It’s one of pop music’s unlikeliest and greatest comeback stories ever: a Mexican-American singer-songwriter from Detroit named Sixto Rodriguez recorded two albums of psychedelic folk rock in the early 1970s that went nowhere in the U.S. upon their initial release; afterwards, he worked in construction. Unbeknownst to him, his music was a huge hit in South Africa, where his unsentimental and gritty outsider lyrics resonated with young liberal Afrikaners during that country’s policy of apartheid. Rodriguez’s impact on South Africa and his subsequent reemergence in the late 1990s–thanks to the efforts of some dedicated fans–formed the crux of the 2012 Academy Award-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man, directed by the late Malik Bendjelloul. Due to the success of the film, Rodriguez’s music has experienced belated and renewed attention.
In the early ’70s, Rodriguez recorded two albums in the United States, working with some of the biggest producers in the industry and even attracting a capable suitor in the form of Motown Records. He only sold more than a handful of records. His records had made it to South Africa, where Cold Fact became a sensation, selling hundreds of thousands of copies. Rodriguez talks about his experience discovering his South African fan base and gives some advice for songwriters and musicians. “Searching for Sugarman”, a film on his story won the BAFTA award for Best Documentary and is nominated for an Oscar in 2013. The Film Director talks about his experiences making the film.
BACK in 1970 and 1971, the Detroit folk singer Rodriguez released two brilliant albums in America. But Cold Fact and Coming from Reality were met with resounding indifference and negligible sales.
Hearing the music now it almost defies belief that those albums could be so emphatically ignored. Both contain affecting political and social observations on urban life, performed with remarkable vocal and musical dexterity.
Rodriguez reluctantly accepted that he’d missed his shot at a successful career and returned to relative obscurity in Detroit where he completed a BA in philosophy at Wayne State University and dabbled in local politics. He made a living as a labourer on construction sites and occasionally as a social worker. He had three children. His life was unexceptional and he struggled to make ends meet.
In Searching for Sugar Man’s online forum, users share their first discovery of the musician, Rodriguez.
Most users, from across the world, list variations on 2012 and 2013. But, for people with South African links, encounters with Rodriguez (and his album Cold Fact) go way back.
“Arrived in Jo’burg mid 1975 and EVERYONE was playing Rodriguez” … so the stories go, as Sugar Man and I Wonder (for me, it was Establishment Blues) became a staple for all of us raised on music termed alternative, conscious or folk.
It hardly needs saying but it’s quite an odd thing to have a venue packed out in Dublin to see the performance of a 70 year old guy on the basis of 2 albums he released over 40 years. Admittedly one of those albums, Cold Fact, is fantastic but the other one is pretty patchy. But here we in Vicar Street (upgraded from the Button Factory) to see Rodriguez who’s on riding high of the new wave of interest generated by the ‘Searching for Sugar Man’ documentary.
Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#741 in the Series) is Rodriguez, Cold Fact
Recording under the single name “Rodriguez,” Sixto “The Dylan of Detroit” Rodriguez, was a psychedelic folk singer in the early seventies. Long on talent and short on patience for “The Man,” Rodriguez was one of those folk singers that straddled that socio-political fence somewhere between the hippy-trippy sounds and somewhat obtuse themes of Donovan, and the more lyrically dense word-smithing of a folk era Bob Dylan. Vocally he soared slightly above the Dylan growl, and marginally below the sometimes off-kilter refrains of Scott Walker. Sonically the sound is Syd Barret-meets Arthur Lee and Love-meets Donovan, and the entire conglomeration can probably be described as psychedelic-folk, and is best experienced with a serious, intellectual and substance aided listen to his 1970 release, Cold Fact.
Woman please be gone You’ve stayed here much too long Don’t you wish that you could cry Don’t you wish I would die
Seamy, seesaw kids Childwoman on the skids The dust will choke you blind The lust will choke your mind
I kiss the floor, one kick no more The pig and hose have set me free I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree
I kiss the floor, one kick no more The pig and hose have set me free I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree
The inner city birthed me The local pusher nursed me Cousins make it on the street They marry every trick they meet
A dime, a dollar they’re all the same When a man comes in to bust your game The turnkey comes, his face a grin Locks the cell I’m in again.
