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'You're Gonna Miss Me': cult documentary of the year
NO DOUBT director Julien Temple thought he could make a great Joe Strummer movie. First of all, he's the original punk-rock documentarian, having made the poisonous Sex Pistols documentary The Great Rock N Roll Swindle, as well as its antidote The Filth and the Fury 20 years later. Second, they were close friends who lived next to each other for the last several years of Strummer's life. That's fair enough, and the resulting film Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten has its moments. It is, in a way, an instant cult movie. For one thing, Temple still insists on not putting IDs on his talking heads—possibly the most annoying quirk in the history of music documentaries—so you'll have to watch the film at least two or three times to figure out who everyone is (their names are listed randomly at the end). And he had the balls to shoot his interviews for a movie about punk rock's most important band in what seems like the least appropriate setting imaginable—at campfires on the beach (though this concept is fairly well explained near the end).But none of that changes the fact that this is the third movie about Strummer and the Clash in less than a decade, after 2000's Westway to the World and 2004's Let's Rock Again. To me, it's far more interesting to see a movie about a cult figure that more people should know about, but don't. That was the thrill of last year's The Devil and Daniel Johnston—whatever you think about Johnston's music, what's impressive is how director Jeff Feuerzeig made a cinematic masterpiece out of one of rock's great untold stories. This year's Devil and Daniel Johnston is You're Gonna Miss Me, a documentary about Roky Erickson which had a short theatrical run over the summer and is now out on DVD. It has more than a few superficial similarities to Feuerzeig's film, as both are about gifted but troubled Texas musicians who have battled mental illness and been perilously close to giving up on their music completely. In both cases, the very demons that make their lives difficult seem to also be part of what makes their musical vision so unique, raising questions about how much one person can stand to suffer for his art. But despite those parallels, Erickson has a very different story and You're Gonna Miss Me is a very different film (incidentally, both were completed in 2005, but director Keven McAlester began working on his Erickson film back in the '90s). In some ways, McAlester's film is more like Capturing the Friedmans than The Devil and Daniel Johnston.
For those who've never heard of him, Erickson was the frontman for the 13th Floor Elevators, a group often described as the first psychedelic band, who had their big hit in 1966 with "You're Gonna Miss Me" (High Fidelity fans should note that the song plays while John Cusack's girlfriend is leaving him early in the movie). Besides making a hit, they also took a lot of hits—of acid, mainly. Erickson is said in the film to have taken 300 in his lifetime. He was busted for marijuana, received shock treatment in a psychiatric institution and played in the hospital band with rapists and murderers before being declared sane. In the '70s and '80s, he claimed to be a Martian and wrote hard-edged, alternative-universe pop hits about zombies, two-headed dogs and demons. Then he seemed to drop off the face of the Earth.If his legend is bizarre, his real-life story is only more so. In fact, the story arc of You're Gonna Miss Me is so dramatic it's downright Shakespearean, as it opens with the Erickson family in a battle for custody over Roky, and then shows us how he was living in the '90s. We see him sleep in front of multiple televisions playing cartoons while radios cover the noise with more noise. His caretaker mom, who is opposed to medication, makes him act out her kingmaker fantasies on videotape. But one younger brother, wracked with guilt over Roky's condition, schemes to rescue him. McAlester balances the story of Erickson's past triumphs and tragedies with the twists and turns of his current life, all of it leading up to a rather remarkable ending.
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I discovered Erickson's music in college, after the release of the 1990 tribute album Where The Pyramid Meets the Eye, which turned a whole new generation of fans onto Roky while he was doing his time in the wilderness. I assumed I'd never see him in concert, but to my surprise, he played last month in San Francisco, where he hadn't performed in 26 years. I went, and couldn't believe how good he still sounds. You're Gonna Miss Me explains how he got back, and everyone should check it out.
CULT LEADER is a weekly column about the state of cult movies and offbeat corners of pop culture. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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