“You’re gonna miss me” opened yesterday at the Cinema Village theater in New York. It is a documentary about Roky Erickson, the lead singer of the 1960s psychedelic rock band The 13th Floor Elevators, who developed schizophrenia just around the time his career was taking off. The film basically answers the question of “whatever happened to Roky Erickson”. In doing so, it sheds light on a moment in American culture and on a very troubled family. Additionally, it shows the redemptive power of a brother’s love.
The 13th Floor Elevators hailed from Austin, Texas, where Roky grew up and now lives. The group had only one big hit, “You’re gonna miss me,” from which the film derives its title. Although the words were originally about lost love, they are equally appropriate to describe the black memory hole that Roky fell into. Despite his obscurity with most rock fans today, who might be more familiar with his historical peers such as Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin, Roky is highly regarded by professional musicians. His singing style, blues in the upper register, was a big influence on Joplin herself and his conceptualization of psychedelic rock had an impact on many bands who visited his native Austin, including Jefferson Airplane.
When the film starts, it would be difficult to connect Roky with the lithe, handsome performer who we see in concert footage from the 1960s and 70s that appear throughout the film. He shambles about in his apartment with a blank expression as three televisions, two radios, and a Casio keyboard are blasting cacophonously in the background. Although the film does not explain the need for this, one can only surmise that it helps to conceal the accusatory voices in his head.
Throughout the film, Roky has very little to say. It is clear that thirty year of mental illness have robbed him of his ability to converse normally. We find out about him from his friends and family, although the portrait that emerges is contradictory. The most distaff note comes from his mother, who is virtually his only connection with the outside world. She is a deeply troubled woman whose belief in “holistic” New Age therapies has convinced her to isolate her son from the professional help and medication he needs. We also meet her youngest son Sumner, who was a tuba player with the Pittsburgh Symphony orchestra and becomes determined to wrest Roky from his mother’s control. He ultimately succeeds and with professional help brings his older brother out of the psychotic hell he has been living in.
If you go to the Roky Erickson website, you will find out about his current situation, which continues on a high note. He will be appearing in concert in England, Sweden, Finland and Denmark this summer and a CD collection drawn from the film will be released in the fall.
“You’re gonna miss me” is just one more indication that human drama is generally to be found in small independent cinema rather than the blockbusters from the Disney or Sony studios. As Hollywood becomes ever more homogenized pumping out formulaic escapist fare that doesn’t even fulfill the elementary need to help one escape as a Fred Astaire musical in the 30s did, we have to turn to financially modest efforts such as “You’re gonna miss me” to truly understand the human condition.