The strange tale of Roky Erickson’s life is one that’s, by turns, bewitching, bewildering and downright depressing.
A high school dropout from Austin, Texas, Erickson hooked up in 1965 with hallucinogenic evangelist Tommy Hall and formed the Thirteenth Floor Elevators. Arguably the first band to claim the psychedelic mantle, their debut album was, and remains, an utter revelation, featuring Hall’s disorientating, wobbling electric jug sounds and the unhinged, feral howl of Erickson. And it just happened to feature the propulsive, relentless fury of “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” which still remains one of the greatest album openers ever.
Indeed, if this had been the only thing Erickson had ever done, he’d still be assured pop-culture immortality. Unfortunately, he tends to be remembered largely for his role as the first big casualty of the acid era. Facing serious jail time for pot possession in 1969, Erickson pleaded insanity, thus consigning himself to three years in a secure mental-health unit, repeated sessions of forced electroconvulsive therapy and Thorazine treatments. This only served to shatter an already fragile psyche. The decades following his release were by no means unproductive—he recorded albums of wigged-out garage rock revolving around his love of ‘50s schlock horror and sci-fi, and his legend began to grow as he became name-checked by the likes of REM and Primal Scream.
As the cult of Erickson widened, the man himself was hurtling rapidly downhill, but in the last decade, his life has turned around dramatically, thanks largely to his younger brother, who became his legal guardian in 2001. He’s received medical help, won back decades worth of unpaid royalties and, by all accounts, seems healthy, happy and reasonably stable. He’s recorded new material with the likes of Mogwai and Okkerville River, and is back touring. His voice remains an undiminished bellow from beyond. And frankly, the world’s a better place just having him around. (Neil Ferguson)
Mon., Nov. 5, 8pm. $25. With Nude Beach + Hounds of Baskerville. Union Transfer, 1026 Spring Garden St. 215.232.2100. utphilly.com