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Archive: The elevator doesn't stop here anymore. Music legend Roky Erickson, godfather of the psychedelic sound, survived the '60s. Sort of.

By Click Track

roky ericksonRoky Erickson, seen here in May 1991, performs at the Black Cat on Friday. (Photos by Lisa Davis/Washington Post archive)

On Friday night psychedelic rock icon Roky Erickson plays at the Black Cat in support of "True Love Cast Out All Evil," his first collection of original material in 14 years. We figured it would be a perfect opportunity to bust out the definitive profile of the 13th Floor Elevators great, written by our very own Rich Leiby. It ran in the Washington Post on June 23, 1991 and now you can read it in all of its 5,332 word glory. And believe us, you will want to.

By Richard Leiby

DEL VALLE, TEX. -- Ten miles out of Austin down Highway 71, in a one-bedroom apartment subsidized by the government, you can visit a rock-and-roll genius, a musician whose talents are ranked with such legends as Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin. He's been called the most influential singer, songwriter and guitarist to emerge from Texas since Buddy Holly.

Wade through the knee-high grass and pull open the battered screen door. A cacophony swells from within the apartment, a din of many different songs and broadcasts, the output of a dozen radios, stereos and TV sets competing at great volume. Knock loudly.

As you beat on the door, you are startled to recognize the strains of one song emerging from the racket above all the others. Sing, sing a song. Make it simple to last your whole life long ...

The insipid song was so overplayed in the '70s that your mind automatically harmonizes with the next lyric even before you remember the song's title, or the name of the group that sang it. Sing of good things, not bad. Sing of happy, not sad ...

The man whose vocal style and songwriting birthed '60s acid rock, helped spawn '70s punk and inspired the most important progressive bands of the '80s -- a man whose musical progeny stretches from ZZ Top to R.E.M. -- is listening full blast to ... the Carpenters.

You pound furiously on the door, then rap at the window, call his name. It's 5:40 p.m., dinnertime. The genius does not stir.

Finally, he appears -- large and lumbering, half-naked, more hair and beard than face. His eyes rove and pinwheel as he shouts apologies over the roar.

He'd been asleep.

Every doubt that bounds me

Every sound of riot

Everything is quiet

But the song that keeps me sane

-- "I Had to Tell You," by Roky Erickson and Clementine Hall, 1967

Morrison, Hendrix, Joplin. All certifiably dead, but bringing in more money now than ever, as the '60s generation repackages and retails its heroes to new customers. Today's customers wear groovy headbands and tie-dyed T-shirts advertising upmarket ice cream ("Cherry Garcia: What a long, strange dip it's been"); they dance to a recycled form of psychedelic music called acid house; they even dabble in the old mind-bending drugs.

They've never heard of Roky Erickson. He didn't die with the '60s, but he didn't survive them either. He is certifiably insane, his condition diagnosed as schizophrenia with drug-induced brain damage. The electrified, iconoclastic musical form he created with a band called the 13th Floor Elevators inspired not imitators but apostles. But by 1969, after hundreds of acid trips and a couple of marijuana busts, Erickson ended up in a Texas hospital for the "criminally insane." He underwent three years of treatment, then later swore out an affidavit proclaiming himself a Martian.

Today he is a pauper, 44 years old and living on a $200 monthly Social Security disability check and the kindness of friends. Though Erickson made brilliant, critically acclaimed records into the mid-'80s, and his music still sells, especially in Europe, he earns virtually nothing from it. The albums recorded by the 13th Floor Elevators have been reissued on CD as poor-quality, overpriced imports, but Erickson signed away his song rights decades ago.

"He has pretty much been ripped off blind over the years," says Peter Buck, guitarist for R.E.M., one of the nation's top-selling rock bands. "He gave so much."

Buck considers the "The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators," released in early 1966, to be far superior to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" ("almost unlistenable," he says of the 1967 Beatles album generally regarded as the touchstone of psychedelia). Erickson sang and wrote songs that "hold up better than any other music from that period," he says. "They are concise and terrifying in their power."

