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Since the entirety of October is officially Halloween this year (shut up, you!), we at Psycho Drive-In have decided to attempt to fill the month with thirty-one recommendations for horror-related movies, comics, books, TV shows, toys, games, and everything in-between. It’s gonna be a grab-bag of goodies we feel you should be exposed to, whether you like it or not! But don’t expect your standard suggestions for Halloween fun, we’re digging into some stuff that we love in the hopes that you might make this October a little bit weirder than usual.

Weirder in a good way. Not like what’s going on outside in the hellscape of 2020.

Like many others, possibly even you, I first heard Roky Erickson’s music in Return of the Living Dead (1985). In the movie Don Calfa as Ernie and Tina played by Beverly Randolph climb into the attic just as Thom Mathews as the now-blinded Freddy storms into the room below. The scene cuts to the crematorium as the flames leap up at about 1:16:35. Matt Clifford’s driving synth score fades down and Roky Erickson’s “Burn the Flames” comes up.

A sickly James Karen as Frank–probably the best character in a movie of great characters–removes his wedding ring, prays for forgiveness and climbs into the furnace in the saddest and most dramatic scene of the film. And all of it happens to a part of Roky Erickson’s song “Burn the Flames”. The subtitles aptly describe “ghoulish laughter” and then incorrectly cites the lyrics “Burn the plague” on the copy I viewed for this article anyway.

The song in the movie is gone in a blink of an ear. The entire chorus is:

So burn
So burn
Burn the flames
And higher

So burn
Burn the flames
To expire

We only get a piece of the whole work in the movie. The rest of the song is filled with haunting keyboards, strumming guitar, maniacal laughter, fuzzy guitar solo, and near the end something sounding close to a theremin.

The first verse describes a vampire at a piano:

Here I sit a vampire
At my piano
The flames burn
Glaringly higher.

The second verse describes a skeleton at an organ:

Here I sit A skeleton
at my organ
The candles in my candelabra burn hellishly
hellish hell.

And the third describes Roky himself:

Here I sit myself
at my instruments
Here they sit
at their instruments
And the music fills and fills
Terrifies, horrifies, forever scares
The children of the night
What music we make

All three verses are in first person, but you get the sense that Roky is equating himself with the first two more historically gothic images of monsters playing instruments. And when you add the chorus “Burn the flames/Higher and higher” especially after the verse about himself, then it becomes a metaphor for his own personal struggles, especially considering his mental health struggles. Why he isn’t considered a horror poet on a par with Poe himself is beyond me.

As the internet improved I slowly learned more about Roky Erickson and then the documentary about him came out–“You’re Gonna Miss Me”. I then found him on music apps and bought his work digitally to discover a treasure trove of dark horror rock and horror-oriented lyrics on a par with my other favorites like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Zacherle.

His solo work, his work with Thirteenth Floor Elevators and Roky Erikson and the Aliens contain all sorts of great works and not just for horror fans. I’m baffled, however, that I haven’t been hearing his work at Halloween parties for the past half century. His songs rock and his lyrics are a horror fans nightmare-come-true. His best works for me include “I Walked with a Zombie”, “Night of the Vampire”, and “Bloody Hammer” but my absolute personal favorites are “It’s a Cold Night for Alligators” and “Two-Headed Dog”–

Two-headed dog
Two-headed dog
I’ve been working at the Kremlin
With a two-headed dog.

Perhaps the reason his work isn’t as well-known as I think it should be is that it’s too visceral or too real, especially considering his mental health challenges. After all you could look up Russian two-head dog and see what you find if you dare, but I wouldn’t if I were you. I’m serious. Don’t do it. Go listen to some Roky Erickson instead.

Roky left this reality to journey among the stars on May 31, 2019. Safe travels, Roky.

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