I kiss the floor, one kick no more The pig and hose have set me free I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree…
[Song published by Interior Music (BMI)]
This song was not actually written by Rodriguez, but sure sounds like it could have been. It was written by Gary Harvey, Mike Theodore (‘Cold Fact’ producer) and Dennis Coffey (guitarist on ‘Cold Fact’). “Hate Street” actually refers to the famous “Haight/Ashbury” area of San Francisco, the famous Hippie hang-out during the late 60’s “Summer Of Love”.
…for years the title ‘Hate Street Dialogue’ has been bothering me, when I listened to the song I gathered the lyrics were referring to the famous hippie street in San Francisco: Haight/Ashbury, however the title on the album is spelt “Hate”. Rodriguez said (on a SA radio phone-in show in March 1998) that although the lyrics of that particular song were not written by himself they did refer to the Haight and not to the opposite of love.
– Stelios, 1998
PIG AND HOSE
In this song Rodriguez sings about being set free by “the pig and hose”. Could this mean a policeman (“pigs” was hippy slang for cops) and a piece of hose-pipe?
The quote: “pig and hose to bust our game” from the song “Hate Street Dialogue”, refers to the continual harassment of the hippy-subculture by the San Francisco police department on the Haight-Ashbury youth in 1967. “Pig” was the referrel to the POLICE, and “hose” was in reference to the length of “garden-hose” used to beat the citizens into submission [usually in the confines of the police station. The title was changed in spelling from “Haight Street”, to “Hate Street” to further emphasize that feeling of alienation, by both sides of the establishment, at that time.
– Gary W Harvey, June 2002
BLACK EYED SUSAN
South African Indie melodic grunge-rockers Black Eyed Susan recorded the album ‘Back Stabbers & Money Grabbers’ in January 1998 and released it in May 1998. Included on their album is an uptempo remake of this classic ‘Cold Fact’ song. Not actually written by Rodriguez, this song of urban decay and loneliness fits perfectly on Black Eyed Susan’s album of otherwise original material. A great version on an even greater album. If you like your rock modern-but-retro, grungy-yet-tuneful, this album is for you.
GARY W. HARVEY 4th September 2001, Darin J. Harvey wrote:
I was amazed that I finally found something about Sixto Rodriguez on the net and that I could finish a long quest with the help of your website.
Two years ago my father, Gary W. Harvey, mentioned while I was visiting him in Detroit, that he received a check for percentage for the lyrics of a song he wrote some thirty years ago! He wasn’t sure about the facts and he could only tell me the name of the song (which he thought was “Haight Street Dialog”) and that he originally wrote that one for a guy named Rodriguez. But the check was for a cover version from a band of South Africa!
Back in Germany, where I live, I started my search with the weak information I had! As I couldn’t find any hint for Rodriguez or that song I stopped my search after a few weeks! Now nearly two years later, I remembered my search and tried again! And yep, I got some hits!
My first hit was, that the song wasn’t named “Haight Street dialog” but “Hate Street Dialogue”, which brought me on the trail of “Black Eyed Susan” and finally lead me to “Sixto Rodriguez”!
So I read the facts you collected in your website and after all I could buy me a copy of ‘Cold Fact’ through Amazon.com, Germany (which was amazing that they could supply it in Germany). Two days later I received the album and now I really love it – as it’s interesting, unique and simply good music!
It turned out that my Dad also wrote the lyrics from the song “Gommorah”. He really was amazed that I could find the stuff we talked about two years ago and as I forwarded the links to him, so he could surf through by himself!
If you ever have the chance, get yourself a copy of the first Rare Earth Album “Dreams/Answer” on Verve Records! You might find some parallels as it was produced by the same team back then!
28th September 2001, Darin wrote again:
I would be pleased if you quote my e-mail on your website and your e-mag!
I’m so happy that I could expose some old stories and connection with the help of your work and website!
Meanwhile I got contact with Francois Bredenkamp from the “Black Eyed Susan” and even with Mike Theodore, the Producer of “Cold Fact”.
Francois Bredenkamp was very surprised and pleased to receive my mail and promised to send me a copy of their album. Unfortunately his band doesn’t exist anymore!
This is what he wrote me:
It’s a great surprise and pleasure to hear from you. We fell in love with the song lyrics and decided to make a remake. We are a South African based independent band, but unfortunately Black Eyed Susan does not exist anymore. I don’t know if you are aware of this but Rodriguez is an legend in our country. He is currently touring here till the end of September and I will watch him in Pretoria this Sunday.
This was definitely the most rewarding mail we have ever received for our efforts as a struggling rock band. (Francois Bredenkamp)
A few days later I received a mail from Mike Theodore (who’s still working as a producer in New Jersey, USA) and I was very amazed, as I didn’t try to contact him! He got information through my Dad, that I searched for Rodriguez and Black Eyed Susan!
Since I have the Rodriguez album ‘Cold Fact’, I introduced it to some friends and co-workers and everyone liked it and thought it’s very unique! They’ve been surprized that he’s totally unknown here, and that he’d never made it in Germany.
I often joke with people in the UK that I didn’t leave South Africa of my own free will, but was actually kicked out because I was not fanatical about rugby and I didn’t drink, both activities that white South African males are meant to excel at. I could also have said in 1996, when I moved from South Africa to the UK, that a further reason for my being exiled was that I did not own a copy of ‘Cold Fact’ by Rodriguez. However no one in the UK would have understood what I was talking about.
But now with Malik Bendjelloul’s brilliant film ‘Searching For Sugar Man’ bringing Rodriguez to the world’s attention, I can mention the omission in my music collection and not be met with question mark faces. I am still not a huge rugby fan and have not taken to drinking alcohol, but I did rectify the lack of ‘Cold Fact’ problem on one of my early trips back to SA a couple of years after moving. I had been familiar with the album’s distinctive cover from many an hour spent flicking through the albums at my local record shop, but as a teenager in the 80’s I was hell bent on finding the next big New Romantic band and had no interest in ‘fossil music’ as I thought of it back then.
A further reason for the lack of ‘Cold Fact’ in my collection was that I managed to avoid military training (where a lot of guys were introduced to Rodriguez’ music) and counted my days working at the Receiver of Revenue, which I regarded as the lesser of two evils. Purchasing ‘Cold Fact’ became almost mandatory when I was lucky enough to befriend Brian Currin and Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman, both of whom played a part in discovering the fate of Rodriguez. I was drawn into the world of the SA Rock Digest, an online music magazine focussing on South African Rock music, which Brian and Sugar had set up. With two such music aficionados as friends, I quickly discovered gaping holes in my music knowledge, especially regarding the rock scene in South African in the 70’s.
I began to correct this problem so as not to look foolish in front of my new found friends and part of the polyfilla (spackling paste to those not familiar with this brand) to mend the gaps was purchasing a copy of ‘Cold Fact.’ I don’t recall ever having heard the album before that and, given its banned status on the radio, could not have unknowingly heard it there, but as the first chords of ‘Sugar Man’ wafted through my speakers, I knew the song. It was as if it was a part of the ether in South Africa and had just soaked into me whether I had heard it or not. ‘I Wonder’ was also familiar to me and the rest of the album, although less soaked in, was also striking a nagging familiar chord.
Yes, unless you believe in the collective consciousness, I must have heard the album somewhere before that ‘first’ listen, but I cannot for the life of me remember where. That said, a part of me does like to believe that the music was just in the air we breathed in SA, that it was, and will always just somehow be there, as essentially part of life as oxygen and sunshine. This image, to me, seems to fit in with the mystical and almost mythical character that is Rodriguez.
Almost all the recent fan messages on the Sugarman.org website are from people saying they have never heard of Rodriguez before. Many even apologize for not listening to him in the 1970s.
I can’t remember when exactly I first heard ‘Cold Fact’. For me his music just always seemed to have been there. A number of the mixtapes from my teenage years show “Sugar Man”, “Rich Folks Hoax” and “I Wonder” as being from 1973/74 when I was about 14/15.
I was wrong, of course, but didn’t know that until much later.
A long time ago, I compiled a series of C90 mixtapes called The Story Of Rock, with all the information lovingly catalogued and hand-written in hard cover books.