The music was angry; it was visionary. It pushed folk and blues into a realm where labels no longer applied. It refused to be pop. Buck and many others call Erickson the godfather of the new wave.

"The Elevators sound was uninitiated by outside sources," says Billy Gibbons, guitarist for the veteran Texas boogie band ZZ Top. "There was no combination like this before." ZZ Top, which grossed $29 million touring last year, warms up before each concert with songs from the Elevators' first two albums.

R.E.M. and ZZ Top were among 22 bands that recently put out a tribute album, "Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye," performing cover versions of Erickson's songs. Their hope was to establish a fat trust fund for Erickson, who had begun 1990 in federal custody on a mail theft charge that ultimately was dismissed. (He had been collecting mail addressed to several people, but insisted that it all belonged to him.)

The tribute album stiffed, selling fewer than 40,000 copies. It got no hit-radio airplay and little club exposure. No videos were released. And most problematic: "It's a tribute to an unknown person," says Bill Bentley, the Austin drummer and deejay turned publicist who produced the album for Warner Bros.

A rock album called "Tame Yourself," raising money for animal rights, is far outselling the Roky Erickson tribute.

"What could have been," says Bentley, "is the story of Roky's life."

Friends call him a tragic '60s drug casualty, a victim of greedy management and police harassment, a legend appreciated only by cultish followers, wise critics and other great musicians. But more than that, he is a symbol of how the music business works, of how amazing talent doesn't always equate with commercial success, of how madness informs genius. And destroys it.

I gave you the warning, but you never heeded it.

How can you say you missed my loving, when you never needed it.

You're gonna wake up wondering and find yourself all alone

But what's gonna stop you baby

I'm not coming home

I'm not coming home

I'm not coming home.

-- Roky Erickson, "You're Gonna Miss Me," 1964 (reached No. 56 on the Billboard charts)

And when I touch you I feel happy inside

It's such a feeling that my love I can't hide

I can't hide

I can't hide

Yeah you've got that something, I think you'll understand

When I say that something

I want to hold your hand

I want to hold your hand

I want to hold your hand

-- John Lennon and Paul McCartney, "I Want to Hold Your Hand," 1964 (reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts)

Roky Erickson is dressed now, his wild hair wetted and combed down, and he's ready to go out for dinner, a Wednesday night routine with his friend Tary Owens. Roky (pronounced Rocky) and Tary (pronounced Terry) go way back, to the days when Janis Joplin was gigging in clubs around Austin. This was before she went west to join Big Brother and the Holding Company, before the Doors and the Airplane and the Dead, before the psychedelic rock movement began. This was 1964, when Roky was 17 and had a band that practiced in his mom's living room.

"I never heard anyone with that kind of voice, except for Janis," says Owens, who runs a small record label in Austin. "Roky had an incredible voice and he could sing anything, expand anybody from Buddy Holly to James Brown."

Today Erickson doesn't sing publicly; he hasn't played a concert since 1987. He seems frightened by crowds, by strangers.

You have been told that he does not like to be touched, and he does not extend a hand in greeting. His fingernails are unnervingly overgrown.

He has not turned off, or even turned down, any of the roaring appliances in his apartment; they provide an autistic shell of familiar chaos. A color TV is tuned to the Cable TV Prevue Guide, endlessly scrolling trailers for upcoming movies; two smaller sets display loud, snowy static, hooked up to apparently useless bundles of antenna and wire. One CB-like receiver blares only weather forecasts. Somebody has arrived to mow the grass with a weed-whacker, and the din is now unendurable.

The place is furnished with castoffs and overrun with media junk: The couch holds stacks of unsleeved old 33s; shelves and tables overflow with eight-track tapes and videocassettes, horror movies mainly.

