Roky Erickson: If You Have Ghosts
John Wesley Harding and The Good Liars: If You Have Ghosts
So many sweet songs come to mind for this week's theme; a search of "if" reveals that my library is filled with pensive love songs of what might still come to pass, and mournful ballads of what could have been, if only things had been different. But somehow, in the end, it's the angry, bitter ones that stick with me. Possibilities unrealized, promises unfulfilled: there's nothing better to rail against the uncompromising darkness of a world that breaks its vows than song.
Roky Erickson's If You Have Ghosts is a bit of a cryptic psych-rocker - the lyrics dabble in a twilight world, and there's not much narrative there. But the license that ghosts grant is clearly stated in the first lines: If you have ghosts, says Erickson, then you have everything; you can say anything you want, and you can do anything you want.
Erickson seems uneasy with this conclusion - he doesn't want his fangs to grow too long - and it's not hard to see why. It's a dark, dangerous justification for bad behavior, this theory of having loved and lost as a needful thing for full human consciousness. But the very existence of the song suggest that whether it is true that to be haunted is to be real, we've all got demons, and they deserve to rock. And for the duration, at least, it all makes a kind of dark, disturbing sense. Especially if we note here that Erickson, who was a member of the strange psychedelic garagerock band 13th Floor Elevators in the sixties, is well known for ending up in a psych ward for undiagnosed schizophrenia not long after leaving the band to begin his solo career. Ghosts, indeed.
Though I cannot find the original Erickson's original is as wild as you might expect; thanks to fellow Star Maker contributor Ramone666 for passing it along. But it's the song, not the performance, that truly matters here. And happily, John Wesley Harding and Co. pay tribute to these complexities with aplomb on the generally excellent 1990 Roky Erickson tribute compilation Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye.