Hey all, we just posted part I of a four-part video of me traveling around Austin with Roky Erickson, going to different places that were significant in his history. Part 1 is up now at http://bit.ly/bIJMeC
Here are some notes I wrote for Part I.
In January of this year –with work on True Love Cast Out All Evil winding down as I made a few last tweaks to the master and went over the final details of the album artwork – I went over to Roky Erickson’s house to take him on a local excursion. We were going to visit some forgotten landmarks of Austin’s psychedelic scene in the mid-60s, a time when LSD was still legal (and reputedly being tested at the University), when Austin’s college-town backwater version of a coffeehouse folk scene was being slowly and peaceably overthrown by art students, bar denizens, self-styled psychedelic intellectuals, and other hyped-up kids who just wanted to rock. Roky’s band the 13th Floor Elevators were the kings of this scene, which centered around a handful of odd dives – coverted Mexican restaurants, BYO bars that lured patrons in with their menus of hard liquor “set-ups,” hangarlike East Austin performance spaces where the band would join forces with guerilla light-show artists and present their version of psychedelic “happenings.” None of these places are in business anymore, but you can still see traces – an office park here, a parking lot there – of these sites where psychedelic was arguably born. They are almost entirely forgotten now, Roky hasn’t revisited any of these places in decades.
At the start of the day, I met Roky’s son Jegar outside the Erickson house in South Austin, a neighborhood that’s sort of the town’s last hippie stronghold and where Roky has lived all his life since moving from Dallas when he was a toddler.
Jegar was born in the mid-70s – around the time Roky was doing all his “horror-rock” stuff – but Roky drifted out of his orbit after his parents got divorced, and Jegar didn’t see or know his father for decades – until he became a central figure in Roky’s miraculous recovery some years back. Now Dana and Roky live together in the first house Roky has ever owned, and Jegar is his tour manager.
In this first video, we go to meet Roky and say hi to him at his house. He’s playing the organ when we show up. Jegar points out the weird severed-hand doorknocker on the couple’s front door – their house is filled with these kinds of eccentric and charming horror knickknacks, and that – coupled with its layout – makes it feel like a cozy halfway point between the Brady Bunch and the Addams Family. Roky is very comfortable here, and often says his house feels like a church to him.
Roky had been to an awards ceremony the night before, but he seemed kind of nonplussed by the award and how perfunctory the ceremony had been when I asked him about it. I’d ordered a town car to come pick him up and, as we sat there waiting, Roky paged through biographer Paul Drummond’s excellent Eye Mind, an account of the 13th Floor Elevators, their artistic triumphs, and their epic misadventures. I asked him about the photo I decided to use for the back of True Love Cast Out All Evil and which was briefly in consideration for the front cover – a yellowed old newspaper clipping of Roky as a young boy, cast in the role of the Mad Hatter for a children’s production of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at the Austin Civic Theater, with the march hare and the white rabbit leaning cozily against each other as if sharing the same peaceful, drugged trance. Roky didn’t remember many lines from the play, and mainly only recalled pouring the young Alice from a gigantic tea cup.
Roky’s mother Evelyn – a very creative woman in her own right – pushed Roky into the arts at a very early age, encouraging him to act as well as to learn piano, guitar, and violin. A classically-trained vocalist, she gave Roky the lessons in classical technique that would be his secret weapon in the Elevators. When Roky heard rock and roll for the first time, he forgot all about Evelyn’s beloved opera and began writing rock tunes. In Eye Mind, we looked at a picture of him playing his first electric guitar at age 15, the same year he wrote “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” his most famous song.
Near the end of this video, there is a very telling moment where Roky gives us a brief glimpse of one of the secrets that’s helped him rise above his many trials and misfortunes. Roky flips randomly to a passage in Eye Mind that coincidentally happens to be discussing a legal battle over his custody and a life-threatening dental abscess he had developed while denied medication, reads aloud for a second, and then, with a twinkle in his eye, turns to me and smilingly says “Whew! Let’s get out of that place fast!” Roky is often perceived by the public as fragile, but I think that in this moment you can see a good deal of the mental and emotional strength and resiliency that enabled him to put so much distance between his spirit and the bad places he’s been. Suffering and trauma are acknowledged, and then locked away and not lingered over. This moment in the video reminded me of the many moments I experienced while recording the vocals for True Love Cast Out All Evil, when Roky would give a heartbreaking, emotional vocal performance and then once the tape stopped rolling the storm would pass over instantly and he’d start cheerfully joking around.
"TRUE LOVE CAST OUT ALL EVIL:" http://www.truelovecastoutallevil.portm ... s/home.php
"EYE MIND:" http://www.amazon.com/Eye-Mind-Erickson ... 515&sr=8-1