Roky Erickson with Okkervil River – True Love Cast Out All Evil [Album Review]

by oz on September 10, 2010

Like Blitzen Trapper’s Destroyer of the Void, Roky Erickson’s True Love Cast Out All Evil is another album we’ve neglected until now. Reading through Roky Erickson’s bio on Wikipedia is both fascinating and heartbreaking. Here are some excerpts:

  • Erickson co-founded the 13th Floor Elevators in 1965. Janis Joplin considered joining the band at one time and they had a hit in local charts in the southwest.
  • In 1968, while doing a stint at HemisFair, Erickson started speaking nonsense. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and sent to a Houston psychiatric hospital, where he involuntarily received electroconvulsive therapy.
  • In 1969, Erickson was arrested for possession of one marijuana joint in Austin and faced a 10-year prison term. He was first sent to the Austin State Hospital and, after several escapes, was sent to the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. He was subjected to more electroconvulsive therapy and Thorazine treatments and remained there until 1972.
  • In 1982, Erickson asserted that a Martian  had inhabited his body. He later reported to friends that aliens were coming to Earth to harm him and asked a Notary Public to witness an official declaration that he was himself an alien, hoping that this would convince the aliens to leave him alone.
  • In 1989, he was arrested on charges of mail theft. In an unmedicated state, Erickson began a years-long obsession with the mail, often spending hours poring over random junk mail, writing to solicitors and celebrities (dead or living).  Erickson picked up mail from neighbors who had moved and taped it to the walls of his room.

And here we are today. After soul-crushing life experiences that many could not survive, Roky Erickson perseveres and delivers a triumph of spirit in True Love Cast Out All Evil. Much of his survival is due to a judge granting his younger brother custody of him. His legal issues are behind him, he’s on medication to control his schizophrenia, and with loving family and friends behind him, he found music again. The album’s title is definitely an appropriate one.

Produced by Will Sheff and backed by Okkervil River, song selections hand plucked from Roky Erickson’s unreleased catalog are brought to life. The opening track, “Devotional Number One” is particularly stunning, especially considering it was a recorded during his stay at Rusk Hospital. Just read the lyrics:

For Jesus did not
And does and will not
Slay any persons
As somewhere was falsly written.
And to as Jesus
Is not an hallucinogenic mushroom.
Don’t wait for Christ to come.
For he has already risen.

You may be scratching your head, but there’s a fine line between genius and insanity. Musicians like Roky Erickson and Daniel Johnston are operating within that fine line.

The rest of the album turns into more accessible Country-tinged tracks like “Ain’t Blues Too Sad,” “Goodbye Sweet Dreams,” and “Bring Back The Past.” I’m not convinced that I’d hold this album in such high regard without the back story, but Roky’s words and spirit are what make it so special. I’m thankful that his story didn’t end in tragedy and that he reclaimed his family, his music, and his fans.

Roky Erickson – Goodbye Sweet Dreams

Roky Erickson – Be and Bring Me Home

Also check out the documentary, You’re Gonna Miss Me (trailer).

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Sir Indie September 10, 2010 at 7:23 am

“Goodbye Sweet Dreams”

A good and subtle song…I like this song. Not too much, not too little. =)

SirIndie
SirIndie.com

Michael Diver September 10, 2010 at 7:26 am

>>I’m not convinced that I’d hold this album in such high regard without the back story<<

Same with me. I like this album a lot, but when a friend told me she thought it was "lesser Steve Earle," my unspoken reaction was, Wait, wait, do you know what he went through in his life? This album is expressing some hard-earned emotion and wisdom.

Anyway, as I said, I like it. It works for me.

Music for Songwriters September 10, 2010 at 8:08 am

Wow heart warming story…he is like the music version of John Nash (correct me if I’m wrong)…kudos to him and his family and friends for sticking it out…

Woody September 10, 2010 at 10:58 am

That’s a really nice and well-thought out review. I also agree that the backstory really makes the album. Listening to it, you wonder if you could have made it through the same life experiences.

It also is nice to see how respected he is by the other musicians, especially Austin’s. They all seem to have a special place in their heart for him and that’s another nice piece to the story.

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