Friday, December 7, 2012

13th Floor Elevators -- "Slip Inside This House" (1967)

One-eyed men aren't really reigning
They just march in place until
Two-eyed men with mystery training
Finally feel the power fill
Three-eyed men are not complaining.
They can yo-yo where they will
They slip inside this house as they pass by

(Stunned silence.)

(More stunned silence.)

The Dutch Renaissance author and theologian, Erasmus, is credited with coining the saying, "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."  That seems to be the inspiration for the first line of this verse -- "One-eyed men aren't really reigning" -- but who the hell knows?

But first things first.  When you listen to the this song, you're going to hear a weird little musical line that sounds like nothing you've never heard -- think wibble wibble wibble wibble.

You've probably seen old-timey bands that had a guy who played a gallon jug by blowing across the opening at the top of the neck, producing a bass note.

Tommy Hall, electric jug virtuoso
The sound on this record that I'm talking about is made by an electric jug.  Honest to God, folks.  Tommy Hall, who was one of the original members of the 13th Floor Elevators, played electric jug.

Hall was a world-class LSD user.  He told the author of a book about the Elevators that he took LSD something like 317 times between 1966 and 1970.  And he kept on taking it for decades.

Tommy Hall in 2009
I feel an artistic connection to Hall because I played bass jugs for a fife, jug, and bottle band in high school.  We were strictly acoustic, however -- no electric jugs in our band.  (No electric nothin', as a matter of fact.)

I could have used an electric jug.  Maybe then I wouldn't have hyperventilated and almost fainted during every song we played.  (More about that fife, jug, and bottle band later.)

Here's a video of the Elevators that shows Hall playing his electric jug.  As far as I know, he is the only person in the history of the world who played an electric jug, as you can see from this old American Bandstand appearance by the band:

(The 13th Floor Elevators on American Bandstand?  Maybe Dick Clark was on LSD, too.)

The next time you're in a tall building, check to see whether it has a 13th floor.  Odds are that it doesn't.

Can you believe that it's the year 2012, and superstition still has sufficient sway over our hearts and minds that building managers skip from 12 to 14 when labeling the buttons on their elevators?  Remarkable, isn't it?

Where's the button for the 13th floor?
Roky Erickson, the lead guitarist and lead singer for the 13th Floor Elevators, was brilliant.  He was also mad as a hatter.  

In 1968, when the band was performing at HemisFair -- which was sort of a mini-world's fair held in San Antonio that year -- Erickson began speaking gibberish.  He was diagnosed as being a paranoid schizophrenic and was subjected to electroconvulsive therapy (a/k/a/electroshock therapy or "shock treatment") at a psychiatric hospital in Houston.  

The Elevators were major drug users and advocates of drug use, and the fuzz kept a close eye on them.  In 1969, Erickson was arrested and found to be carrying a single joint.  Facing a possible sentence of as much as ten years in prison, Erickson pled not guilty by reason of insanity and ended up at a state hospital for the criminally insane, where he had more electroshock and was dosed with the antipsychotic drug, Thorazine, until his release in 1972.  

In 1974, Roky formed a new band named "Bleib alien," which combined an anagram and a pun and was supposed to mean "remain alone" but in German.  He then released two aptly named albums (I Think of Demons and The Evil One) before announcing in 1982 that a Martian had invaded his body.

Roky Erickson in 1967
Here's how Wikipedia describes what happened next:

[Erickson] came to feel that, due to his being alien, human beings were attacking him psychically.  A concerned friend enlisted a Notary Public to witness an official statement by Erickson that he was an alien; he hoped by declaring so publicly he would be in line with any "international laws" he might have been breaking.  Erickson claimed the attacks then indeed stopped.

(It gets worse, boys and girls.)

Beginning in the 1980s, 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).  He was arrested in 1989 on charges of mail theft.  Erickson picked up mail from neighbors who had moved and taped it to the walls of his room.  He insisted that he never opened any of the mail, and the charges were ultimately dropped.

Erickson has always been revered by fellow musicians -- especially Texas musicians.  In 1990, Sire/Warner Brothers released a tribute album featuring covers of Roky's songs by R.E.M., ZZ Top, the Butthole Surfers, Doug Sahm, and others.  In 1995, Henry Rollins published a collection of Erickson's song lyrics.  

Here's how Rolling Stone described the 1995-vintage Erickson:

[A] man falling apart at the seams, his teeth rotted to stumps, his hair wild and matted, and his house blaring with multiple TVs, radios and police scanners, apparently a strategy to block out the voices in his head.
Rollins took care of Roky's dental problems, paying for him to get a full set of dentures.  But the credit for most of Erickson's turnaround belongs to his kid brother, Sumner -- a former classical tubist for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Roky Erickson in 2012
In 2001, Sumner was granted legal custody over Roky, and helped him get his finances in shape.  He also made sure he took his meds.  Since then, things have been much better for Roky.

A documentary film about him was produced in 2005, and he appeared on stage (with ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons) for the first time in a long time that same year.  In 2007, he played in New York City for the first time, and also travelled to the Coachella Festival, London, and Finland.  In 2010, he released his first new album in 14 years.  Earlier this year, he toured Australia and New Zealand.

"Slip Inside This House" is the first track from the Elevators' second album, Easter Everywhere.  The song is over eight minutes long, and it is a true psychedelic masterpiece.

I had never heard the song until recently.  I'm still prone to fits of slack-jawed drooling every time I listen to it.  You'd best believe me when I say it is far-f*cking-out.  Just look at the verse I quoted above, with its one-eyed men and two-eyed men and three-eyed men.  (To quote Inspector Gadget, "Yowser!")  

And that verse is only one of ten verses in this song, each of which is more bizarre and obscure than the last.  Here's the first verse:

Bedouin tribes ascending
From the egg into the flower
Alpha information sending
States within the heaven shower
From disciples the unending
Subtleties of river power
They slip inside this house as they pass by 

Here's "Slip Inside This House":

Here's a link you can use to order the song from Amazon:

1 comment:

  1. well you should have seen them live- wesson oil light show and tommy hall's jug sounding like a spaceship taking off...
    they played at allen's landing in houston alot..when LSD was THE drug..late 60's..
    "high baptismal flow" LSD is a blancing is enlightening but is hard to control..can be a bit scary..huge potential , in my opinion..but the great unwashed who took too much chased it with wild turkey and became crazy/violent..ruined it..for everyone..tim leary saw its great and peaceful potential.