Erickson's voice, high-pitched, almost effeminate, strains and cracks as he shouts to be heard. He is saying something about wanting barbecue.

He agrees to be interviewed in the car. The radio must be on. The window must be down a certain way. He chain-smokes generic cigarettes.

Erickson has difficulty recollecting the past, or perhaps he prefers not to. Owens, who's compiling tapes of Joplin's unreleased early solo work, reminds him of the times Janis joined the Elevators onstage and did a few numbers:

"Do you remember that concert you all did together, Roky, a benefit here in Austin down on the drag?"

"Hmm, well, you see," Roky stammers from the back seat, "most of those people were kind of bigger than you would think, you know, so that, so I think I know what you're talking about."

"Do you remember if Janis ever came up and sang with you all?"

"Uh, I don't really know. You see, it's like, uh, I don't really want us to think about it."

In fact, Joplin considered joining the Elevators, then the most popular band in Texas, before she got the offer to front Big Brother.

Owens tries an easier line of questioning: What was Roky's favorite song by the Elevators?

"Uh, I don't know. See, they're all kind of like that. See, that's the thing with the Elevators, they would do a record ... and whatever it is about it, I don't know, it would be a little bit, uh, scarier than the other version of some of the things we do, you know what I mean, the stuff that ..." He doesn't finish the sentence.

"Scarier versions?" Owens prompts.

Erickson: "Uh-huh. Scary is the thing to be talking about. It's all right, but you just kind of don't want something there that's doing that, you know? I could tell you about that, you know what I mean, but it's just something, it's just something ..." He trails off.

We find a barbecue place, but Roky is too nervous to stay and eat. He paces while we order takeout.

At Owens's house, Roky insists on watching TV while dining. A ZZ Top video comes on VH1. There's Billy Gibbons, magnificently bearded and sawing away at "Legs."

Roky wants to change the channel: "It's too weird for us," he says.

He wants to watch the Cable TV Prevue Guide.

roky erickson

The Punk Prototype

"Recently, it has been possible for man to chemically alter his mental state and thus alter his point of view ... so that his thoughts bear more relation to his life and his problems, therefore approaching them more sanely.

"It is this quest for pure sanity that forms the basis of the songs on this album."

-- liner notes to "The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators," 1966

The son of an architect and an amateur opera singer, Roky Erickson showed a gift for music by the age of 2. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer {by Gene Autry} came out in about '49, and he learned to sing that," says his mother, Evelyn Kynard Erickson, with wistful pride. "He took piano when he was 5, before he could really read."

He learned guitar in 1959, when he was 12. By the early '60s, he had joined a band and was getting in trouble at school for having hair over his ears.

Roky, the eldest of five boys, was kicked out of school in his senior year because of his hair. But by then, it was clear his talent would take him further than a sheepskin from Travis High School. He'd come up with a stage name (Roky blended the first letters of his given name, Roger Kynard Erickson). He'd recorded a 45, "You're Gonna Miss Me," a rave-up rock number that showed off his vocal wail and angry attitude.

It was a prototypical punk record -- one that would later become a garage-rock standard influencing alternative bands like Television in America, Radio Birdman in Australia and the Jesus & Mary Chain in England. ("It was like 'Louie, Louie' sideways," says R.E.M's Peter Buck. Says Texas music historian Casey Monahan: "'You're Gonna Miss Me' is just as important as {Buddy Holly's} 'Peggy Sue.' ")

Tary Owens, an anthropology student at the University of Texas at Austin, had heard Erickson playing around town, and wanted to introduce him to his friend Tommy Hall, an aspiring songwriter. Hall, 23, a chemical engineering student, dressed like a beatnik, dabbled in philosophy and religion. And peyote.

The band that brought together Hall, a sweet-faced young Erickson, and three other musicians was named for a place in the mind. "There's not a 13th floor in a building, so we said, 'We're playing on it,' " Erickson once told an interviewer. "It was like if you want to get to the 13th floor, ride our elevator."

