Roky Erickson Song of the Day: I Walked With a Zombie

We begin with a Phil Spector wall of sound type drumbeat, like it’s going to be “Be My Baby” or something.

And then Roky launches into the song, whose lyrics follow in their entirety:

I walked with a zombie

I walked with a zombie

I walked with a zombie

Last night

There’s no chorus. Or maybe there are no verses. In any case, the song is just repeating this over and over. The guitar leads change, there is a solo, and sometimes there are backing vocals going “he walked with a zombie.”

Though most of Roky’s songs are nowhere near this simple, this is kind of a quintessential Roky Erickson song. It’s a joke, and it’s also not a joke. The backing vocals let us know Roky sees the humor in the whole thing, but also, it’s creepy.

I like to resist biographical interpretations of art because it needs to make sense whether you know someone’s life story or not. But I heard once (and it’s impossible to confirm this info in the internet, so it may be bullshit) that Roky wrote this about spending the night on a locked ward shuffling around with someone zombified by psych meds.

Whether this is true or not, the repetition does manage to creep me out—this isn’t a run-for-your-life adrenaline scenario. The horror here is the mindless repetition.

I will just add that there’s some science to suggest that chanting is good for your mental and physical health, and so perhaps there’s an element of that here too.

Or maybe I’m overthinking.

The song shares a title with a very good black-and-white Val Lewton horror movie but seems otherwise unrelated. Unlike the next one we’ll listen to.

Here’s the studio version on Spotify. Here’s a live version from 2007 on youtube. There are multiple live recordings of the song, so if you want to get all zen with it and just hear these words repeated over and over for like 20 minutes, you can totally do that.