Wednesday, September 19, 2007

False Gods Will Bring the Devil the Blues

Recently my music blogger acquaintances Anandamide and Peecat were asking each other whether any worthwhile late career albums have been made by artists whose career spans ten years or more. Byron Coley makes a strong case for the enduring quality of Roky Erickson's music in the documentary film You're Gonna Miss Me, which is now available on DVD. Roky hasn't released any new material in twenty years, but his 1986 album Don't Slander Me is as strong a collection of songs as anything I've heard from the late 1960's heyday of the 13th Floor Elevators. Roky's extraordinary voice is in fine form on the album's title track.

You're Gonna Miss Me begins with Roky's brother Sumner becoming Roky's guardian and removing Roky from their mother's influence. By the end of the film, Roky has regained his legal capacity and has returned to the concert stage. Sumner declares in a postscript that there is "no such thing" as schizophrenia or mental illness. One may reasonably conclude that Roky was misdiagnosed and mistreated, but it is a mistake to generalize from his experience that the entire mental health system is a house of cards.

You're Gonna Miss Me ends with a lingering shot of Roky compulsively licking and pursing his lips in the courtroom after his independence is granted; the shot suggests that the filmmakers themselves doubt Sumner's conviction. The interviews with the Ericksons' mother (and the inclusion of her short films, poems, and pictures) may lead the viewer to conclude that she suffered from depression. And it is ironic that Sumner first sought to get Roky to take psychotropic medications, but Sumner later comes to share his mother's distrust of psychiatry.

9 Comments:

At 9/19/2007 10:21 PM , Blogger grigorss said...

I'm assuming that since you're writing about it, you more or less found somethng worthwhile in You're Gonna Miss Me -- How is it, as far as music doc.s go? Worth renting?

 
At 9/20/2007 7:26 AM , Blogger jonderneathica said...

I guess I should have said that I do think it is worth seeing! There is a generous amount of performance footage, both recent and vintage. The story arc, which I described, is well-constructed. And Roky is truly an important (if tragic) figure in underground music: he has written some enduring songs, and his vocal style (as someone points out in the movie) was a major influence on Janis Joplin, among others.

 
At 9/21/2007 11:23 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads-up on the documentary, I've added it to my Netflix queue.

By the way, Roky's last album of new material wasn't Don't Slander Me, but 1995's All That May Do My Rhyme -- half of which was recorded in the mid-80s, and the other half which was recorded in the early 90s. It's a really, really good album.

 
At 9/21/2007 1:42 PM , Blogger jonderneathica said...

Thanks for the correction. Sounds like you are a knowledgeable Roky fan, so you will definitely enjoy the documentary. I think Netflix had something to do with its release.

 
At 9/25/2007 1:51 AM , Blogger 2fs said...

"whether any worthwhile late career albums have been made by artists whose career spans ten years or more"? Good lord - there are tons! Let's see...Blood on the Tracks, latterday Wire and Pere Ubu, at least the first Mission of Burma reunion CD... The Who from Quadrophenia through Who Are You may not have been their peak - but "worthwhile"? Damned straight. I'd argue that Monster, NAIHF, and Up are at least "worthwhile" (though, again, not R.E.M. at its peak). I'm sure I'm missing some terribly obvious things here...but it seems like an oddly naive question to ask as if the answers were rare. Of course, YMMV...but really now...

 
At 9/25/2007 7:22 AM , Blogger jonderneathica said...

Good points, Jeffs. I wondered about the Mekons, the Residents, and the Sonic Youts. But I haven't kept up with their latter-day musical output.

 
At 9/27/2007 3:33 PM , Blogger anandamide said...

Hey...did someone say my name?

I think a better way to sum up my question as to late career albums would be "has anyone over the age of 40 made an album that stands with their best work?". I think age is a better indicator than number of years in the game.

A lot of bands make competent, decent records late in their careers but I can't recall being blown away by any...

 
At 9/27/2007 3:53 PM , Blogger jonderneathica said...

To be fair to Anandamide and Peecat, the original question was posed in the context of discussing the Fall's latest record. I guess we would have to limit the question to the genre of rock, since there is greater longevity in jazz and country music careers. Roky was almost 40 when he released Don't Slander Me, by the way.

 
At 10/03/2007 4:58 PM , Anonymous Paula said...

Late-career album goodness, thy name is Robyn Hitchcock and Kristin Hersh.

 

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