The Clementine Hall interview
In the mid-Sixties, the Rock Wife didn't really exist. There were Beatle wives Cynthia Lennon and Maureen Starr, but the mold didn't set well, because the appeal of a musician to his female admirers was his availability. Paul McCartney's mod girlfriend Jane Asher was adored, in part because she was his girlfriend, not wife. In the not-so-secret palpitating hearts of girls everywhere, you still had a chance with Paul because he wasn't married.
Years before McCartney broke up with Asher, married Linda Eastman, and formed Wings, before Lennon divorced Cynthia, married Yoko Ono, and recorded Two Virgins, Clementine Tausch married 13th Floor Elevators founder and visionary Tommy Hall and became arguably the first – and best – example of the total immersion Rock Wife.
Clementine was a palpable force in the Elevators, a hip maternal Wendy providing food and security for the band's tribe of Lost Boys. She maintained a deep and abiding friendship with Roky Erickson, composing "Splash 1" with him on The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators and harmonizing in the studio on their co-written "I Had to Tell You" from Easter Everywhere. The boys treated her "like an equal," an experience she relates with a childlike sense of wonder.
Speaking from her home in Northern California, Hall talked fondly of the high times with the 13th Floor Elevators, noting that she still visits with Tommy regularly in San Francisco. She raised her two children during those turbulent times, joking that her memory is so good because she was "raising babies instead of taking drugs." Clementine Hall's story is unique in rock history, a pioneer woman in a pioneer band.
"I was an English major at the University of Texas and used to hang out at the Chuck Wagon, the cafeteria you went to for lunch at UT. And I knew Tommy for a year, disliking him intensely. He'd sit at a table and behave in such an arrogant manner. He seemed so stuck-up and aloof. He was really quite shy, but I didn't know that. He'd make a pronouncement, and it would come out with greater force than he intended to because he was so shy.
"I'd immediately recoil, thinking, 'Who the hell does he think he is?!' I really did think he was just an arrogant SOB, but we were thrown together because we hung out with the same friends. They knew there was a fine person in him, and eventually I came around to their way of thinking. After knowing him about a year, I fell in love with Tommy. It was about the time the Beatles came out. I found he was as enchanted with them as I was, so I thought, 'Oh, he can't be all bad!'
"I wasn't a songwriter. I was working on a novel. Roky said, 'You're pretty articulate. Why don't you write lyrics to some of my songs?' I said I didn't know how Tommy would feel about that, but Tommy said, 'Roky's working on a tune that I'm not interested in. Why don't you see what you can do with that?'
"Roky got excited and said, 'Yeah, yeah!' So that's when we did "Splash 1," because he said that it was like something splashed between us when we met. For me, it was like neon flashing when our eyes met. We dearly loved each other but not in sexual way. I said, 'We should call this song "Splash 1,"' and that's how that song was written.
"When Roky or Tommy would say, 'You've got to come onstage with us,' I'd say, 'No, I don't think I want to do that, I really don't. I think you have a pure sound and pure message. Besides, I have children and my children are my first job.' I didn't mind singing on a recording, or working on a lyric, but I didn't want to tour or horn in or anything.
"Oddly, it was Stacy [Sutherland], John Ike [Walton], and Benny [Thurman] who dragged me into the Elevators. Roky and Tommy said nothing, but the three others said, 'We want you to be an Elevator.' That was shortly after they told Tommy they wanted him in the band and could he find something to do to be in the Elevators [laughs]. He said, 'I'll write music for you guys,' and they said, 'No, no, no, we want you in the band! Is there anything you can do?' That's when he came up with electric jug.
"I remember John Ike saying, 'We need to play one gig where we play nothing but Western music. Just cowboy music.' And Tommy said, 'No, we really cannot do that. Not at this point in our career, because that will confuse people as to what the heck we're here for, and we need to have something really, really pure right now and not get sidetracked into being all things to all men, or a three-ring circus or anything like that. Later, if we make it, we can do what we want, but at this time now, the message has to be pure, the music has to be pure. The intentions have to be pure, the heart has to be pure.'
"And I always had that in mind. I thought, 'If I slip my way into this just because they're so damn good-hearted and big-hearted, it will alter things. I can't keep up with them anyway, because of the children.' So, anytime I wanted to be any part of the band, they were ready for me to do it, but mostly I stayed out of it. Except that they lived with me.
"I used to say, 'I'm married to a rock & roll band.' Because it wasn't just Tommy, it was Roky. It was all of them under my roof – rehearsing and crashing and then being there the next morning. It was constant. They would rehearse in the living room or in the garage, then they would crash, stay over. They would stay over an entire weekend high on LSD and just jam, jam, jam. So, I was the one who provided food, bought the blankets to cover the asleep. The one who tried to clean house around them, which was damn near impossible.
"Once you take LSD with people and you're that intimate and that close to each other, you lose your ego. You also lose consideration of what becomes a male and what becomes a female; you forget about what's becoming. It's irrelevant and you trust each other, like you're children at the age children are before they discover their differences in sex.
"Roky was the person I loved more than anyone except Tommy, because Roky was unlike anyone I'd ever met in my whole life. He was so free, the freest person I ever met, completely free. He didn't care what people said or thought about him. He said and did exactly what he felt like doing, and had he been a person who had a bad side or a mean side to him, that would have been uncomfortable for me to be around. But since everything came from such goodness in him, it was okay to let him loose.
