Spooky Season project: Roky Erickson Song of the Day!

Happy Spooky Season, everyone! The most wonderful time of the year! (No, we don’t have to wait for October 1. I try to keep Halloween in my heart year round, but also, the candy is on the shelves in CVS, kids, so it’s Halloween time!)

I’d love to do one of those 30 horror movies in 30 days challenges, but I’ve tried that before and usually crapped out before I got to 10.

So this spooky season, I’m launching a new feature here: Roky Erickson Song of the Day*!

* I probably won’t actually do one every day. Just warning you ahead of time.

Anyway, if you’re not familiar with Roky Erickson, he was the lead singer of The 13th Floor Elevators in the 60’s, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to a drug charge and spent a few years in a locked facility. He then got back into music, but, for a while anyway, his music took a dark detour into demons, vampires, gremlins, and zombies.

He also wrote a couple of absolutely brilliant Buddy Holly pastiches. Then he took a break from recording and touring, at least partly due to his mental illness, and he came back in the 90s with a far less spooky focus. He toured right up until his death in 2019.

I saw him on his final tour—he was clearly not well physically, sat the entire time holding a guitar he didn’t play, and he seemed to get lost in some of the verses of his songs. But the band was absolutely on fire and he still had one of my favorite rock and roll voices and it was a great night.

His lyrics are often semi-coherent, but what I love about his music, apart from the aformentioned rockin’ and his excellent voice, is that he was able to use it to give us glimpses into the nightmare world he lived in for a few years and to break down, at least partially, the barriers between us and him.

Breaking down barriers is something great art does, and, to me, Roky was a great artist. His scary songs are actually scary because he was completely sincere. There’s artifice there, sure, but the horror wasn’t a joke to him, and it’s not to me either.

I return to his music every Spooky Season. This year, I’m taking you with me.

Addendum: special shoutout to the clerk in the basement of Philadelphia’s 3rd Street Jazz and Rock, an absolutely fantastic record store, who answered my questions about Roky Erickson and got me to buy Don’t Slander Me back in 1987.