Rock doc catches up with the 13th Floor Elevators' Roky Erickson, but only tells part of the story

You're Gonna Miss Me

on June 08, 2007 by Annlee Ellingson
Named after the hit song by the 13th Floor Elevators, this documentary catches up with lead singer Roky Erickson, whose band claims to have invented psychedelic rock in the '60s with electric blues-influenced music that marked a departure from other groups' folksy roots. Handsome and charming, Roky's voice and stage presence inspired the performance stylings of generations of musicians, from Janis Joplin and Jack White.

But whether due to his notorious abuse of heroin and LSD, a dubious diagnosis as a schizophrenic, or the electroshock therapy he received to treat his supposed mental illness, Roky, now in his 50s, is a shadow of his former self, taking seriously correspondence from Publishers Clearing House and playing with a Mr. Potato Head with missing appendages. Hinting at even more bizarre behavior in his past are detailed logs of all his mail, sent and received, including a letter to Alfred Hitchcock, and a notarized document declaring himself an alien. The only way he can sleep is to the tune of four radios, three TVs, two amplifiers, a radio scanner and a Casio electric piano all playing at the same time.

The film centers on Sumner Erickson's fight for custody of his older brother. The principal tuba player for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Sumner's goal is to restore Roky's physical and mental health and get him playing again. Until now, Roky had been cared for by his mother Evelyn, a religious woman whose views on psychiatry have been gleaned from watching episodes of Frasier . An artist of sorts herself, her home is crammed with family photographs pasted to cardboard, and among the footage of the film is a homemade fairytale movie called 5 Kings , starring a clearly out-of-it Roky. In this environment, Roky wasn't properly medicated, he'd lost all but three of his teeth, and his long hair was matted into one large dreadlock.

In his attempt to discover how this could have happened, director/producer Keven McAlester certainly dug deep: In addition to interviews with family members, former band mates, ex-girlfriends and -wives, and contemporaries such as Patti Smith and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, weighing in on the rocker's past were the Austin police captain who arrested him for possession of one joint of marijuana and the director of recreation at Rusk State Hospital for the mentally ill where Roky ended up, playing in a band whose other members were rapists and murderers.
At film's end, shot in 2002, Roky has lived with Sumner for a year, but, despite Sumner's near-bankruptcy, it's not clear at this point how much progress has actually been made. Roky is better groomed and in movement-based therapy that includes marching around the room, but he still sleeps amid the white noise of numerous machines. An oddly chosen closing shot leaves the impression that his fate is till to be determined.

Today Roky is actually on tour again, with a number of 2007 musical festival appearances including Coachella—a development at least worthy of an afterword.
Distributor: Palm
Cast: Roky Erickson, Evelyn Erickson and Sumner Erickson
Director: Keven McAlester
Producers: Keven McAlester and Adrienne Gruben
Genre: Documentary
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 94 min.
Release date: June 8, 2007 NY
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