Song of the Day: Roky Erickson “I Am”
Roky Erickson‘s brilliant cosmic slide guitar anthem “I Am” is one of the trippiest folk-rock songs of the 1970s. Starting with a gentle acoustic guitar pattern, a slide guitar that sounds like it originated someplace in outer space soon enters the picture. Roky spits out his lyrics, which detail everything from God, demons, space: very much his usual blend of quasi-spiritual, quasi-horror movie inspired obsession, the effect of the slide guitar is that you almost start to believe what he is telling you. Roky‘s space satan religious fantasies have a weird way of cutting deep and cutting existential. “I Am” is possibly the purest distillation of his cosmic Id.
Roky Erickson‘s life has been anything but easy. Born in Austin, Texas in 1947, he is probably best known as the front man behind the legendary 60s psych-rock band, The 13th Floor Elevators (who’s snarling anthem, “You’re Gonna Miss Me“, was featured in the opening credits of director Stephen Frears‘ film adaption of Nick Hornby‘s novel, High Fidelity). Erickson suffered from terrible mental health problems throughout his life, beginning with a 1968 diagnoses of paranoid schizophrenia after he began speaking gibberish. Erickson underwent extensive electroshock therapy and largely self-medicated with psychedelics (especially LSD). He eventually landed in serious legal problems after a drug-possession related arrest in conservative Houston, Texas, for which he pleaded insanity to avoid a lengthy prison sentence. This lead to his being placed in a mental institution for several years. While institutionalized, Erickson continued to write music and play music (his doctors wisely saw his music as a healthy outlet for Roky). He was eventually released in 1974, allowing Erickson to record some of the music that he had been working on while institutionalized.
While Roky Erickson‘s musical and health fortunes have waxed and waned over the years, he remains intermittently active, both recording and touring.