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August 29th, 2007 JAY HORTON | Special Section Stories
 

Roky Erickson & The Explosives

Midnight, Berbati’s Pan

     
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[GARAGE-PSYCH LEGEND] It’s a heartbreaking story—half Syd Barrett with a bit of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest , the sort of thing that, even in Hollywood’s dearest imaginings, just couldn’t end happily. In 1966, with The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, Roky Erickson and his Texan drug-buddies (counterculture heroes as much for their mammoth acid intake as their music) essentially invented psychedelia as a genre: a chaotic, captivating blend of loopy philosophizing and rootsy flourishes, theirs marked by Erickson’s keening, manic wail.

Then Erickson was arrested—for a single joint—and subsequently, tragically, pleaded insanity to avoid jail time. After three years of electroshock therapy, the Erickson that emerged wasn’t quite right. And, following an increasingly erratic solo career—mostly unhinged blues-rock lyrically obsessed with pulp sci-fi (imagine a garage Misfits or Rob Zombie, should either believe demons and aliens to be tangible enemies)—he disappeared entirely.

A 2005 documentary named after the Elevators’ groundbreaking single “You’re Gonna Miss Me” (best known by the kids as the song that opens High Fidelity ) shows the ravaged, near-toothless legend utterly deranged, scraping by on public assistance as radio, televisions and police scanners continually blare in attempts to drown out the voices ever-screaming within Erickson’s mind.

But anti-psychotics, his brother’s care and a series of benefits (credit Henry Rollins for the dentures) led to a remarkable recovery. Still, as he returned to the stage, even the most optimistic fans couldn’t have expected much more than shambling, hollow run-throughs of Erickson’s songbook followed by their own macabre, happy-you’re-alive applause.

Somehow, though, Erickson’s recaptured all the powers of old. Vibrant, almost cherubic, he’s lost a bit of range and mostly sticks to rhythm guitar, but he can still wrangle the high notes and throws himself into the occasional solo. Now fronting Austin trio the Explosives (whom he first played with 30 years ago), Erickson lets loose a straightforward bar-band groove with singularly captivating frontman vitality—energized by the music, the crowds, the impossible encore in which he’s found himself. God only knows if the voices remain, but there couldn’t be a finer way to silence them.

 
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