Tommy Hall had no musical experience, but he had something else the band found essential: LSD, the new drug that was thought to unharness artistic creativity. He could score pure "Owsley," the Dom Perignon of acid.

He and his wife Clementine wrote lyrics, and Tommy played an amplified jug, the tone of which supposedly varied according to the amount of marijuana stashed inside. The jug imparted a trippy and sometimes annoying quality to the songs, but the real excitement was in Erickson's maniacal delivery of the lyrics, the wrenching volume and electricity of live performances.

"The first Elevators album revealed something far deeper than a frantic version of rock-and-roll," says ZZ Top's Gibbons. "Here we had some intellectual sensibilities that suggested some real serious thinking. That it came out of this little Texas town was truly amazing." Gibbons, then with Houston's the Moving Sidewalks, wrote a homage to the Elevators, a psychedelic song titled "99th Floor," which helped launch his career in 1967.

Lelan Rogers, brother of the singer Kenny Rogers, was with A&M Records in California when somebody played him a copy of the Elevators' first single, a remake of Erickson's "You're Gonna Miss Me." Rogers decided to move back to Houston and join the fledgling International Artists label to produce the Elevators' first LP.

"Psychedelic Sounds" sold 140,000 copies, a major achievement for a minor label. Other singles were released, but by 1967, when they recorded the follow-up "Easter Everywhere," the Elevators were already disintegrating. They'd been busted once for marijuana possession but got probation. Now police lay in wait when the Elevators arrived in town, dismantling the group's amplifiers and their van.

"It was sort of like being in Jesse James's gang," remembers Danny Galindo, who joined the Elevators as bass player in 1967. "We had the cops after us wherever we went."

Paranoia took its toll, as did the acid. Erickson and some other members of the Elevators took LSD daily, a regimen that might have unnerved Timothy Leary. To Roky Erickson, the drug was a tool. He made that clear in interviews, and he made that clear in his songs.

Tripping, Erickson once explained, is "so beautiful because it's an art. It's like being an artist."

A mad artist. It got so bad that Erickson couldn't remember the words to Hall's songs. Once, concert promoters were frantic when Erickson and Hall were late for a performance; they found them outside in line, stoned, waiting to buy tickets to the show.

"I didn't produce them, I baby-sat them," Lelan Rogers says of the group.

Radio stations weren't eager to give airplay to a band that endorsed drugs, however good the music. Some fans blame Rogers for not promoting the band harder, but he says, "They did not want to be commericialized at all. They did not care if anyone liked them." Jimi Hendrix's manager wanted the Elevators to join the guitarist's tour in New York and Europe, but the band wanted "to stay in Texas and stay stoned," according to Rogers.

International Artists paid each band member $50 to $100 a week, funded their tours and bought studio time. But the company retained royalties from all record sales. Rogers, who's back in California and retired, bought the International Artists label in 1979. The company, he said, never recouped the money it advanced on the Elevators and other acts. "Business is business," he says. "When I get my money out of the deal, Roky, Tommy and the rest will get theirs," he says.

roky ericksonRoky Erickson in 2010, with backing band Okkervil River. (Todd Wolfson)

A Walk With a Zombie

When he was busted for a single joint in 1968, Erickson pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, claiming he'd been hearing voices. He was deemed "floridly psychotic" by doctors who testified at his trial.

Erickson once told an interviewer that the insanity claim was a ruse to avoid a long prison term under Texas's draconian drug laws: "I was such a good actor, man, I had them all fooled, sayin' there were spots runnin' up and down the walls, beasts with big fangs everywhere" -- but the doctors at the Rusk Hospital for the Criminally Insane, who mainly treated killers and violent criminals, diagnosed him as schizophrenic. Their treatment consisted of doses of Thorazine and other mood-stabilizing drugs. He was released after three years, with a warning to stay away from illegal drugs.

He was 24, and considered mentally disabled enough to qualify for a modest Social Security payment and subsidized housing.

