Celebrating rock’s best monster bard
In keeping with Halloween tradition, last weekend’s episode of Sound Opinions once again was devoted to great, scary rock songs. But after several years of doing this, we decided to narrow our focus a bit for 2012: This time, we highlighted our favorite songs specifically about monsters.
As I noted in passing during the show, no one in the history of rock n’ roll has written more classic songs about monsters than Austin, Tex., troubadour Roky Erickson. But I couldn’t devote all of my picks to this underappreciated genius. That sort of self-indulgence I reserve for this space!
Roky’s monster music dominated the second phase of his career. He first made his mark on the scene in the mid-’60s with the pioneering psychedelic rock band the 13th Floor Elevators. Then came a notorious drug bust, after which he opted for confinement in a mental institution — he already was suffering from the early onset of schizophrenia — but there his living conditions and treatment turned out to be immeasurably more horrible than time in any Texas prison.
“When you’re working with Roky, you’re basically living B-grade horror movies all day,” Stu Cook told me. The former bassist for Creedence Clearwater Revival was a major fan who worked with Erickson for several years in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and he produced one of the artist’s best albums, Roky Erickson and the Aliens (1980).
This fascination with horror and fantasy may have been due to the very real terrors the singer and songwriter had experienced at Rusk State Mental Hospital. Posited Texas rock critic and veteran Roky chronicler John Morthland in the liner notes to the 1991 compilation You’re Gonna Miss Me: The Best of Roky Erickson: “In his fashion, Roky had come to know the devil the way that Robert Johnson knew the devil, by carrying on daily conversations with him.”
When I first interviewed Erickson in 1986, all he wanted to talk about was the 1983 horror flick The Evil Dead — admittedly a work of genius, but then I felt even more strongly about his music, and was disappointed that that seemed to be the last thing on his mind.
In any event, if you know Erickson’s catalog, you know and love all of these songs. If you don’t, well, you’re in for a top-rate rock-roll scarifying treat! Here are my 10 favorite Roky monster songs, some from the original albums, some from vintage or recent live performances. (Unlike most monster movies, Roky’s story has a happy ending, as he is once again healthy and bringing his music to live audiences around the world.)
1. “Two Headed Dog (Red Temple Prayer)”
2. “I Walked with a Zombie”
3. “I Think Up Demons”
4. “If You Have Ghosts”
5. “Night of the Vampire”
6. “It’s a Cold Night for Alligators”
7. “The Creature with the Atom Brain”
8. “Don’t Shake Me Lucifer”
9. “Stand for the Fire Demon”
10. “Bloody Hammer”