t begin on stage but in a courthouse where Roky Erickson’s relatives are battling for control of his life. The latest episode of a troubled, decades long family history finds one of the songwriter-singer’s brothers suing to replace his mother as Roky’s guardian. By then a childlike figure with the build of an oversize teddy bear, Roky seems content to go anyplace where he’s allowed to watch his cartoons.

As frontman for Austin’s 13th Floor Elevators, Erickson became a legendary figure among record collectors and fans of ‘60s garage rock. The live Elevators footage collected in You’re Gonna Miss Me shows Erickson as a handsome, confident young man leading a band rooted in the hard end of the British Invasion through folk rock and into the fringes of psychedelia. Alas, he passed beyond the fringe after a reported 300 acid trips. Erickson never entirely returned. Maybe he didn’t want to. The poor treatment he received in a mental hospital, where he was sentenced for marijuana possession and diagnosed as schizophrenic, may have turned him away from society. One friend interviewed for the film said that Erickson turned crazy in order to escape the insanity of his family.

Erickson enjoyed a remarkable creative rebound in the late 1970s through the mid-‘80s that should make most of the ‘60s better know rock stars envious. During those years he produced dark if sometimes demonic rock that was as compelling in its way as his recordings with the Elevators. Sadly, You’re Gonna Miss Me can’t help but document the ways in which his art was often eclipsed by the tragedy of his life.

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