By 1973 he was performing again. He wrote intensely moving ballads, as well as odd, nightmarish tunes. His experiences at Rusk supposedly are memorialized in a mid-'70s song, "I Walked With a Zombie," which consists of that one line, sung over and over to a twangy, insistent beat. It's about a fellow Rusk patient medicated with Thorazine, a drug that creates a distinctive shuffling gait in its users, Erickson's mother says.

During the '70s, Erickson's productivity depended largely on whether he stayed away from illegal drugs and stayed on prescribed ones. He got married, toured, and released records on small labels. (Both that marriage and one during the '80s ended in divorce. Erickson has three children, two girls and a boy, who live with their mothers.)

No matter how bizarre his ramblings, the rock press grew excited that Erickson was recording again. In 1977, Rolling Stone declared two new releases to be just what the moribund rock world needed. The singles were the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen" and Erickson's "Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog)."

"Major labels, take note: sign this guy or I will become disillusioned with popular music," Rolling Stone's Charles M. Young wrote of Roky Erickson.

Erickson's single is a thunderous rant about demented Pavlovian scientists grafting heads onto live dogs: "Two headed dog, two headed dog/ I'd be working in the Kremlin with a two headed dog." It sold a few hundred copies. The Sex Pistols' song, a thunderous rant against the oppressive English monarchy ("God Save the Queen/ She ain't no human being") came from an album that eventually sold more than a million. Today the Sex Pistols are generally credited with launching the punk rock movement.

roky erickson

The Fame & the Blame

"Q: Have you ever noticed how other bands have copied the style of The 13th Floor Elevators? As an example, the background vocals of 'Gimme Shelter' and the lyrics of 'Monkey Man' by the Rolling Stones seem to have elements which are styled after The 13th Floor Elevators' 'Reverberation (Doubt)' and 'Monkey Island.' "

"A: It's like this: Communism writes the songs."

-- Erickson in a 1985 interview with the music magazine Blitz

Some fans blame unscrupulous, inept management for denying Roky Erickson the fame and money he deserves. Some say the managers, like the public, never understood him. Perhaps Erickson's talent could have been better guided -- all artistic geniuses need incessant attention to save them from potential self-destruction. Others blame Tommy Hall, who supposedly manipulated the young Roky with drugs, tried to make him some sort of acolyte of acid. (Hall, living in San Francisco, told producer Bill Bentley that he still drops acid weekly as part of his work as a "philosopher." Bentley says that when he visited Hall recently in a flophouse, to conduct an interview, Hall answered the door with the greeting: "I assume you are from the Japanese government.")

Evelyn Erickson believes several factors led her son to mental ruin. Drugs, Tommy Hall, psychiatrists, the record company. Somewhat of a seeker herself, a psychology student before she got married, she understands the attraction of different paths and religions, even why people would try psychedelics. But she hates what drugs have done to her son. "Roky is a very spiritual person. He didn't need LSD to make him spiritual. Your mind is a precious thing to play around with like that. The mind is so weird anyway; it can lead you in all kinds of" -- she pauses -- "wrong ways."

Evelyn, 67, speaks in nearly a whisper and at times seems close to tears when she talks about how Roky has suffered. She lives in the house where Roky and his brothers all grew up, in a well-kept, tree-lined Austin neighborhood where everyone gossiped about the trouble at the Ericksons'. She is proud of her son's artistry, keeps all the scrapbooks and his old instruments, and points out that she taught him and her other sons how to play the guitar. All of them are musically gifted, she says.

"Roky," she says, "is the one who suffered the most."

Yes, the other older boys also have had their troubles. Evelyn Erickson bears a weariness from living from crisis to crisis: Drugs, alcohol, divorce, perpetual adolescence. "You can handle one crisis, like a broken leg, you can get through that because you know it's going to be over with. This has kind of been an ongoing crisis for 20-odd years."

