Considering myself a pretty big music fan, I was pretty embarrassed to discover I knew very little about the life and music of Roky Erickson. In case you don’t know who he is either, I’ll tell you what I know having seen Kevin McAlester’s interesting documentary about him entitled, “You’re Gonna Miss Me.”
Roky was the guitarist and the main vocalist of the group 13th Floor Elevators who many consider the pioneering band of psychedelic rock. As psychedelic rockers are prone (or required?) to do, Roky and his band mates took LSD…alot of it. While their minds may have been expanded, the major doses seemed to have triggered some mental problems in Roky and soon, he was committed to a mental institution after being busted for marijuana possession. After several ill-advised escapes, Roky was soon condemned to a maximum security mental institution alongside child murderers and rapists. Upon his eventual release, Roky went back to music but now considered himself either an alien or a demon, depending on his mood. All this amazing and interesting musical history was gleaned from “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and as a music fan, I truly appreciate that aspect of the film.
Cut to the current day and Roky is basically living in poverty somewhere in Austin. McAlester introduces us to Roky’s mom Evelyn as well as his brothers who are actively trying to get Roky some serious medical help. As we start to see, the man is a mess. His hair is a nappy mat of dread and he has very few teeth. However, Evelyn has this strange need to keep Roky near her and thus won’t allow her youngest son Sumner to get Roky proper medical care. It’s soon quite evident that Evelyn is also suffering from some kind of mental disability or an overwhelming case of guilt of what her favorite son Roky has become.
It’s all sooo intriguing, yet I couldn’t help but sense McAlester was more interested in filming crazy dysfunction of Roky and Evelyn Erikson rather than caring about them. I’m not saying McAlester exploits the Erikson’s, but somehow there’s an overall feeling of coldness towards his subjects. “You’re Gonna Miss Me” will undoubtedly be compared to another recent music doc with a strikingly similar storyline, “The Devil and Daniel Johnston.” But that film allowed us to get close to Daniel Johnston and see the man as an artist and a person. “You’re Gonna Miss Me” just kind of sketches Roky Erikson and his family, and we never really get to know them. This causes a problem.
For instance, Sumner Erikson is featured pretty prominently in the film, but I was never clear on his motives or his personality. Is he truly interested in helping Roky or just interested in getting him away from his mother and reigniting his musical career? I’m still unsure and maybe that was the point, but the way it’s shown doesn’t really raise those questions. It’s just kind of “there.” Rather than feeling any sort of empathy towards any of the Erikson’s, all I got was the sad feeling that it must be really tough to have to deal with a mentally challenged person and I think we all knew that already.
That being said, “You’re Gonna Miss Me” is still a great meld of rock history, the sociological and familial impacts of mental disability and some courtroom intrigue as Sumner attempts to gain custody of Roky. I just wish I didn’t feel like I was spying on these people when they’re at their worst.