Friday, May 31, 2019

My Dinner with Roky or RIP Roky Erickson

Roky Erickson has passed away. May he rest in peace. His life seemed to be a series of steep ups and downs, but it appears that in his final years, he got to do the thing he liked best of all: play music. He might not have been a rock superstar but his music inspired a lot of people who took inspiration from him and did it themselves.

I got to meet and hang out with Roky on a few occasions when he was living in Pittsburgh with his brother Sumner. Roky was getting his life back on track and while it was far from a rock and roll experience, it gave me some things that have stuck with me ever since.

I had heard about the 13th Floor Elevators since I was a teenager. Being fascinated with all sort of '60s rock, I wanted to hear the band. When I discovered how rare their original albums were, it made them even more appealing to me. Easter Everywhere wasn't the best introduction for my ears. When I finally did hear it, on a reissue in the '80s, it felt a little too wordy to me. There weren't enough crazy guitar solos like Vanilla Fudge or Iron Butterfly (my two heavy psych references at that point). During college, when I finally heard their debut Psychedelic Sounds of... and also Bongwater's covers of "You Don't Love Me Yet" and "Splash 1," I had the background to appreciate them. The Dylanesque trip of "Slip Inside This House" left a better impression too.

Then we had dinner together.

The year was 2001, maybe 2000. Sumner lived in Pittsburgh where he was a tubaist in the Pittsburgh Symphony. Roky was living with him for a time, getting his life and his mind back in order. My friend Grant knew Sumner, who said that Roky liked to get out of the house while he practiced the tuba. Grant suggested that he, Roky and I go out for dinner together. At the time, I was on staff at InPittsburgh and I thought this would make a great story: Psychedelic Rock Originator Living in Mt. Washington! I understood that Roky might be a little fragile and not ready for a proper interview. And I certainly didn't want to write something that would come off as exploitative. But I figured it'd be good to get to know the guy. Hell, meeting him would be cool!

We made plans to pick him up at the house where the brothers lived in Mt. Washington. Sumner took us in the house and called Roky, who answered from the top of the steps in a Texas drawl. Instead of the wild and woolly guy I had seen on album covers for the past 15 years, the man who finally came down had short hair and neatly trimmed beard and mustache. Maybe not exactly like Wolfman Jack in American Graffiti, but somewhere in the vicinity.

"Good t'see y'again," he said a couple times when we were introduced. Maybe he had met Grant before but this was the first time he and I ever crossed paths. Still, when he said those words, the enthusiasm was infectious and it put me at ease. It also gave me a phrase that I've repeated since then with a few friends who are in the know.

We went to a Mexican restaurant in Oakland where Roky had become a regular. The owner greeted him at the door with, "Hey, amigo," clearly recognizing him from previous visits. He surely had no clue that this happy-go-lucky fellow was one of the originators of Psychedelic Rock, but it didn't matter. Roky just seemed happy to have friends that greeted him like that. During dinner there were periods where he would get quiet and just keep to himself, and Grant and I had our own conversations. But at one point, Roky brought up the name of Red Krayola, an Austin band that was a contemporary of the 13th Floor Elevators. Up until that point, Roky seemed like he either didn't want to talk about his past or his memory of it was a little fuzzy. When this happened, it came out of the blue and it was cool.

Roky and I had one more dinner date after that. I still felt wary of being exploitative and anyway InPittsburgh went out of business in the fall of 2001 and I never got to write the article. We never saw each other again. Sometime a year or two later there was a benefit/tribute concert for him at the Rex Theater, where he was in attendance. One friend who was there said he looked kind of uncomfortable, like the crowd was a little much for him. A few years later - my details are fuzzy on this part - he moved back to Texas.

A few documentaries were made about him, one apparently showing him in a rather radical type of therapy that helped him get his life back in order. I always wanted thought I should watch it, if nothing else to see where he was coming from. But time slipped away.

A few years prior to meeting Roky, a filmmaker came to town to screen a doc that he had made about Roky. I was enlisted by the then-editor of InPgh to put a band together that would play a few 13th Floor Elevators songs before the screening. (I wound up playing drums for that band instead of bass.) It was cool except that the filmmaker fronted the band  and his rhythm guitar was cranked up louder than anything else onstage, including the lead guitar playing of my friend Rob, who still bitches about it if the subject comes up. (Rob is an amazing guitar player, so I don't blame him.)

Then again that type of situation might be indicative of Roky's life: a little scattered but stuck in your mental draintrap all these years later.

Good t'see y'again.

1 comment:

Chu Chỉ Nhược said...

The information you share in the article is very helpful, thank you, I will visit the blog more often.
Proship là đơn vị vận tải cung cấp tới quý khách hàng những dịch vụ như: vận tải hàng hóa, chuyển phát nhanh, giao hàng nhanh, chuyển phát nhanh hỏa tốc, thuê xe tải, thuê xe có tài xế, ship cod,...đảm bảo sẽ đem đến cho quý khách hàng sử dụng dịch vụ với chất lượng tốt nhất, thời gian nhanh nhất và đặt việt là giá thành rẻ nhất..