There was the time Roky borrowed her nearly brand-new '64 Impala convertible -- "when you're 40 you should have a convertible," she says -- and burned the motor out. "He drove it to Houston without any oil or something. It was a beautiful car." Now, here he is, 44, and he can't take care of himself, can't be trusted to take a bath or comb his hair for an important interview with a big newspaper that might help sell an album or two, or remember to wear the new blue blazer she bought him just for the occasion. She hopes, at least, that he's cleaned his apartment.

Her own home is falling apart. She was divorced from her architect husband in 1979 and doesn't have the money to keep things repaired. He built the concrete and brick house with many custom features, including a vast sliding glass door that opens to a patio and pool. Now the pool is filled with muck and an old tire, rats have chewed up a guitar case on the patio, the patio doors are broken, and rain is leaking through the ceiling, threatening to ruin her artwork.

Evelyn paints murals of her five children on the walls, loose figures in bright orange, blue, green and yellow. And she paints angels on her ceiling. "I've been trying to put angels in each corner of the room," she explains, "but I can't depend on my ceiling." Buckets on the floor collect the water.

"You can't really draw on the ceiling anymore. You can't be a Michelangelo."

The main angel, drawn above the living room where Roky's first group used to practice, was inspired by a sketch given to him by an artist he met in the mental hospital. Evelyn is a devout Christian, and says, "Everyone's home is like their own little church where good things can happen."

She points out the brick fireplace, which is festooned with Christmas lights in May, and a placard bearing the words "FLOWER CHILDREN."

"My next idea is to have a wall for the flower children, like the Vietnam veterans' wall -- get a wall built for them. I think that's deserving because they've been hurt; a lot of them have been killed, and a lot of them are rejected and scorned. There's a lot of healing that needs to go on."

Healing. Some friends think Roky Erickson might get better, might be able to write music again, and wouldn't do things like taking people's mail, if he were put back on psychiatric drugs. Evelyn, who has power of attorney for Roky, says she doesn't want him on any drugs. "All drugs have to be processed through the kidneys and can cause damage," she says. She notes that Prozac has been blamed for occasionally causing suicides and murders. She has a file on Prozac, and files on many major issues of the day. Newspaper clippings are piled everywhere.

"If you're an artist you're just messy," she apologizes.

roky ericksonErickson flanked by Tary Owens and his mother, Evelyn. (Lisa Davis/Washington Post archive)

A Childhood Loss

Sumner Erickson was 6 when his oldest brother went into the asylum. "Roky was always very kind to me, a great friend to me, but once he got out he was a changed person. It was hard to relate to him. That was a great loss to me in my childhood.

"His tragedy wasn't a singular tragedy. It affected the whole family."

Sumner is the Erickson boy who's really made it, the one who escaped.

He studies Zen philosophy and other holistic healing techniques. "It's a way to find harmony, peace and balance. In the '60s they were using chemicals to arrive at that state. Now science shows that, in the end, it can destroy genius."

Sumner, 29, is also a musician, also a prodigy. When he was 18, he was selected by Andre Previn to join the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

His choice of instrument kept him as far away as possible from the excesses of pop culture.

He's still with the symphony. He plays the tuba.

Schizophrenia

Broken heart

Broken dreams

Broken mind ...

-- From a poem by Evelyn Erickson

Evelyn Erickson submitted her poem, along with Roky's book of poetry, to the federal judge overseeing the mail theft case against her son in January 1990. The judge sent them back with an admonition not to attempt to contact him again.

She was just trying to help Roky, then awaiting trial. Later, a doctor examined him and concluded he had absolutely no comprehension of the legal system. By the summer of 1990, the charge against him was dropped.

Erickson has become increasingly withdrawn. At the Austin Music Awards this past March, he was supposed to take the stage with the Texas Tornadoes and sing "You're Gonna Miss Me." He came onstage to thunderous applause, became frightened and shambled away without singing a note.

