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Roky Road Back BY BRAD TYER ALL THAT MAY DO MY RHYME By Roky Erickson Trance Syndicate IT WAS A CLEAR DAY in the middle of last March, and Austin’s Convention Center was swarming with national rock industry emeritus and detritus, all black clothes and long hair and odd shaped beards, clutching recently procured badges identifying each with his or her particular industry niche. There were writers, radio programmers, photographers, musicians, panelists, A&R reps and promotions typesa small universe of specialists, some of them looking for the next big thing, some just pushing their own particular small one on the gathered masses. Just down the block from the Convention Centernot an official South by Southwest event, but catching a significant hipster overflow anyhowthe Iron Works restaurant is playing host to a meet-andgreet with Texas rock and roll legend Roky Erickson. The occasion is the book release of Openers II: The Lyrics of Roky Erickson, published under the 2.13.61 Publications imprint, a private publishing house run by indie rock renaissance man Henry Rollins. Erickson spends an hour or so signing books and saying howdy to well-wishers attracted by the recent flood of hype unleashed by Erickson’s newly high profile a profile resurgent with the book publication and the more or less simultaneous release of Erickson’s first studio recording in 10 years, All That May Do My Rhyme, on Austin’s independent Trance Syndicate label. At this particular moment, though, Erickson is taking a break from this rare and draining public appearance. He’s shuffling across the parking lot with a friend, looking more like any number of Austin’s slightly unkempt street dwellers than a Texas rock and roll legend \(though that difference isn’t past, the friend reaches out and asks: “‘ scuse me, do you have a cigarette for Roky?” I’m there, and I’m in my 20s, so the man assumes I know who “Roky” is. Which is odd, considering that Rocky is 47, and in many ways, is not all there at all. But the anonymous friend is right. I do know who Roky is. I recognize the piled scraggle of Brad Tyer is a Houston-based freelance writer and music critic. hair, combed into a semblance of neatness for the afternoon, and the bird’s nest of beard. I’ve seen the squinting sparkle of the eyes in countless photographs. I’ve heard his nasally pinched voice hurl itself through a tumult of reincarnations that would make Shirley MacLaine proud. And I do have a cigarette, which I happily hand over before walking away, thinking: Wow, that’s Roky Erickson, rock and roll legend. To say that one recognizes Roky Erickson, though, begs the question of which Roky Erickson, and there have been many over the years. There’s Roky Erickson, 17year-old leader of the Austin-based 13th Floor Elevators who more or less invented psychedelic garage rock, gave it a hallucinogen-addled, quasi-religious urgency, and stamped the new form with a Texas identity as early as 1965. There’s the Erickson who, after a 1968 bust for marijuana possession, began a four-year stint at the Hospital for the Criminally Insane at Rusk and emerged in 1972, re-christened the Rev. Roger Roky Kynard Erickson and hawking a book of poetry called Openers. Erickson has said in interviews that he faked insanity in order to serve his sentence at Rusk rather than in jail, but he’s also been certified as schizophrenic, so no one is really sure which came first. Then there’s the Erickson who later claimed to be inhabited by aliens, the one who started a new band called Bleib like “Red Temple Prayer \(Two Headed fact, a Martian, legally notarized. That’s the Erickson who performed through the 1970s with bands called The Aliens, and The Explosives, the one who continued to release albums on domestic independent and foreign labels into the early 1980s, often under the auspice of questionable contracts and licensing agreements that reportedly deny him income for most of his recordings. There’s also the Erickson whose penchant for collecting other people’s mail led to a run-in with the postal authorities and a brief incarceration in 1989. That Erickson, according to local legend, is the Erickson who’s finally lost the better part of his mental grip, who’s been off his medication since 1983, who relies on a network of friends and admirers to maintain a fragile self-sufficiency as he sits, semi-retired, in his small home just outside of Austin, watching horror movies amidst the white noise of the dozens of radios he keeps blar ing at high volume, Roky Erickson, the mad genius, chased by demons and consumed with the muse. It’s a classic case of rock and roll mythologizing, equal parts predictable hyperbole and eerie truth, but unlike rock’s other mad geniusesPink Floyd founder and LSD casualty Syd Barrett is Erickson’s most obvious mythological compadreErickson himself is still a vital part of the conversation set in motion by his peculiar genius 30 years ago. All That May Do My Rhyme is Erickson’s return to the public eye, to the studio, to some of his most famous songs, and judging by the evidence of the new ones, to his muse. It doesn’t have the electric sparkle of early 13th Floor Elevators albums like The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators and Easter Everywhere. And it doesn’t carry the fire-andbrimstone bluster of the ensuing decade’s alien-possessed Erickson. And it may be the apparent anomaly on the roster of a small Texas label brimming with young, loud punk rock bands, but All That May Do My Rhyme is an almost spookily quiet album, and obviously the work of a man grappling in his own way with middle age. In that sense, and in the pleasures to be heard in that musical struggle, Erickson’s return is as important, and as starkly beautiful, as Johnny Cash’s American Recordings reappearance of last year. There exist countless bootlegs of Erickson’s work, but perhaps only five essential recordings, and the goal of Casey Monahan, who’s credited as project coordinator and co-producer of the album and editor and compiler of the book, was to produce the sixth. It’s released on a Texas label because of Trance’s underground reputation for integrity, and because Erickson has never before released an album recorded entirely in his hometown of Austin. Of the 11 songs here, five were recorded in 1984-85 and remixed for the album last year, and six are never-before-released tunes recorded over the course of a single day in October of 1993. Even with one repeat in the batch \(two versions of “Starry Eyes,” one a duet with Lou Ann Barton, the All That May Do My Rhyme qualifies easily as that sixth essential Erickson document, and makes it clear that Erickson admirers who place the man in the same category with Continued on p. S3 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19