I Have Always Been Here Before - Anthology
||"Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog)"
A legend, a genius, a dark angel, a freak
is an elusive yet storied figure in underground music. Drugs,
passion, paranoia, violence, monsters, prison, mental institutions,
and some of the most powerful, singular music and musical vision
of our time. The simplest telling would read as both a cautionary
tale and alluring come-on for the role of drugs in artistic inspiration.
There is little doubt that LSD both created and destroyed Roky's
most famous group, the 13th Floor Elevators, and it is only a
question of semantics as to whether during their brief tenure
the group presided over the creation of psychedelic music, and
their influence is still felt today. The band's mission was to
expand the minds of the nation's restless youth, and with their
raw power, intensity, and lyrical explorations they did just that
until drug-fueled psychosis and the law made it impossible for
the band to function in even the most basic ways. 1966 and '67
were tumultuous years to be a stoned, tripping and ragged counter-culture
hero in Texas. After a brief but intense two years in the trenches,
with many highs and lows, the band was finally stopped dead when
Erickson was backed into a corner and pled not guilty by reason
of insanity to marijuana possession, and spent three years at
a hospital for the criminally insane. Not surprisingly, rather
than leveling Erickson's tumultuous personality, his time in "rehabilitation"
sent the singer on a tailspin from which he never fully recovered,
but surely did not mark the end of his creativity.
The next 30 or 40 years have seen Erickson's fates twist and turn
like smoke in the wind, but there have been points so high and
clear that the depths of isolation that he also fell into seem
just that much deeper. This unbeatable 2-CD collection (put together
by the talented archivists of Shout Factory, who you may know
from their great reissue work at Rhino and Rhino Handmade) gathers
tracks spanning the singer's career. Much of Erickson's catalog
has been recorded and re-recorded by the singer over the years,
and as many of the finest original versions have been in and out
of print, well-meaning labels made available inferior live tracks
and alternate line-ups that may have diluted some of the impact
of Erickson's best work. This collection should set the record
straight. It opens with a track from his pre-Elevators band the
Spades, the great original single version of "We Sell Soul,"
and follows with a batch of 13th Floor Elevators tracks, several
of which were featured on their two proper full-lengths "Psychedelic
" and "Easter Everywhere," but many
more are rare and highly collectable Contact and International
Artists label singles released in the late-'60s, plus unreleased
session outtakes. Next are both sides of the 1973 Mars Records'
single that was Erickson's first post-incarceration release; the
fierce original version of one of my all-time favorite rock songs,
"Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog)" backed the equally
powerful pop nugget "Starry Eyes." I can't really imagine
how fans could even have handled the impact of this double A-side
slab of fire.
There are many more gems on the set's 40-plus tracks, but for
me the real coup is the inclusion of many tracks from Roky Erickson
& The Aliens late-'70s/early-'80s recordings, some of which
were released originally on CBS Records UK, some on 415 records
in the U.S., and long unavailable. For me, this is the artist's
most enduring work, even beyond the impact of the Elevators, although
perhaps not as revolutionary at the time. Managing to be both
raw and well-produced, heavy as a hammer-drop but melodic and
poppy, lyrically obsessed with monsters, devils and demons, yet
somehow grounded in earthly pursuits of loves and fears, this
timeless rock and roll has been only sporadically available for
many years. Following this are excellent tracks from Erickson's
'80s and '90s output, including tracks from "Clear Night
For Love," "Don't Slander Me," "Openers,"
and '95's "All That May Do My Rhyme".
Roky Erickson is an artist of rare vision and accomplishment,
and coupled with his tenuous emotional state, his legacy has been
left for years to the bootleggers and well-intentioned fans who
have scrambled to release any scraps that could be collected.
This wonderful double CD attempts, and succeeds, at setting the
record straight once and for all by collecting a thrilling mix
of Erickson's best and most elusive work, and it should be required
listening for any fan of psychedelia, punk, and good old fashioned
rock and roll. To hear Roky's raw howl, or to look into his deep,
twinkling eyes, is to feel the spirit of pure, true emotion unleashed.