Documentary about rock pioneer Roky Erickson, detailing his rise as a psychedelic hero, his lengthy institutionalization, his descent into poverty and filth, and his brother's struggle with their religious mother to improve Roky's care.
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Outside Austin, Texas, a 53-year-old man sits in an apartment with four radios, three televisions, two amps, a radio scanner, and an electric piano playing. At the same time. Loudly. He has three teeth, his hair is matted into one huge dreadlock, and he has a notarized document on his wall declaring himself an alien, "so whoever's putting shocks to my head will stop." Thirty years earlier, Roger Kynard "Roky" Erickson was a rock-and-roll icon: A manic singer who was Janis Joplin's primary influence, he fronted a band called the 13th Floor Elevators, considered by many to be the creators of psychedelic music. After a 1969 marijuana arrest, Erickson entered an insanity plea and was sent to the Rusk State Hospital, a medieval institution deep in the east Texas pineforests. He remained there for three years with the state's most violent mentally ill offenders, then reemerged a changed man: He sang about ghouls, zombies, and Satan, christened himself "the evil one," and declared himself an...Written by
Mother, (Electric) Jugs and Speed...I'm Mean...Acid
It has the hallmarks of myth, a touch of Oedipus...a younger brother rescuing his older sibling from his mother... There's craziness, but whether its inherited, or ingested or otherwise invoked, it's hard to tell.
The film is vexingly perplexing, so though I was captivated while watching it, upon reflection it feels a little bit like an ambulance gawk. Contrasting the free recklessness of Roky's Elevator youth with his tentative steps at the end of the film is dizzying. He just seems like a husk of a man through most of the movie.
The image of him turning on all sorts of noise generators in his cramped apartment to help soothe him to sleep. Fascinating.
So I'm glad to read reports here and elsewhere that Roky is if not back, more on track. But I regard them with some suspicion, he's addled innocence seems to invite Svengalis. Footage from the mother's film archives was oddly awesome in a raw, and real outsider...yet creative way. The absent father gets a little screen time, yet a pretty strong indictment in passing. The brother seems caught between a lot of magnetic poles, his own crises rise up...he bites off more than he can chew with Roky...and then as an afterthought we find out he lives next door to said absent father?!?!
Weird is the word...
And I've left out the channeling therapist (you got to walk before you can rock?) and the once-upon-a-time defenders of electroshock and that track suit guy who celebrates with Sumner at the end.
At the end, like any family suffering, I wish them the best, at least some form of solace. And I wonder if Roky ever sort of misses Roky?
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