You’re Gonna Miss Me

May 23, 2009 at 6:18 pm (Uncategorized)

Salvador Dali once reported said, ‘The only difference between me and a madman is that I am not mad. The relationship between madness and creativity is a complex and long debated one. Just read Foucault’s book Madness and Civilization with his discussion of the historical evolution of the idea of madness, the concept of the Holy Fool and the Ship of Fools. (and to cite a contemporary pop culture example, in Arkham Asylum: A very Serious House , the Joker observes that Batman belongs in the asylum with them).

In pop music too. Syd Barrett is only the most famous pop musician to suffer from mental illness. It’s a relationship which is often glamourized, but as Butthole Surfers front man Gibby Haynes points out in the Keven McAlester’s documentary You’re Gonna Miss me about Roky Erickson, it’s a bitch to be mentally ill.

Roky Erickson was born   Roger Kinnard Erickson on July 15, 1947. His first band was the Spades, but Erickson’s initial fame dates to the 13thFloor Elevators which he formed in 1965 along with Tommy Hall. The Elevators were arguably the world’s first psychedelic rock band.

But as great as the Elevators were (and the recent issuing of a ten CD box set confirms that), their drug consumption was even greater. To make matters worse, Erickson began to show signs of mental illness. Following an arrest for drug possession, Erickson pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and was eventually sent to the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally insane.

After his release, Erickson’snext three decades were a harrowing tale of squandered talent, mental illness and living condition. Despite recording some incredible records (the mid-70s work with Doug Sahm for example), Erickson was involved in an  increasingly bizarre series of incidents. He was arrested for mail theft after he collected mail from a neighbour who had moved, and pasted it to his wall. Erickson also had a declaration authorized in front of a judge indicating he was an alien.

McAlester’s film documents all of this, but focuses on Erickson’s brother’s attempt to gain guardianship of him from his mother. Erickson’s mother at one point, criticizes psychiatry one the basis of the lack of spirituality shown by the two brothers in the TV show Frazier.

Summer Erickson is successful, and Roky does improve. In a somewhat odd extra at the end of the film, Summer helps Roky to gain his own independence, but also professes a belief that there is no such thing as mental illness, essentially the position that their mother endorsed.

For anyone who is a fan of the 13th Floor Elevators or Roky Erickson, McAlester’s film is well worth watching. There is some amazing rare footage, and candid performances. But, it’s also a fairly harrowing tale of a giant talent largely unrecognized.

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