Page 13 of Book 7 shows the track listing for “The Story Of Rock 1973 to 1974” and includes the following songs:
Long Train Running – The Doobie Brothers
We Live – Xit
Sugar Man – Rodriguez
Radar Love – Golden Earring
Smoke On The Water – Deep Purple
Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
The Ballad Of Casey Deiss – Shawn Phillips
Rich Folks Hoax – Rodriguez
We’re An American Band – Grand Funk Railroad
Other artists include Led Zeppelin, The Allman Brothers Band, Yes, Focus, Chicago and more. And Rodriguez was the only one that got two entries! The next page shows “The Story Of Rock 1974 to 1976” and includes “I Wonder” alongside songs by Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull, Thin Lizzy, Rory Gallagher, Pink Floyd, Genesis, David Bowie, Frank Zappa, Uriah Heep, Nazareth and others.
I am finding it impossible to imagine what it must be like to not grow up listening to his music alongside all those other well-known classic rock bands. I know I never heard him on the radio, but that wasn’t that strange as a number of my “Story Of Rock” artists didn’t get much radio play any way.
But that he wasn’t famous in the rest of the world, didn’t cross my mind. When I first discovered the internet during the 1996 Festive Season, I could find information on Pink Floyd and Deep Purple, however I could find nothing on Rodriguez. And that started me on a quest, that just seems to be continuously having happy endings.
Without trying to sound too melodramatic, I would not be living the life I do now, and earning my income from doing what I love, if it was not for Rodriguez and all the sparks that he ignited.
‘Cold Fact‘ by the artist simply known as Rodriguez was one of the world’s great lost albums. It is now gaining attention through the documentary ‘Searching For Sugar Man‘ which tells the remarkable story of this mysterious singer.
‘Cold Fiction’ is a book of 12 short stories, each inspired by the 12 tracks on Rodriguez’ album. The stories are not a re-telling the songs, but rather they take inspiration from a line or lines in the lyrics, the title of the song, and in one case from a rumour that sprung up in South Africa about Rodriguez’ death.
Warning: This book does contain some adult themes and is not suitable for young people.
Below is a brief synopsis of each story as well as a note on where the inspiration for the story came from. All 12 stories are works of fiction and any similarity to any person living or dead is merely coincidental.
The Sugarman was afraid of sugar mice. The Gingerbread man was in search of a fix of sugar and the best quality stuff was found by licking the Sugarman. In return for a few licks, the Gingerbread man tries to help the Sugarman overcome his fear.
(Inspired by the title – Sugarman and the line ‘You’re the answer, that makes my questions disappear)
Only Good For Conversation
A man meets a stunning girl in a pub who turns out to be a friend of a friend. However, all his advances are met with a lack of physical contact. Convinced that, despite this quirk, she likes him, he endeavours to find out why this girl, whom a stranger in the pub had referred to as the coldest bitch he knows, is only good for conversation.
(Inspired by the title and the line ‘You’re the coldest bitch I know’)
Crucify You Mind
James has a brand new shiny secret. He keeps it in a box under his bed, but lives in fear that Tom may find it. James also collects answers, white lies, excuses and such bric-a-brac. Despite Tom warning him about the dangers of keeping other people’s secrets, he still goes out in search of more. This new secret though, ends up causing more problems than it was worth.
(Inspired by the line ‘Secrets shiny and new’)
The Establishment Blues
Major Jim Weatherman is having a bad day. The correct statistics on crime had been released to the press, leading the public to believe that he was honest. It also looks like his main rival D’Aggio (who had been jailed for submitting accurate expense claims) was about to get out early for bad behaviour, and there is a distinct possibility that he may have to lower taxes. The public would crucify him if he did. Could his day possibly get any worse?
(Inspired by the lines ‘Mayor hides the crime rate’ and ‘Public gets irate but forget the vote date’)
Hate Street Dialogue
The Childwoman escapes from the inner city which birthed her and runs into in the wilderness where she meets a pig with a hose tired round his neck. The pig tells her that in order to be free of the hate the inner city has caused her to harbour, she has to find the Hanging Tree of Hate Street and swallow the bitter leaf from the tree. If she succeeds, she will be free, but if she spits the leaf out, she will carry the hate forever.
