Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Song of the Week: The 13th Floor Elevators - I Had To Tell You

The other night I finished watching a documentary entitled Your Gonna Miss Me. It's a doc about Roky Erickson, the troubled front-man from the legendary 60's garage band, the 13th Floor Elevators whom are perhaps best known for their 1966 single, You're Gonna Miss Me.

It's certainly more about Roky than it is about the Elevators, but there is a lot of juicy stuff about the band nonetheless. As is so often the case, one comes away wondering "what could have been"? What could have been if they had better production, better management, better decisions in terms of drug use? But more than that cast of woulda, shoulda, coulda usual suspects, you wonder what could have been if Roky had better legal counsel, a better mother (the home film footage of mom's self-made Beast King movie is very, very odd), a better father, and of course, a better sense of what is real and what is not real. What could have been? As with Syd Barrett, one gets the sense that Roky was a brilliant musical mind that heard things that others didn't. But you also get the sense, as with Barett, that things were terribly wrong inside the head. Add an alleged 300 drops of LSD, and suddenly the cracks in the House of Usher become unfixable fissures.

Needless to say, I turned to their records not long after watching the doc. More and more these days I turn to their second album, Easter Everywhere. While it is not as "cool" as Psychedelic Sounds of..., EE has better production values and represents some of the bands' best songwriting.

The standout from the album, in my opinion, is the sublime "I Had To Tell You." I can't get enough of it. It's filled with warbly out of tune guitar, funky Rick Danko-like (of The Band) harmonies, a twittering straight tuned harmonica that hits the highest registers, and some of the best lyrics you can get outside of Bob Dylan and Chuck Berry.

The line from the song that always tugs at my ears is a quixotic line that plays up the contradiction between control and chaos. A line that raises hope in the same instance that it dashes it. A vulnerable Erickson pleades, "If you fear I'll lose my spirit, like a drunkards wasted wine, don't you even think about it, I'm feeling fine."

It never fails to get me. Just click on the post title to listen to it. I hope you enjoy it half as much as I do.



  1. I'm going to see Mr. Erickson (or what's left of him) at the El Rey
    > theater in L.A, on Halloween no less. It was one of those shows that
    > I figured I had to see, lest I never get the opportunity again.
    > The excitement I feel about seeing him in person is slightly
    > tempered by the fact that I don't think he plays any 13th Floor
    > Elevators material with the exception of "Splash 1", which is a song
    > he wrote long before he even formed the band. As far as I've heard,
    > he doesn't even do "You're Gonna Miss Me"! I think maybe performing
    > that stuff might be too much for his fragile mind state, considering
    > how it may bring back bad memories. I do like his solo material,
    > though it's not as great as 13th Floor stuff of course.
    > I dig the blog. Looks good, the writing is good--keep it up!
    > --
    > J.B. Carpenter

  2. After listening to my old Elevator's albums for the first time in a long time, I rented 'You're Gonna Miss Me" and enjoyed it as much as you can enjoy such a tattered and melancholy story. (Though the ending was uplifting to a degree, so it avoided being a front to back downer like the Crumb documentary.) And I totally agree with you about "I Had to Tell You", definitely one of the most moving and elegantly simple songs of all time. I learned to sing and play this acoustically decades ago, and unlike most such songs that I learned, this one never disappeared into the ether of my cranium.

    Nice writing, I enjoyed it and hope you continue updating. And thanks also for being the guy who introduced Skid to the Elevators so he could then introduced them to me.

  3. It's a tricky song to play. I never seem to get the right sense of vulnerability when I play it.

    Re: the doc, it was quite uncomfortable to watch Roky be put on the spot and play the song at the end. I was so nervous for him. And then something funny happened, the tentativeness of his performance gave way to a real nice, simple song. He still has that vulnerability.

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  5. JBC-15 says.....(after writing a big old review and having it rejected and then lost when I tried to post it..grrrr.)

    I saw Roky Erickson on Halloween at the El Rey Theater and now I wish I could take back what I said earlier.

    Roky was backed by an Austin-based group called The Black Angels and they performed not only Roky's solo stuff, but also six Elevators tunes:
    "Splash One", "You're Gonna Miss Me", "Before You Accuse Me"(Bo Diddley cover), "Reverberation", "Don't Fall Down" and "Tried To Hide".

    Great show. Roky needed the assistance of a lyric stand put was in good voice and played decent guitar. The Black Angels are a neo-psychedelic band that play drone rock similar to the Elevators or the late 80's band Spaceman 3. Similar to the band Arthur Lee had in his final years, the Angels were very complimentary backers for the old stuff.

    The lead singer of the Angels also seemed to be coaching Roky through the set. They would confer after every song and the guy would more or less double Roky on lead vocals; he also played Farfisa organ and Tommy Hall's jug parts.

    Roky was in great spirits throughout the show and it was satisfying to see him enjoying himself. He has thankfully grown back the beard and now resembles a hippy Santa Claus--very roly-poly.

    Nothing from "Easter Everywhere", but maybe they are working their way up to that stuff.See him if you get the chance.

  6. I’m excited about following your blog. Your write-up's are an enjoyable read. It's nice to have something to look forward to, especially for a Monday. Feel as though I enrolled in a course on the history of rock n’ roll although it is much more fun and no homework….or is there? I played a bit of catch-up today and I’m fairly sure that, of all the Song(s) of the Week, I Had to Tell You was the show-stopper. Let’s just say I was pleased that it was looping around and around again because, like you, I couldn’t get enough.

    I’m no music buff so I won’t analyze it except to say his voice is oh-so soothing and he just carries the tune so nicely from beginning to end. I really appreciate that. I also dig the harp solo. I am curious about other 13th Floor Elevator songs but Jack said this one doesn’t represent and I probably wouldn’t go for the other stuff? What do you think? Either way, this one has officially been added to my PLAY list and I thank you.

  7. Jack Hayden is probably correct in his assessment. Most of their stuff is more aggressive. However, even that stuff is very hypnotic. Try to get your ears on Splash 1 and Reverberation from their first album. That might show a little more of the Elevators breadth of work and still hit that mark. A woman by the name of Clementine Hall wrote many of the lyrics. She was a poetry major (I think) at U. of Texas and married to the band's jug player. The lyrics are universally good and intriguing.

    Thanks for the nice words, Serene. It's nice to have you on board.

  8. I only discovered site recently. Keep it going, brutha!

  9. It's like a guest registry.

  10. I'm still here!

  11. Something about this song just hits me. Not sure I've heard it before. As a new dad, it just hits me in a very new, soft and unknown place.