Thursday, February 18, 2010

Astral Book Club - Eye Mind

Oh, how I wanted to enjoy Paul Drummond's Eye Mind: The Saga of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators, The Pioneers of Psychedelic Sound (2007). It even has a Forward by trusted psych apostle Julian Cope! But "enjoy" is not the word...

For some background on the band, check it out!

Eye Mind
The "saga" in the title gives the impression of an epic adventure yarn, but you're really getting more of a "historical accounting." It is informative. Heavy with dates and details, the book is not however rich with the wild spirit of the Elevators themselves. I wouldn't be too surprised to learn the author's background was in Napoleonic military history, and rock 'n' roll just some quirky hobby.

Nuggets of interest abound. Stories like how a young Roky was banned from church because his long hair might offend the visiting LBJ. Or how a phantom band was available to cover the Elevators' whole set when they were too messed up, or didn't show up at all. The problem is: you've basically read the entirety of those stories... just now.

Elevators live!
There are repeated (and repetitious) "cat & mouse games" with law enforcement - but details are rare, and sketchy when provided. They apparently stashed pot on roadsides outside Kerrville, so they could go get it at night... and smoke in the car before the cops pulled them over. Which makes absolutely no sense, as told.

There are a series of bandmates' and friends' girlfriends that leave them for Roky. But they're usually only mentioned when introduced ("Jim was dating Nancy, a young beauty from Corpus Christi...") and when jumping ship 50 pages later ("Nancy got Roky alone and declared her deep, abiding love"). Nancy wha? For the first half of the book, time flies by - tons half-remembered trivial minutiae share equal footing with far fewer half-remembered critical events.

Clementine Hall
But I'm glad I got it, and I'd still recommend the book for the serious 13th Floor... uh, scholar [see Cope, Julian]. For a few reasons. First, those nuggets of interest are numerous enough, regardless of pacing. If you take a step back and squint a little, you'll get a serviceable picture of the mid/late-'60s freak lifestyle in Texas. Beyond tidbits like Spring being "the home of redneck hippies," there's the whole general fear & loathing of the time and place.

Also, some of the central players get drawn more fully as people. Roky least of all, probably because the legend of the fragile genius-holy fool is so firmly in place. But loads of great information about the mysterious Clementine Hall and her deep involvement in the band. Her husband Tommy's role as messianic acid guru has been pretty well nailed down. Fortunately for him, he's left a paper trail of endless talk - so you get a lot of his crackpot ideas and tendencies straight from the horse's mouth as it were. And lead guitarist Stacy Sutherland's struggles with the lifestyle and his personal demons are detailed way beyond the vague post-Elevators info I'd heard before.

Tommy Hall
Finally, there's the chapter on Easter Everywhere (1967), which ties together lots of information on the source texts for Tommy's metaphysical theories and lyrics - primarily "Slip Inside This House." Again, with loads of direct quotes from the man himself. Since I consider this a seminal '60s psychedelic record, the fairly brief section was probably all worth it. Hell, I would have just made writing and recording info about half the whole book! With less of the "played the Vulcan Gas Company show on March 8th, 1967, the band continued to struggle with Tommy's complex new arrangements." O well...

Okay, okay... I think that pretty much covers it (and then some). You can sample the publisher's preview. Here's a review at Texas Psychedelic Rock (below the giant banners), which says a lot of the same things - just more briefly and bitterly. Plus, check out the recommended online/free 13th Floor bio at the very bottom of this page (in two parts). And here's a more positive review.

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