If you have ghosts | Bleader

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

If you have ghosts

Posted By on 07.25.07 at 08:45 PM

Last night I went to the Sound Opinions-sponsored screening of the Roky Erickson documentary You're Gonna Miss Me (why it was billed as a "preview screening" is something not even filmmaker Keven McAlester knew; the film had a brief run at the Siskel already and the DVD, packed with extras, was released on July 10). It's beautifully done and I highly recommend it, for the odd beauty of its imagery as well as for its intimate portrait of a brilliant mind, a debilitating illness, and a hapless family doing the best it knows how.

Anyone who's been treated for any mental illness, however relatively mild, might well see things that feel familiar in the state Erickson lived in for so many years--the squalor, the grim dependence on distractions (Erickson kept several TVs and radios and other noisemakers going on at all times to drown out his voices), the shrugging general indifference to life. Erickson's mother, Evelyn, often painted as a smothering villain and reckless enabler in shorthand versions of this story, comes off as a figure who might share some of her most famous son's problems. She too has a pressing need to be understood (and doesn't have the Roky's buffer of resignation about its unlikeliness).

During the Q&A session after the film, someone asked McAlester's opinion about the relationship between creative genius and mental illness. He said (I'm heavily paraphrasing) that the link has been romanticized and overstated, that we remember the precious few mentally ill people who were able to leave us a creative legacy and forget the millions who weren't. I was reminded of something a longtime friend of Wesley Willis told me when I was reporting on his passing and his funeral a few years ago: that she would hate to see right-wingers use Willis's relative success story as proof that the health-care system is working. The story of Erickson's slow, rewarding recovery (which you can see in progress for yourself next weekend, when Erickson plays at the Abbey Pub and Lollapalooza) is indeed cause for cautious celebration.

It doesn't diminish our appreciation of Erickson's struggle to remember those not even as "lucky" as he was, with loving and protective (if misguided) family and fans to help him out. If there's a film in current release that would make a good double-feature companion, it's probably Michael Moore's Sicko.

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