False Gods Will Bring the Devil the BluesRecently 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.