Roky Erickson with Okkervil River
True Love Cast Out All Evil
Few rock icons have as much credibility and such messed up lives as Roky Erickson. His early band, The 13th Floor Elevators, invented the term “psychedelic rock,” and their blatant drug use in early ’60s Austin lead to Roky’s incarceration in a mental hospital. Doped up on Thorazine and electro-shock, he survived, made music while inside, and then ended up in government housing trying to drown out the voices in his head. Did all the LSD make him crazy? Or was it some inborn chemical imbalance?
At 60 he’s cleaned up, achieved a functional level of mental stability, and released a new record that snapshots his life. This collection of 12 cuts spans his career, with some rough recordings from the mental institution bracketing new and previously unreleased material. His life and this record are a sad and moving chronicle of lost life and opportunity, with the details spelled out in minuscule print on the insert. His singing and songwriting are clear and engaging, with Okkervil River a finely matched backing band. “Goodbye Sweet Dreams” is a bittersweet song about abandoning those things that are truly no longer possible, and flying off into the promise of a fresh blackness. With “John Lawman” Erickson returns to the angry, edgy sound that made his Bleib alien period one of my favorites. But perhaps the energy and anger have tired him; in the next cut he sounds like he’s in church asking for a ragged forgiveness from a distant and uncaring deity. By the end of the disc, he seems to have found a stable point in “Bird’s Crash,” and we feel better about the vintage “God is Everywhere.” It dates from his days in the mental hospital and a recording his mother helped make on the grounds. Birds twitter in the background and his lo-fi guitar leads us in a final prayer: “God is everywhere… He keeps us from negativity.” Sounds like it’s time for a big “Amen.”