Today, Erickson sometimes barely recognizes old friends. We stop at a video store managed by Charlie Prichard, a guitarist who once played in the Austin scene. Erickson hardly acknowledges Prichard, buries himself in the horror movie stacks. Prichard lets Roky borrow videos for free.

Roky selects "The Fog," "Curse of the Demon" and a vintage Godzilla flick. He has seen these movies dozens of times. For him, there is some unknowable nexus between music and terror.

Scarier versions ... scary is the thing to be talking about ...

We go to a record store, to seek out early Elevators albums. Roky hates this. He won't look at albums. He paces the aisles, as if waiting for the ordeal to end. He has no interest in whether they carry his music, and so he doesn't know that an original pressing of "Psychedelic Sounds of The 13th Floor Elevators" sells for $30, and that a French CD compilation of his solo work sells for $20. It's money he'll never see. That was why the tribute album was made -- to feed a trust fund administered by Tary Owens, for Erickson's care.

Tary and Evelyn Erickson have advised Roky to give this interview to The Washington Post because it might help boost the flat sales of the tribute album. Roky has apparently misunderstood. He thinks The Post is going to pay him directly.

"No, Roky," Tary patiently explains, "you don't get any money from the newspaper thing. But people read the newspaper and get interested and buy the record, and then you make some money that way."

"Yeah?" Roky asks, still bewildered.

If you fear I'll lose my spirit

Like a drunkard's wasted wine

Don't you even think about it

I'm feeling fine.

-- "I Had to Tell You," by Roky Erickson and Clementine Hall, 1967.

In addition to his music business, Tary Owens works full time as a drug outreach counselor, helping addicts avoid the AIDS virus. "The best way to prevent HIV is to be clean and sober," he tells them while handing out condoms, and bleach for their needles. He's a recovering addict himself, having come out of the '60s hooked on heroin, speed and cocaine. He shot dope into the '80s.

"I'm lucky to be alive," he says. "A lot of my friends aren't. There are a lot of walking wounded; a lot of damage done in the '60s. A lot of us feeling like we were going to change the world and then feeling crushed.

"Roky is a symbol of the innocence of that era. That era brought forth incredibly beautiful and creative music and thought, and along with it a real horrible destruction, and self-destruction."

It was Tary Owens, of course, who first introduced Roky Erickson to Tommy Hall -- so perhaps in a way he blames himself for the drug abuse that pushed his friend into madness. Perhaps that's why he has helped set up the trust fund, why he buys him his food and cigarettes.

But that doesn't explain why so many others want to help Erickson. Maybe it's because they understand that there is a little bit of Roky in many geniuses, that while one would cut off his ear or another blow out his brains, another would choose to relentlessly self-medicate. To reach oblivion. Or is it nirvana?

It's the 13th floor. Where the Carpenters merge with the Sex Pistols, where the radio is always on and you don't have to hear yourself think.

It's past midnight when we bring Roky Erickson home. All the TV sets and radios are still going full blast. Roky is ebullient; he's back to the familiar, having escaped the disorienting demands of the outside world. He's got three horror movies to watch and he's eager to show a visitor the A/V system set up in his bedroom, where two small TVs are hissing white noise.

"This is what I can do with it, but you gotta be real careful," he shouts, fiddling with the dial on one set as if to fine-tune a picture.

There is only snow on the screen. "See that? It picks up anything!"

The snow seems unchanged.

"Isn't that pretty?"

By Click Track  | November 4, 2010; 2:25 PM ET
Categories:  Archive  | Tags:  Roky Erickson  
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Next: Clicky shuffle: Random songs for Friday morning

Comments

Yeah, I remember reading this article when it first ran. Roky & the Elevators were one of those bands whose influence far exceeded their commercial success. "You're Gonna Miss Me", the ultimate proto-punk song, was a staple for my middle school garage band and is still a great cover to pull out now & then.

Posted by: nonsensical2001 | November 4, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

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