4 January 2012
91 minutes, 2007
As lead singer-songwriter for the "13th Floor Elevators" in the 1960s, "Roky Erickson" was a pioneer of Psychedelic Rock whose incendiary vocals and buzzsaw guitars helped launch the do-it-yourself punk explosion of the following decade.
Such compositions as 1966's "You're Gonna Miss Me" - Erickson's only hit single -- put the "Psychedelic" in "Psychedelic Rock", but that was nothing compared to the psychedelics that he put into himself. His heavy drug use only exacerbated pre-existing mental illness, sending him into a downward spiral chronicled in the gripping 2007 documentary, "You're Gonna Miss Me : A Film About Roky Erickson".
A confluence of forces left Roger Kynard "Roky" Erickson damaged goods. The eldest of five sons raised in Austin Texas, he grew up in a bona fide dysfunctional household. The documentary captures Roky's father as a hard-drinking enigma and his mother, "Evelyn Erickson", as an eccentric packrat who makes home movies and writes her autobiography on large posterboards plastered around her home.
Childlike and open to new experiences, "Roky Erickson" spent his brief stint with the "13th Floor Elevators" gorging himself on a steady diet of LSD, heroin and marijuana. Law enforcement took notice and, in 1969, Texas authorities busted Erickson for possession of a single joint.
Already diagnosed as schizophrenic, he avoided a prison sentence by pleading insanity and eventually wound up alongside hardened murderers and rapists in Texas' Rusk State Hospital for the criminally insane. It was a hellish time. For more than three years, doctors subjected Erickson to electroshock therapy and Thorazine treatment.
Erickson left the facility in 1972, but nothing would ever be the same. He still cranked out intriguing music, this time with a backup band called the Aliens. His lyrical interests involved B-grade monster movies and nightmarish visions, but in such songs as "Red Temple Prayer (Two-Headed Dog)", "Creature with the Atom Brain" and "If You Have Ghosts", it was difficult to tell where irony ended and a diseased mind began. By 1982, Erickson had signed a legal affidavit in which he claimed to be from outer space.
"You're Gonna Miss Me" movie is an unflinching work. It's sobering to see black and white footage of Erickson and the "13th Floor Elevators" performing on Dick Clark's American Bandstand in 1966, and try squaring that with the zoned-out mess who dominates the movie. Decades of mental illness and maltreatment took their toll. "Roky Erickson" sits perfectly still in his junkyard of an apartment, wearing sunglasses and falling asleep to the deafening white noise of several televisions, radios and other electronics.
While "Roky Erickson" is the main subject, filmmaker "Keven McAlester" echoes such documentaries as Crumb and Capturing the Friedmans by widening his scope to encompass the whole gloriously weird Erickson clan.
At odds over Roky's well-being are mother Evelyn and Roky's youngest brother, Sumner, a tuba player in the Pittsburgh symphony orchestra. Throughout the 1980s and '90s, Evelyn is Roky's primary caregiver, but the woman is ill-equipped for the responsibility. Skeptical of psychiatry, she declines to give Roky any medication, insisting that his schizophrenia can be treated through Yoga. While Sumner Erickson doesn't exactly come off as the rock of normalcy, he gets long-overdue mental health and medical treatment for his older brother.
In the end, "You're Gonna Miss Me" is an arresting look at a one-of-a-kind recording artist whose mental illness kept him from achieving greatness.