Cosmic love song

A "new" Roky Erickson record might be as close as anyone will ever get to him

The boy grew up believing his full name was Jegar Eugene Erickson. No one, not even his mother, Dana Gaines, told him otherwise--why would she? It wasn't until four years ago that Jegar discovered he had a different first name: Roky. It is his father's name, and it is the name of the man who, in 1965, was there to give psychedelic rock its name, its shape, its colors. Of course, Jegar has always known who his father is, and that he shares with the old man some vague facial characteristics--cheekbones, for instance, and some even say his deep, pensive eyes. He also knows that in 1979, Dana drove Roky to his mother Evelyn's house in Austin and left him standing on the front porch as she sped away with guilty tears in her eyes. Twenty years ago, Dana was scared that if she were to stay with Roky any longer, she and Jegar would drown in his madness. Jegar knows all this.

But Jegar never knew that he carried with him that name: Roky Erickson. "It was kinda crazy," he says now, sounding over a cellular phone from Austin much younger than his 22 years. "It was, like, no one told me."

There is much Jegar does not know about his father, a man best remembered not for his estimable contribution to rock and roll but for his bouts with drugs and insanity. It wasn't until just recently that Jegar met one of his two half-sisters, Cydne, and he still has never been introduced to the other, Spring. All Jegar is certain of is this: Roky doesn't like to be around people, maybe "life isn't fun for him anymore," and that his old man is "a genius"--or so he has been told. Jegar never spent much time around his father. Once it was his mother's decision; later, it became the son's.

Jegar, an aspiring actor with an interest in songwriting, would like to change all that now. It has not been easy growing up the distant son of a man often described in print as a lunatic genius or a "tragic burn-out case." Imagine reading every few years about your crazy pop, a shut-in with rotting teeth and a musical mind long since destroyed by LSD and shock treatment. Imagine carrying the name of someone long since treated as a freak show instead of a human being in a world of pain. Yet he insists he is a grown man now, ready to assume responsibility for his father's life, eager to spend time with a man who prefers to waste away his days curled up in dirty sheets listening to dozens of stereos and televisions blaring static and white noise at top volume.

That is, after all, how Roky Erickson lives now, how he has lived for years--tuned in to a thousand different frequencies at once, perhaps to keep the real world at bay.

"From what I understand from talking to people--not having a personal relationship with him--my dad was a genius, and I don't think he wants to be a spectacle," Jegar says. "I don't think he wants people to see him as a show. He wants them to see him as a person, a wonderful person. Maybe he's tired of showing up and having all eyes on him. But that's me speculating. But any son would regret not seeing their father all these years. Life is short. Everyone has these stories about how he touched their lives, and I don't personally have them. I want that. Through unfortunate circumstances, life for him hasn't been the best, and I want to help him and change that."

Jegar Erickson is, in some ways, no different from those of us to whom the 52-year-old Roky Erickson is more myth than tangible flesh and blood. His father exists to the world almost as memory, as someone who used to be here but vanished a long time ago, leaving behind a trail in the melting snow. There are plenty of Erickson's records still available--all but two of which, released on Austin labels owned by Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey and Craig Stewart, actually put money in the trust fund used to pay for Erickson's soft drinks and cigarettes and food.

The rest--including the first album on which he appeared, 1966's The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators--are shoddy collections at best that have been pasted together from purloined recordings belonging to old friends and producers who keep every sordid cent they make off Roky's talent. They're filled with bastard versions of immortal songs, beginning with 1965's "You're Gonna Miss Me" and continuing with the likes of "Don't Slander Me," "Click Your Fingers Applauding the Beat," "Night of the Vampire," and the breathtaking, heartbreaking "Starry Eyes," a piece of music that sounds as though it were on loan from the ghost of Buddy Holly.

Though he is the man who quite possibly invented psychedelic rock, fusing together rock's simple pleasures with LSD's mind-expanding possibilities, Erickson receives only the tiniest bit of credit. His history is written in rock and roll's margins, smudged and too often incorrect. Most often Roky is written off as a lunatic--"America's Syd Barrett," as too many newspapers have called him over the years. It's an epithet that does little justice to the man or his music, so much of which deals with far more than the monsters, vampires, and zombies that would become his claim to infamy. Even those who want to help him--the attorneys fighting in court to get back his recordings and all the money he's lost over the decades; King Coffey and Craig Stewart; his mother--can only sit back and watch him slip away and watch others defame his name.

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