60s legend and indie neighbours combine to deeply moving effect.
Rob Hughes 2010-05-24
Calling Roky Erickson a survivor is a gross understatement. In fact, given his often harrowing past, it’s a wonder he’s still here at all. Erickson was the singer/songwriter/guitarist in Texan acid-punks The 13th Floor Elevators, frequently cited as the first truly psychedelic band of the 60s. Their roaring garage rock, lent lysergic weirdness by electric jug and a cosmic manifesto suggesting they were hell bent on some quasi-religious crusade, became a touchstone for Primal Scream, R.E.M., Julian Cope, The Jesus and Mary Chain and a whole slew of post-punk voyagers.
Roky’s own journey took a more sinister turn, though. Convicted for possession of marijuana, he was sent to a maximum security prison for the criminally insane, subjected to electro-shock therapy and finally diagnosed schizophrenic. The upshot, after his release in 1972, was a life of mental and physical deterioration. He made sporadic and startling zombie-horror records in the 80s, singing of aliens and claiming to be the devil. In short, he became a rock myth, a living metaphor for the destructive fires of the music business itself.
True Love Cast Out All Evil proves that happy endings are still possible. An extension of the rehabilitation that the 63-year-old has undergone in the last decade, under the devoted guidance of family and friends, it’s a record that both addresses and somehow transcends his past. Fellow Austinites Okkervil River first played with Erickson on stage in 2008, after which his manager sent leader Will Sheff 60-odd abandoned songs written during Roky’s career.
These 12 re-recorded versions, carefully produced by Sheff, include ones written whilst Erickson was institutionalised, alongside home recordings, Elevators outtakes and tunes salvaged from the 80s. Some of them – Goodbye Sweet Dreams; Please, Judge – are almost unbearably sad, but delivered with such candid truth that you’re left marvelling at the raw delicacy of his songwriting. Indeed, even though Bring Back the Past and the terrific John Lawman tap into Erickson’s noisier oeuvre, the record celebrates the more painterly side of his songwriting.
This is Roky as a folk poet, part mystic, part troubadour – and with plenty to say. Highly recommended.