Photo by Christopher Raley

Audiobiography: 1966 or 7, 2018

in which the poet listens to his music collection and writes poems about it

Disco became Gemco,
which I remember.
Gemco became a sports club,
which I occasionally pass by.

It was Disco the Discount Store
where Dad flipped through records
and bought, in ’66 or ’67,
The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators.
This is what his father, Vere, heard
when he passed his son’s room:
The frenetic screams of Roky Erickson,
the tuneless staccato of Tommy Hall’s electric jug.

Poor Vere. A trained baritone
who had performed in opera companies in Los Angeles
before dedicating his talent to the church,
leading weekly worship,
singing on a radio program that aired in the basin,
he was an artist at least as austere
as the life of devotion he led.
From sculpted black hair to polished black shoes,
he expressed on stage the highest order of control.

Meanwhile, the 13th Floor Elevators
dropped acid and rehearsed songs,
dropped acid and recorded songs,
dropped acid and performed songs
as a point of ideological commitment
to achieving a higher plane of consciousness.

I try to puzzle through what this means
as I read the liner notes on their album,
fumbling with my glasses because I can’t
make out pale red letters on a white background.
I try to decide whether I think the notes
are depraved or merely historical.

Similarly, I try to square the Vere of gravity
with the Vere I knew and grew up around
who would let nothing stop him saying he loved me,
even the way I adored rock and roll.

Some may call this confession
and some observation when I say:
The 13th Floor Elevators are like a note passed in class
to a dark and cluttered corner of my heart,
as if a girl had to tell me secretly
that someone had tied a millstone
to Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs
and left it teetering on the edge of a cliff
just for the fun of it. And incidentally
she’d seen my father there giggling.

All the same,
it’s hard when you’ve consigned yourself to see
things that are as things that were.
But that’s the way it is in this town
and others like it.


This poem was inspired by:

Vere Raley — The Love of God

The 13th Floor Elevators — Fire Engine from The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators


Notes:

dropped acid . . . and performed songs
Under [Tommy] Hall’s leadership, the Elevators did every rehearsal, performance, and recording session under the influence of LSD,” Mark Deming writing for Allmusic.

as I read the liner notes . . .
“When the band released their debut album, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, in the fall of 1966, Hall insisted on including bizarre liner notes charting man’s efforts to alter his consciousness,” Mark Deming writing for Allmusic.