Where else can you find ZZ Top and The Jesus And Mary Chain on the same CD, covering the same song? And honestly, both versions are excellent.
Roky Erickson, troubled bandleader of Texas' 13th Floor Elevators, notarized citizen of Mars, and acid casualty, was committed to an insane asylum for possession of marijuana. If his apocryphal psychedelic lyrics are any indication, he indeed journeyed somewhere from which there was no return.
Like their San Francisco psychedelic counterparts Moby Grape and the equally troubled Skip Spence, The 13th Floor Elevators are a bit of a footnote from the late 1960s. Like Grape, their recordings are in and out of print, often in inferior versions, due to legal wrangling with labels and producers that continues to this day. And it is a shame.
When John Cusack opens his window and blasts out the Elevator's "You're Gonna Miss Me" in the film High Fidelity, it is many people's only taste of Erickson's music. Still, it is abundantly apparent that these casualties of the Summer Of Love got their music out to a wide range of open ears, as this tribute is fueled by impassioned versions of Erickson's songs by the likes of the late Doug Sahm, ex-Television guitarist Richard Lloyd, Julian Cope, R.E.M., The Butthole Surfers, and T-Bone Burnett.
As with any tribute, there are a few missteps, and they are especially egregious here. Chris and Tabby Thomas turn in a wan R'n'B rendition of "Leave Your Body Behind" that leans heavily on paper-thin electric drums and psuedo-Prince vocal posturing. It's painful -- really, really painful. Lou Ann Barton's surfy, monochromatic rockabilly "Don't Slander Me," even at a mere two minutes, goes on a little long. And Thin White Rope's uber-creepy "Burn The Flames" with its ghoulish lyrics about candelabras and piano-playing vampires might be perfect for a kitschy Halloween mixtape, but it gets the skip button from me in the off-season.
Yet "Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye," while saddled with some filler, is ultimately a worthwhile listen. Cope's "I Have Always Been Here Before" is outfitted with an awesome bassline that carries his baritone through verses about pyramids whose existence "challenges the scientists" while "obelisks" mock our mortal remains. Weird, yes. But not only weird - danceable. Primal Scream gives "Slip Inside This House" a similar catchy dance makeover, taking it in a trippy and acid-drenched beat-heavy direction. Sister Double Happiness (a band made up of fellow Texans Gary Floyd and Imperial Teen's drummer Lynn Perko, both former members of Texas' legendary punk band The Dicks) gives us a righteously bellowed version of "Red Temple Prayer." If I could be reincarnated as a voice, I'd want to be Gary Floyd's voice. Bongwater delivers a suitably odd piece of psych-tortured folk with their gorgeous "You Don't Love Me Yet."
This Roky Erickson tribute is a sprawling and ambitious affair, and mainly suffers from being too long and trying to straddle too many styles. It's a testimony to the power of Erickson's decidedly unusual songwriting and compositional powers that so many performers - from the lilting Poi Dog Pondering to the harmonized wolf-howls and handclaps of John Wesley Harding - lined up to pay their dues.