"He had the ability to spot when things were getting uncomfortable and something awful was about to happen. If somebody was about to really upset somebody, he'd muscle in and say a couple of words totally off the subject and we would fall over laughing and forget what the heck it was we were heading towards. We used to call that Roky's 'safety device.' He had 'safety devices' he'd throw out into conversations and everyone would lose that electrical charge. They would stop trying to save face and stop trying to be macho and all that stuff, because we would all fall over laughing. He was magic that way.
"Roky would not hesitate to come into my bedroom in the middle of the night and kneel down by my bed and say, 'Come on! I wanna show you something! Let's take a ride! I found the most incredible thing!' It did not disturb Tommy. It was fine with him. And I would go off on an adventure with Roky.
"Off we'd go in the middle of a moonlit night. He might go high up in the Austin hills and look down at the electrical plant and it would look really really magical. Or when we were touring in Galveston or places like that, he'd find a view of the beach and he'd want us to see it, too. Or it would be a wild ride through the hills, around and around. He was nocturnal. He would take us and show us and it was always magical and wonderful as could be. And we'd laugh and laugh, because he was a very funny person. He just had a twinkly way of looking at things.
"Roky still uses those safety devices I mentioned. I was talking to Sumner [Erickson], who told me a story. Some friends took Roky up to some hills to show him a beautiful view. This is something he would like to do. But the friends were pushing him to go to the edge of the cliff and he didn't want to. Not comfortable. One friend turned it into a macho thing, 'What are you, afraid? We're not scared to come out on the edge. Come on out and stop being such a pussy.' About the fifth time the guy pushed, Roky just said, 'You know what? From now on, whenever anybody tries to make me do something I don't want to do, I'll think of you.' They laughed and backed off, but that's Roky.
"The paranoia ... I remember it starting after he got out of one of the institutions because friends brought him to California to get him away from all the horror of what he'd been going through. They asked if he could stay with me and I said, 'Of course.'
"Something was happening to him and it was awful. We'd be sitting together and he'd look at me and say, 'You know, the Russians keep talking to me. And they're telling me I need to kill Jackie Kennedy. And I keep telling them, "I do not want to kill Jackie Kennedy."'
"This I could live with; I could understand this about him. Then came the day he said, 'The Russians are trying to get me to kill Jackie Kennedy and I don't want to kill Jackie Kennedy.' Then he looked at me and said, 'You look an awful lot like Jackie Kennedy.'
"That was it. It could get dangerous. I got together with his friends to find another place for him. I didn't feel safe with my little boy in case the Russians ever convinced him to kill Jackie Kennedy, number one. And number two, if he decides I am Jackie Kennedy, I'm in trouble. As much as I loved him, I could not fight his demons. Couldn't do it. It was getting darker and darker and scarier and scarier.
"What did we know about psychology and psychiatry? We would take him out to the beach in San Francisco, several of us, and we would hold his hand, hold his body, and let the waves pound him. And after about 20 minutes of waves pounding, he would be lucid again for several hours. It was like good shock therapy, not bad shock therapy.
"It wasn't just drugs that affected the Elevators. There's something that happens when a group of people, who are really tight together, start to get a little bit famous. Then outsiders come around and say, 'You don't need those jerks. You're better off all by yourself. You're 10 times the talent of the other guy. Why don't you break away from them, why do you put up with bullshit from them, why should you sublimate your own personality and desires to them when you can just get away from them?' That's what happened.
"But the truth was, as talented as each of the Elevators were, they were 1,000 times more talented together. They meshed and dovetailed together. We'd talk about the 'third voice,' that you'd get two voices and put them together and a third voice came from the middle, like that saying the sum is greater than the whole of its parts.
"Had I thought that anyone would give a holy damn about the whole thing this many years later, I would have thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I can't get over the fact that anyone gives a damn after all this time! To me, it was like the most incredibly wonderful cake that got baked and eaten and couldn't be saved. Could not be saved, and yet it got saved and people are still enjoying it years and years and years later. I thought of the Elevators and everything they did as a fleeting work of art – wonderful, deep, rich, profound, but fleeting. I had no idea that we would become [laughs] legends in our own mind.
"[Those days were] a vortex of unbelievable events; you don't get over reeling from the first event before another comes along. There was music pouring out of people's mouths and guitars. It was incredible. Tommy used to call it the 'cosmic goose.' He said it was like the cosmos goosed that entire generation with music, then along came a wasteland and it died. He thought there had been something like that just before World War II and it stopped because so many creative minds were killed.
"I don't think anyone has ever bettered Tommy's lyrics. Ever. I don't know many musicians who could better Stacy's licks. John Ike is one of the best drummers on the planet. He was the perfect support. And Roky's music, with his enchanting melodies. Best of all was his stage presence. I'd never ever seen anyone with presence like that. He'd use his eyes, go around the room, and connect with every single person in the room. He was making love.
"I've talked to Roky several times on the phone recently, and he feels and sounds like the Roky I knew. I absolutely adore Sumner for what he's done for Roky. He was 2 or 3 when we were around. Who knew he'd grow up to be his savior?
"The music stands on its own because the poetry is universal. Tommy used references to other disciplines and philosophies, but beyond that, there was something so universal about what he'd say, and his poetry was so metaphysical. Not to put him in the same class as John Donne, but they were both metaphysical poets. You can see the universality of the sacred poems and love poems. Underneath is common human attraction, reaction, and love, devotion, excitement.
"The band's story has a lot of tragedy in it, tremendous ups and tremendous downs. You've got Stacy dying in a particularly horrible way, and you've got Tommy going through some very bizarre periods. And Roky's story, even with its happy ending. The irony is the 13th Floor Elevators didn't even get to be mighty enough to fall."