Roky Erickson Song of the Day: Creature With the Atom Brain

I wish I knew more about music theory, because then I could probably explain why the music to this one is kind of unsettling. Some kind of note or chord that’s not exactly what you’re expecting, maybe?

Anyway, I’m a word guy, and the words here are, by Roky’s standards, pretty coherent. Threw the doll right down, ripped its guts out and threw it on the ground, no one stitches like that…I get it, man. Okay, I don’t actually get the no one stitches like that line, but we’re dealing with something pretty fearsome here.

Naturally when I had an opportunity to see the movie that gives this kickass song its title, I jumped at the chance, figuring because of the song that this would be a genuinely disturbing lost horror classic.

It’s not! I mean, it’s kind of fun in the way that 50’s B movies can be, what with the plot holes and the wooden acting, but it’s actually pretty dull. In short, Roky improved on the movie, taking something cheesy and transforming it into something actually creepy.

But here’s the thing I’m kind of obsessed with. There are two interludes in the song featuring movie dialogue, but it’s not recorded—it’s completely recreated by Roky. (The weirdness of the syntax may be something that attracted him to the movie, as the monster says, “I don’t look like him, but I am him. Don’t you recognize the voice of him?”)

Anyway, the song was recorded in 1979. VCRs existed, but they were pretty expensive. Producer Stu Cook probably still had enough CCR money for a VCR, but it seems really unlikely that Roky’s just-out-of-the-mental-hospital self had VCR money. And there were essentially no video stores in 1979 because there wasn’t a mass market to rent movies. So they only way there could have been a copy of this movie around was if someone owned a film print or if someone rich had taped it off late-night TV.

My point here is that I can’t understand how Roky recreated this dialogue verbatim unless he had memorized it. Which is a kind of wild thing to contemplate.

Anyway, this is one of my favorites. Here’s the song. And, if you’re curious, here’s the movie.