A Touching Animated Documentary About the Rise, Fall & Second Coming of the 60s Psych-Folk Musician Richard Atkins

One won­ders what might have become of Richard Atkins’ musi­cal career had he come of age in this mil­len­ni­um, when young­sters suf­fer­ing from acute stage fright reg­u­lar­ly attract sta­di­um-sized fol­low­ings on Youtube.

This was most def­i­nite­ly not the case in 1968, when Atkins, aged 19, took the stage in a small Hol­ly­wood club filled with music indus­try brass, there specif­i­cal­ly to see him.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, tal­ent could only take him so far. Hav­ing learned to play gui­tar only a cou­ple of years ear­li­er in the wake of a dis­fig­ur­ing motor­cy­cle acci­dent, he and part­ner Richard Man­ning had record­ed an album, Richard Twice, for Mer­cury Records. The pres­ence on that record of sev­er­al mem­bers of the Wreck­ing Crew, an infor­mal, but leg­endary group of LA ses­sion musi­cians, con­ferred extra pop pedi­gree. The Acid Archives lat­er called it “a vir­tu­al­ly per­fect pop album, the kind of thing that would have ruled the charts if the wind had been blow­ing the right way that month.”

Alas, one tiny tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ty at the start of the gig caused Man­ning to flee, leav­ing the freaked out and fright­en­ing­ly ill equipped Atkins to deal with the yawn­ing chasm that had opened between him and the audi­ence. The only fix that occurred to him was a Bugs Bun­ny-inspired soft shoe, a move that appar­ent­ly went over big with his Mom, pri­or to the acci­dent, when he had two legs and could bal­ance with­out a crutch.

As recount­ed in Matthew Salton’s ani­mat­ed doc­u­men­tary, above, this soul crush­ing moment is not with­out humor. Atkins, affa­bly nar­rat­ing his own sto­ry, has had 50 years to mull that night over, and real­izes that blown oppor­tu­ni­ties are prob­a­bly more uni­ver­sal than suc­cess­ful­ly snagged brass rings (Amer­i­can Idol, any­one?)

Over the ensu­ing years, Atkins found ful­fill­ment as a wood­work­er and fam­i­ly man, but music remained a painful what-if, addressed large­ly through avoid­ance.

Salton’s exu­ber­ant­ly scratchy ani­ma­tion comes as Atkins is tak­ing steps to con­quer his stage fright, per­form­ing out at small cafes, fes­ti­vals, and potluck sup­pers near his Pacif­ic North­west home.

He’s been post­ing old songs, gen­tly remind­ing lis­ten­ers, “before I’m judged too harsh­ly, remem­ber that I was 18 and liv­ing in North Hol­ly­wood, prob­a­bly rag­ing hor­mones and in the music busi­ness to boot!”

He’s also writ­ing and shar­ing new songs, includ­ing the touch­ing “Life Is A Roller­coast­er,” above.

Per­form­ing on Face­book Live in con­junc­tion with Salton’s New York Times Op-Doc essay, he tears up when the inter­view­er informs him that his daugh­ter has just post­ed an encour­ag­ing com­ment, and eager­ly con­firms his avail­abil­i­ty when anoth­er com­menter asks if he’d be up for a gig.

It’s only too late when you’re in the grave.

Trav­el back in time with a cou­ple more psych-folk cuts from Richard Twice, above, or buy the album in dig­i­tal form on Ama­zon.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Eve­lyn Glen­nie (a Musi­cian Who Hap­pens to Be Deaf) Shows How We Can Lis­ten to Music with Our Entire Bod­ies

Syd Barrett’s “Effer­vesc­ing Ele­phant” Comes to Life in a New Retro-Style Ani­ma­tion

A His­to­ry of Alter­na­tive Music Bril­liant­ly Mapped Out on a Tran­sis­tor Radio Cir­cuit Dia­gram: 300 Punk, Alt & Indie Artists

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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