A Long, Strange Trip

Drug abuse, schizophrenia, family and friends who meant well but did harm, and through it all, undeniable genius. For Roky Erickson, life as one of the most influential Texas rock and rollers of all time has been a long, strange trip and fortunately, it isn't over yet.

One of the great rock and roll singers stood on the stage with his arms crossed. He uncrossed them and crossed them again. He yawned. Then he sang a verse of one of his songs, “Don’t Slander Me.” His once mighty voice was thin and couldn’t quite reach all the notes. He turned his back on the audience between verses. He looked beat. It was 1993, and Roky Erickson and his backing band were performing at the Austin Music Awards. When they played his biggest song, “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” a piece of proto-punk rock that had once been an anthem of mid-sixties teen attitude, it sounded like a rehearsal for retirement. Roky, with his long black hair and thick beard, didn’t look happy. He wasn’t. He was a diagnosed schizophrenic who hadn’t taken any anti-psychotic medicine in several years and who would go home that night to a house where he kept half a dozen radios, TVs, and stereos blasting noise to drown out the voices in his head. It really hadn’t been his idea to be onstage that night. He hadn’t won anything, and he hadn’t made an album in more than a decade. He might as well have had a sign around his neck: “Sixties Nostalgia Act.” But he had said yes when his friends asked him to sing. They were well intentioned—they wanted to give Roky and the crowd a feeling for what had once been, back when psychedelia was young and Roky was a sign of something else entirely.

Back then, in 1966, Roky (pronounced “Rocky”) was a teenage rebel with an electric guitar. He had a sweet, round face and a buzz-saw voice, and sometimes he’d shake his head and scream like a banshee, which drove the kids crazy. He wrote hopeful, yearning melodies like his hero Buddy Holly, who had died only a few years earlier. He and his group, the 13th Floor Elevators, were the best rock and roll band in Texas. Indeed, they were the first psychedelic group ever, and they changed the sound of rock, influencing everyone from Janis Joplin and Billy Gibbons to the Grateful Dead. They sold more than 100,000 records, had a hit song, and appeared

Tags: THE CULTURE

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