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
Touching catch-up with the man who walked with a zombie....
This documentary tells the story of Roky Erickson, formally the lead singer of 60s' psychedelic rock band "13th Floor Elevators" and the 70s' "Roky Erickson and the Aliens". It quickly establishes a modern day, shambling, overweight Roky. He now stays in a three room apartment, listening to many ear-splitting sounds at once - a TV playing cartoons, a radio playing feedback, an electronic organ playing a test tune, and more. Roky settles into this, pulls down his shades and falls asleep. His mother says: "It's only when I turn them off that he wakes up". YOU'RE GONNA MISS ME explores what's going on in Erickson's head that he so desperately needs to silence.
Erickson did a lot of drugs in the 60s'... before and after 13th Floor Elevators' "You're Gonna Miss Me" was a big hit. LSD, straight acid, weed, the usual suspects. He became known to the local police, and was eventually arrested for having a "matchbox sized" amount of cannabis. His lawyer, wanting to keep Erickson out of prison, pleaded insanity... tentatively calling him schizophrenic. Not a good move. Erickson was shifted off to the nearby insane asylum... one that recently had severe riots. In one incident, the inmates strapped one of the doctors to a table and said "Let's shock him 'til he s***s" in an attempt to recreate what they'd had to endure. As Erickson arrives, few doctors want to practice there and the inmates are the craziest of the crazy. Erickson is there for almost five years, writing music, getting Etc treatments, and eventually forming a band with child molesters, incestual rapists, and family killers. Two of the band were all three of those.
Erickson shuts off his brain to survive, but is eventually freed after a lawyer wonders why a guy locked up for marijuana and schizophrenia has been banged up with violent criminals. But, of course, the Roky that is released is even more messed up. He thinks he's a space alien, with evil voices constantly talking to him. In an attempt to help him, one friend gets him to sign a document ("with a gold seal to make it look serious") where he professes to the world that he's an alien. He figures this is the only way the voices will stop pestering him. The voices need to accept Roky is one of their own.
What's fascinating about YOU'RE GONNA MISS ME is that it continues from there. All that exposition I've just given is only a small part of the story. Everything could have easily been presented as another tale of a 60s' musician driven loopy by too many drugs. But it isn't. Erickson is cared for by his slightly batty mother, who's the only person he's willing to see. She doesn't want him taking schizophrenic meds... while one of his brothers - a renowned tuba player - wants to "save" Roky.
The documentary doesn't offer any concrete answers and it's refreshing for that. The mother is blighted by religion and borderline insanity, while Erickson's brother is in serious therapy and at one stage weeps in the arms of his therapist. Yet at various stages both are sympathetic. Even Roky is sometimes an irritation as well as being someone you feel desperately sorry for. It was also good to see a documentary without a voice-over, the power of which is evident when Roky's father leaves the brother's house for the walk home... just see where he ends up, folks.
YOU'RE GONNA MISS ME blows some of the few remaining myths about the joys of excessive drug use, but also explodes myths on therapy and recovery. It reminded me of CRUMB in that the stories of the people around the protagonist are as interesting - if not more so - than the focus of the documentary. Although a few people I had heard of (the Angry Samoans' Mike and Butthole Surfers' Gibby) turn up in the documentary, the full story of Erickson had completely passed me by. It was certainly a lucky accident to come across YOU'RE GONNA MISS ME. Unlike some of the drug literature I've read, I'm very glad I checked this out. It's insightful, and highly recommended. And, hell, the final scene even brings a good ol' tear to the eye.
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