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The 13th Floor Elevators

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Essay title: The 13th Floor Elevators

The 13th Floor Elevators

“Since Aristotle, man has organized his knowledge vertically in separate and unrelated groups -- Science, Religion, Sex, Relaxation, Work etc. The main emphasis in his language, his system of storing knowledge, has been on the identification of objects rather than on the relationships between objects. He is now forced to use his tools of reasoning separately and for one situation at a time. Had man been able to see past this hypnotic way of thinking, to distrust it (as did Einstein), and to resystematize his knowledge so that it would all be related horizontally, he would now enjoy the perfect sanity which comes from being able to deal with his life in its entirety.

Recently, it has become possible for man to chemically alter his mental state and thus alter his point of view (that is, his own basic relation with the outside world which determines how he stores his information). He can restructure his thinking and change his language so that his thoughts bear more relation to his life and his problems, therefore approaching them more sanely.”

Quote from the liner notes of The Psychedelic Sounds of The 13th Floor Elevators

The 13th Floor Elevators got their name as a play on the superstition that many tall buildings in the U.S. doesn’t have a 13th floor, and as a fact that the letter “M”(for marijuana) is the 13th letter in the Latin alphabet.

One would wonder what style of music can play a band wich bares such a name, and I would tell you that it is, of course, psychedelic rock of the middle sixties. The 13th Floor Elevators were perhaps the first band that used word psychedelic referring to their music. And certainly they were among the first to play it.

The band was formed in Austin, Texas, in 1966. Its youngest member Roger Kynard(Roky) Erickson and its vocalist and rhythm guitar player, and perhaps the leader of the group that defined their style of playing(although on the Dick Clark’s question, who was the head of the band, Erickson answered: “We’re all heads, Dick!”), was kicked out of Austin’s Travis High School in his junior year for growing his hair like the Rolling Stones. By the 1965 he had already written their single “You’re Gonna Miss Me” when he was playing in another group called the Spades. But the song has reached #2 on local charts in early 1966 when he performed it with The Elevators.

Other member of the group, Tommy Hall(the oldest one), played a jug , or an “electric jug”, how he called it, which essentially meant him blowing into a plane jug with a microphone in one hand to amplify the resulting sounds.

Guitarist Stacy Sutherland, bassist Benny Thurman, and drummer John Ike Walton were playing bluegrass and later garage rock(though The Elevators were basically a garage rock band themselves, but maybe with a more serious philosophical foundation, and more experimental and innovative psychedelic elements) before they joined the band. Their friend and neighbor, Janis Joplin, briefly sang backing vocals for the Elevators before setting out on her own (she said that the Elevators had a great impact on her future career as a performer).

While Hall gave the band a philosophical backdrop (the quote at the beginning of this essay belongs to him), Erickson provided its musical focus. Roky probably entered history as the first real Wildman with a capital W, way before the world heard of Jim Morrison or Iggy Pop. He thrashed around the stage, wailed like a madman, and still had enough energy left to play professional rhythm guitar at the same time.

The Elevators built a reputation on powerful live shows and Erickson's vocals that changed between grief and psychotic threatening. “You're gonna wake up one morning as the sun greets the dawn/You're gonna look around and you'll find that I'm gone/You didn't realize/You're gonna miss me, baby!” he sings in the “You’re Gonna Miss Me”, the texts contrasted greatly compared to those that were sang at the time. The wild “Roller Coaster” song “careens like an out-of-control amusement-park ride”. The chorus of “Reverberation” echoes as if bouncing off the walls of a dark cavern; “Splash 1” creates ethereal folk rock waves

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