You’re Gona Miss Me (2005)

You’re Gonna Miss Me (2005)
Directed by Keven McAlester. Documentary. Not rated. 94 minutes.

“You’re Gonna Miss Me” is a well-made documentary about Roger (Roky) Erickson, a ’60s lead singer from Austin whose career arc spiked early and then descended steadily, taking him on a long slide from modest stardom to incarceration to abject and lengthy mental illness. The film sketches his history and offers a little rock and roll on the side.

A brief scene from a courtroom intervention opens the film, with one of Roky’s brothers petitioning the court to have Roky removed from the care of his mother and placed with his brother instead. This scene signals to us that Erickson won’t be dead at the end of the movie, that there is family conflict in the offing, and that we can now go back in time to Erickson’s roots with the judge’s decision and its consequences awaiting us when we make it back to the present.

The movie then proceeds, interleaving scenes of a beautiful, full-voiced, youthful Roky with scenes of the wreck that he has become by the time he reaches his 50s. Interviews with Patti Smith, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, and others suggest that Erickson’s performance style and voice had considerable influence on rock and rock in the late 60s. Janis Joplin considered joining one of the bands that he co-founded, the 13th Floor Elevators. (She went to San Francisco instead.) Meanwhile, the Elevators released an album titled “The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators.” For this, and because of the LSD and grass that they used heavily, the group was credited with coining the term “psychedelic rock.” A quick check of my shelf of 60s wax reveals The Electric Prunes, Ultimate Spinach, and Canned Heat, but no Elevators.

There followed success, the hit “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” San Francisco, drugs and alcohol and women, and then it was all downhill from there. Hepititis. Back to Austin. Lockup in a mental hospital for the criminally insane. Two broken marriages. Back into his mother’s arms. As the story unfolds, we jump back to the present periodically, where Roky’s behavior onscreen convinces us of his mental illness.

Halfway through the movie, in the course of interviews with family members, musicians, the police, and others, there suddenly appears onscreen a 24-year-old young man, talking about his father Roky. His father? This is Roky’s son? Where did he come from? This is a reminder that the filmmaker is compressing 58 years of a man’s life into 94 minutes. If I took an hour’s worth of video from your life, threw in 30 minutes of interviews with your family and friends, and then sat you down to observe the results, would you notice anything missing? Could I capture your essence in that time? However successful McAlester is at doing so, this movie can’t turn me into an expert on Erickson in an hour and a half.

[mild spoilers]

As the past and present converge, we see Roky’s youngest brother decide to petition the court for the right to become Roky’s legal guardian. This means removing him from his mother’s care and a lot more work than the brother realizes. Like when you decide to paint your house.

The core message of the movie now emerges: If you are unfortunate enough to need help in this life, mental or physical, and you don’t happen to be rich or famous, your fate will depend upon the kindness and good works of your family, friends, and possibly of strangers. In Roky’s case, any such kindness was insufficiently strong or committed or lasting or widespread among those who knew and cared for him to overcome his resistance to it. He walked away from one wife; another wife walked away from him. His brothers looked on from a distance. He dropped friends and they let him drop them. The only, unlucky, exception to this lack of commitment to help came from his mother. Year after year, Roky lived as his mother wanted him to live, remaining dependent upon her. No medication. No music. No dental care. This from a mother who comes across onscreen almost as damaged as Roky himself. If I were to tweak the movie in any way, it would be to add footage that somehow helps us understand and visualize the long, long stretch of time between Roky’s youth and late middle age – a lifetime, his life – wasted, frittered away, consumed by an illness that could have been managed by treatment and the involvement of a single person willing and able to make the effort to help him, but instead kept him tied to a mother satisfied to have him near her and broken rather than out in the world and functional.

But, finally, the younger brother does step up and provide the financial and emotional effort to make a difference in Roky’s life. A demonstration of the results, after a long period of treatment, rehabiliatation, and support, is provided quietly by Roky with his guitar in a chair outside his brother’s home in Pittsburg.

The screener disk contained no extras. I’m sure that commentary tracks will increase the value of an already excellent documentary. Rotten Tomatoes rates the movie at 81; the IMDB rating is 8.4. For more on the film, listen to FilmCouch podcast #26. For the latest on Roky Erikson, check out his Wikipedia entry at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roky_Erickson.

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