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coverpic flag US - Texas - Luna Kafé - Full Moon 28 - 01/31/99

Roky Erickson
Never Say Goodbye
Emperor Jones

For me, the pivotal scene of the Rolling Stones movie Gimme Shelter occurs during the notorious Altamont concert sequence. There is a moment where the camera catches Mick whispering the chorus/mantra of Under My Thumb saying over and over again to whoever might hear him: "It's alright/ I pray everything's alright". At that instant, the camera pans away from the lighted players on the stage and attempts to penetrate into the dark heaving inferno of the audience, and for a second the image of the Hell's Angels beating a man to death is captured in the frame. It's a harrowing sequence, as the viewer is made witness not only to the savagery of human beings to one another, but also to the ineffectiveness of a prayer for kindness and peace. In that one moment, we realize that everything is not alright.

Around this same time in Texas, the Thirteenth Floor Elevators were having their own troubles. Singer Roky Erickson, faced with a prison sentence for possession of a marijuana joint, opted instead to plead insanity and enter into the Rusk State Hospital. It was a devastating choice, as once in the confines of the hospital, he is subjected to electro-shock treatment and pharmaceutical drug therapy, the combination of the two having a terrible effect on his psyche. On his return to the outside world in the mid 70's, he was evidently a changed man, chattering and rattling at length about aliens, Lucifer, and so on.

This record here though, courtesy of Erickson sympathizers (and to my mind, musical guardians) Emperor Jones, shows a side of Roky quite obscured by the blown garage psyche trance of the early Elevators and the later 70's fried rock work with backing groups such as the Aliens and 27 Devils Joking, focusing instead on Erickson in solo mode, aided only by his acoustic guitar and the high lonesome sound of his rough yet fragile voice. The bulk of these tracks were recorded by his mother Evelyn when she would come visit him at Rusk State Hospital, and that knowledge makes the tracks all the more incredible. Instead of succumbing to the human horror of the mental institution and withdrawing further from hope and spiritual redemption, Erickson instead seems to be even closer to the beatific vision of human love than at any other time of his life (including the LSD-doused days of prime Elevators). In the face of blood-burning screams of patients echoing through the white corridors all night, and doctors treating you as less than human, Roky can still sing such lines as: "It's always needed, It's understood in the creeded, It's called unforced peace, Unforced peace everywhere", and make you believe in the hope that keeps him going through each day. It is the basic hope that the good inherent to each human being will bloom into fruition, ending all pain and suffering.

But to look at the history now, with nearly thirty years perspective, we see where it all disintegrates. For a certain time, Roky could make out a place where love drives and draws all of us into one, but he himself could neither attain nor maintain it. In the end, the madness of life overtook him, and we ourselves must face the fact that no matter what prayers are said or even answered, everything in the end is not alright. It is a tough vision to apprehend and accept.

Copyright © 1999 Andy Beta e-mail address

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