Roky Erickson Song of the Day: Two-Headed Dog

Let’s start with the opening track of Roky’s masterpiece album, The Evil One.

I guess garage rock is the best way to characterize the music, though I struggle to find an example of another artist whose music sounds like this. It’s surprisingly dense, as in addition to the lead guitar there’s some kind of screeching guitar sound going on in the background. There are also credits on the album for electric autoharp (!), so I guess that’s on here somewhere too.

Anyway, Roky asserts that he’s been working in the Kremlin with a two-headed dog. I used to think this was just some weird EC-Comics-fueled fantasy, but of course there was an actual animal torturer in the USSR who made such a monstrosity. Apparently it lived for 4 days.

Some of the lyrics are pretty inscrutable, even by rock lyrics standards, which is to say they are English words (mostly) but don’t actually follow the conventions of English language usage. So we get, for example, “Relaxed be nyet brought back,” and “pain does not look our hell” which, like, I dunno. Still, the more I listen to this, the more coherent it gets. It’s a meditation on cruelty.

So we get images like “children nailed to the cross” and “sickening sweet sight left and right”—basically the verses come at the idea of the fundamental wrongness of the experiment and the fact that it inflicted tremendous suffering on innocent creatures.

In other hands, this song might be unbearably depressing, but the hard rockin’ nature (even with the presumably guitar-generated dog howl at the end) makes it feel more angry than despairing.

This is the kind of interesting tonal high-wire act Roky pulls off throughout this album. “working in the Kremlin with a two-headed dog” sounds absurd and even funny, and it is, but it’s also a real-life horror. Play it loud.

Here’s the song on Spotify. Here’s a YouTube video of a live performance from 1980.