Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Conspiracy Music (Part 9)

In 1980 Roky Erickson’s band, Roky Erickson and the Aliens, released an album entitled The Evil One which featured two songs based on the work of novelist and screenwriter Curt Siodmak.  Siodmak is best known for having written the stories and/or screenplays for several classic horror and science fiction films such as The Wolf Man (Universal, 1941) and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (Columbia, 1956). According to his engrossing 2001 memoir, Wolf Man’s Maker:  Memoir of a Hollywood Writer, Siodmak was an agent of the Office of Strategic Intelligence during World War II (and later, the CIA).  Much of his work deals with the subject of mind control, most notably his bestselling science fiction novel, Donovan’s Brain (1942).  In Wolf Man’s Maker, Siodmak states that it was this novel in particular that convinced the OSS to invite him into the Agency’s fold.  (Siodmak further claims that various influential officers in the OSS were convinced he had based the titular character of Donovan’s Brain, a disembodied monomaniacal serial murderer named W.H. Donovan, on “Wild Bill” Donovan, the head of the OSS throughout World War II.)


After joining the OSS, Siodmak’s interest in the subject of mind control seemed to deepen, eventually culminating in the 1955 B-flick, Creature With the Atom Brain, directed by Edward L. Cahn.  Despite its outlandish title and plot, Siodmak’s story actually contains some genuine information about real life U.S. government mind control experiments that were being conducted by MKUltra (a CIA-funded program created to research various techniquesthe vast majority of them decidedly illegalfor the behavioral engineering of human beings) even as Creature With the Atom Brain was being released in theatres throughout America during the summer of ’55.  

Roky Erickson may very well have been aware of the above information.  Whether conscious or unconscious of this wider frame of reference, the subtext of his 1980 song “Creature With the Atom Brain” concerns the horrors of actual U.S. government mind control experiments that were being enthusiastically performed on unsuspecting subjects (such as children, prison inmates, and mental patients) throughout the 1950s and '60s.

A second song on The Evil One, “I Walked With a Zombie,” is also based on a Siodmak-scripted film:  I Walked With a Zombie directed by Jacques Tourneur and produced by the legendary Val Lewton for RKO in 1943.  The screenplay was co-written by Siodmak and frequent Lewton collaborator Ardel Wray.  Within the context of supernatural horror, I Walked With a Zombie also deals with the subject of mind control (though in a far more oblique way).

Erickson’s “Creature With the Atom Brain” can be heard HERE.

Erickson’s “I Walked With a Zombie” can be heard HERE.

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