How moved you are by Roky Erickson depends how far up or down you are on the evolutionary tree. Tears can fall in the most unlikely moments, and for any number of reasons. His caterwauling 4-octave Texan shriek made teen dramas out of the 13th Floor Elevators’ extravagant cosmic notions. Roky was the mouthpiece of those psychedelic pioneers, with all the implications of what a mouthpiece is – as in Tommy Hall’s putting words into his mouth, being fed too much acid, biting off more than you can chew. But Roky was the local teen heartthrob boy wonder, and at 18 already in possession of a successful career. He’d written ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’ (“at 13 or sumthin like that”) and taken the vocal style of local hero Buddy Holly, turning it into an even more caffeinated helium mission. What this son of an arty musical family was not to know was that his poetry – later to be shown in print as a veritable cosmic stew of near-religious declarations – would be, throughout the Elevators’ songs, mostly overwritten by a Gurdjieffian hyperventilator almost a decade his senior. That Roky was struggling, by the recording of the first Elevators’ album, even to score a day-pass out of Rusk mental institution is just about the most unrighteous metaphor for a mostly righteous career.
For someone who was mentally fragile in any case, what Roky has endured makes him saintly. Not a martyr, but passion bearer. He did not gorge himself, he was fed – put through these things – a victim of his birthplace, of his family, and of the lofty nature of his band leader. What a role to undertake, what a cross to bear. Who of us upon trying such things would not themselves have turned into a headcase? The story of the Elevators is as on the edge as rock’n’roll stories can get. Up against it in a way no one else was, they virtually erase every other rock’n’roll tale.
Happy Birthday, Roky Erickson – how we love you, here at the SydArthur Festival!
Let’s ring in this important lunar day by listening to the remarkable ‘Creature with the Atom Brain’, from Roky’s one-time comeback album THE EVIL ONE. Crack open your own melted plastic brain and mourn and swoon along to Roswell Roky in full Stardust Cowboy mode. “Creature with the atom brain, why is he acting so strange?” Brought up religious and watching too many horror movies as a child, poor Roky fell into a Jungian underworld soup not of his own making. Unlike our own dear Syd Barrett, Roky rose irregularly out of the swamps to bring forth new myths, new fears, new neuroses for this Industrial Age. But hey, when the all-pervasive Christian church destroys your every last temple, divinity and tradition, what’s left but to start all over again? Witchfinder Roky got medieval on our arse…still scared of things we climbed out of long ago. But doesn’t that fear sound good?