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 trippy 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 2006 documentary, You're Gonna Miss Me.
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 kooky home movies and writes her autobiography on large posterboards plastered around her home.
Childlike and open to new experiences, Roky (pronounced "Rocky") 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 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. His influence is espoused upon here by the likes of Patti Smith, ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons and Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, but the documentary stops far short of hagiography. Instead, it is a fascinating examination of a guy whose talent was eclipsed by unfortunate decisions and unfathomable circumstances.
The widescreen picture has occasionally slight grain, particularly in dimly lit scenes, but the quality is overall solid and representative of most documentaries. Aspect ratio is 1.85:1.
Viewers can select Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0. The 5.1 mix is superior, boasting a clear, strong sound with no distortion or drop-out.
There are two postscripts. Three Years Later: Roky Plays Austin City Limits 2006 Music Festival (16:30) spotlights Roky Erickson's first full-fledged concert in two decades. He is introduced onstage by then-gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman. It is a triumphant, hopeful featurette that shows a reasonably lucid Roky.
Alas, that joyful episode is followed by Five Years Later: An Addendum by Sumner Erickson (9:46). Shot in February 2007, it shows that a Texas court has now declared Roky Erickson to be fully competent -- just as he has stopped taking meds and has been introduced by his brother to a self-styled psychologist who insists all mental illness is an illusion. Is another misstep for Roky Erickson awaiting? Let's hope not.
Roky Erickson: Selected Performances is a collection of video clips in which the artist does electric and acoustic versions of his songs. The quality of performance, video and audio varies wildly. The tracks include: "Right Track Now" (1979), "Cold Night for Alligators" (1979), "Please Judge" (1983), "Bloody Hammer" (1984), "Don't Slander Me" (1985), "True Love Cast Out All Evil" (1985), "I Know the Hole in Baby's Head (1986), "Inners Outing In" (1986) and "Starry Eyes" (1996). There is also an Austin Music Network promo shot in 1994.
There are 10 amusing deleted scenes and additional footage that viewers can watch separately or opt for the "play all" option. The aggregate running time is nearly 12 minutes.
Evelyn Erickson: Collected Works brings together three mighty weird homemade videos courtesy Roky's mother: the five-minute, 48-second "The Five Kings: A Fairy Tale (1983), the one-minute, 59-second "The Sex Strike" (1984) and the three-minute, 18-second "EEE Art and Poetry" (1988).
Rounding out the extras are a theatrical trailer, brief pictures of the filmmakers and Palm Pictures previews.
This is required viewing for fans of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators, but you need not be a psychedelic sycophant to appreciate this fascinating, intimate examination of an exceptional talent and troubled mind.