Documentarian Keven McAllester does a satisfying enough job of tracking Erikson’s youth and early music career, before arresting his musical inquiry to dive into a disquisition on the singer’s mental illness and the 17 years he floated in and out of Texas’ Mental Health Care system and the care of friends and family.
Apparently, Erikson discovered LSD in the early ’70′s and it triggered some nascent schizophrenia that Erikson had been walking around with his entire life. At this point – the 20 or 30 minute mark – the film becomes a bit too much like Terry Zwigoff’s ‘
If the movie was meant to be a proper portrait, the filmmakers ought to have spent more time on the music that Erikson made and the influence he has had, given that most people have likely never heard of The Elevators or recognize the influence that they had on American music, an influence that trickled into Jefferson Airplane or that of their sometime-collaborator, fellow Texan Janis Joplin.
A case for Erikson and the Elevators’ influence could easily be made, given that they were the first psychedelic rock band. Current scholarship links the Elevators to Michael Stipe and R.E.M., The Jesus and Mary Chain and ZZ Top, while missing the likely influence they had upon acts like The Velvet Underground, Jefferson Airplane, Patti Smith, the Talking Heads and the American ‘Punk’ and ‘Emo’ movements during the ’70′s, ’80′s and ’90′s. Instead, it seems as though director Keven McAlester and his producers, Laura Boyd DeSmeth and Lauren Hollingsworth would rather use Erikson’s story as a springboard to discuss the inequities and difficulties of mental health care here in America, as they go into the homes of Roky, his mother and brother, to reveal some shocking details about the disorders each of them seem to share.
The filmmakers then wrap-up their story create an inaccurate ‘happy’ ending, by depicting a middle-aged Erikson, moving from a State mental facility to the custody and Guardianship roles that have been given to his brother Sumner. What the filmmakers conveniently omit from their coverage is that Erikson has maintained something of a music career since 1995, despite his institutionalization. As part of his role as Roky’s legal guardian, brother Sumner has encouraged his brother to continued playing and organized an annual annual
In this case, I wish the filmmakers had spent more time in the film talking about Erikson and his musical influence, rather than the Jerry Springer-style evocation of American Mental Health care and the traps that it creates. Though Erikson was a victim of that system it is neither the beginning or end of his story.