TONIGHT: I Walked With A Zombie

ROCK SNOB ENCYCLOPEDIA: ERICKSON, ROKY: ’60s psych/garage-rock pioneer, demon-crazed ’70s solo artist, acid casualty, drug-war martyr, patron saint of alt-rock’s fringe dwellers. In 1968, Erickson, then singer for Texas’ psychedelic avatars the 13th Floor Elevators, was busted for possession of a small quantity of marijuana and offered a choice: 10 years in prison or a stretch at Rusk State Psychiatric Hospital. He opted for the padded cell.

Already half-fried from Herculean doses of psychedelics, Erickson was subjected to a cruel regimen of “experimental” drugs and electro-shock therapy and was released three years later a diagnosed schizophrenic. Telegraphing the horror within, Erickson released a series of protopunk solo records in the ’70s and early-’80s riddled with references to zombies, vampires, aliens and the devil himself.

His profile was raised further by the 1990 tribute album Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye, which featured REM, ZZ Top, the Jesus and Mary Chain and the Butthole Surfers. After getting arrested again — for stealing his neighbor’s mail and using it as wallpaper — Erickson was taken under the wing of the Butthole’s drummer, King Koffey, who got him back into the studio for 1995’s quite lovely All That May Do My Rhyme.

In 1999, Touch and Go released Never Say Goodbye, a recording of Erickson alone with his acoustic guitar during his stay at Rusk. Minus the acid polemics of his tenure with the Elevators and the demons that haunt his solo career, Never Say Goodbye reveals a gifted, broken soul searching for peace, love and understanding–and really, there’s nothing funny or crazy about that.

Like fellow Texan Buddy Holly, Erickson delivers heart-tugging snatches of melody in the hiccup of his reedy voice and the plaintive strum of his guitar, mapping what Leonard Cohen calls the crack at the center of everything where the light gets in. The intent of this release was to make these previously unheard songs available to other performers, with all proceeds going to Erickson’s trust fund. The hope was that somebody would pick them up and carry them to the exalted places they hint at, a trip that Erickson is/was no longer willing or able to undertake.

In 2005, Palm Pictures released You’re Gonna Miss Me, a must-see documentary that maps the tragic arc of Roky’s life. By the end of the film, it appears that Roky has reclaimed a foothold on his mental health. In April of this year, Roky released his first album of new material in 14 years, a collaboration with the Austin band Okkervil River called “True Love Cast Out All Evil.” — JONATHAN VALANIA MORE



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