(Inspired by the lines ‘The pig and hose have set me free’ and ‘I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree’)
Dave, the lead singer of South African band The Imaginary Facts performs an impromptu version of ‘Forget It’ on the country’s prime time radio show. The pain and hurt he injects into the vocals send the group spinning into the big time and they are soon selling out stadiums across the country. But Dave is a bit unstable and obsessed with the rumour that Rodriguez shot himself on stage after singing ‘Forget It’.
(Inspired by the rumour that Rodriguez shot himself on stage after singing ‘Forget It’.)
Inner City Blues
A suicide bomber tells of his preparations to explode a bomb on the tube/subway. We follow him from his flat where he has said goodbye to his wife and daughter as though it were a normal day, out onto the streets where he is confronted by all the evils he sees in the world. But all is not as it seems with this bomber.
(Inspired by the lines ‘Going down a dirty inner city side road I plotted’ and ‘Mama, Papa stop’)
Ian Dale’s home is invaded by a group of gangsters. He is tied to a chair in his living room while his wife is kept in the bedroom. He is then offered an impossible choice – if he has sex with an ‘infected’ girl his wife will be set free, if he doesn’t, she will be killed.
(Inspired by the line ‘I wonder how many times you’ve had sex, I wonder do you know who’ll be next’)
A husband and wife, whose marriage is on the rocks, are surprised when their thoughts start being mouthed by a pet monkey in the wife’s case and a young woman patient in the husband’s case. Things get more complicated when they both encounter their spouse’s ‘thought mouthers’.
(Inspired by the line ‘Cos a monkey in silk is a monkey no less’ and Janis in the title that made me think of Janis Joplin’s song ‘Mercedes Benz’)
Gommorah (A Nursery Rhyme)
69 is a Sex M digit, living in a world that is run by thought herders and genetechs. He knows a little of Gommorah, the time before, but his thoughts are constantly monitored by the T-Probes that criss-cross the pen when he lives. He has applied to have a genesplice with 13, a pretty Sex F, but his world is turn upside down when he encounters 220, who had accidentally had too much Gommorahian DNA put in his genes. 220 starts talking of a place he calls ‘outside’ a concept that nearly makes 69 mindmelt.
(Inspired by the lines ‘You know my name well’ and ‘You won’t find in any book’)
Rich Folks Hoax
A war photographer survives a village massacre while covering a story around rebels. The whole village is obliterated along with his fellow reporters. The only other survivors are a local woman and her baby. Together they bury the dead, then head off in search of help, but the rebels return.
(Inspired by the lines ‘The moon is hanging in the purple sky ‘ and ‘Baby’s sleeping while its mother sighs’)
Jane S. Piddy
Jane S. Piddy, an 85 year old, decides to Google her name and is astounded when she finds that a man called Rodriguez has not only written a song, the title of which is the same as her name, but it also refers to Ruth and Rosemary, her sisters. She is further amazed to see that he is playing a concert the next day at a venue not far from where she lives. She decides to attend the concert, but maybe her mind is not quite as good as it should be.
(Inspired by the line ‘Dancing Rosemary, disappearing sister Ruth’)
South Africa was a very different place in 1971 when Cold Fact was modestly unleashed on the Southern hemisphere. Back then, nobody had heard of Rodriguez. Abba was storming the charts, TV hadn’t arrived (god forbid, it was too corruptive according to the dominees) and our current President was in jail. Music was played on turn-tables, Cliff Richard was on tour and the Hippie era hadn’t quite made it South. Violence and crime was something that happened in the townships, South African musicians were gaining modest international success and Sundays were spent at church.
“Sugar man, won’t you hurry ‘cos I’m tired of these scenes”.
Against this backdrop, an album with lyrics such as these must’ve seemed years ahead of it’s time and could only have captured the imaginations of a lost generation of South Africans. Over the next twenty five years, waves of disco, punk, new-wave, grunge and electronic music (in addition to our own ethnic music) served as soundtrack to the country’s turbulent history. Yet through it all an astonishingly simple folk album from a hitherto unknown singer crept into the hearts of many, occupying a unique place unparalleled elsewhere in the vast world of music.
The Legend unfolded on it’s own. Rodriguez dropped out of sight, lost in the haze of hippiness, and the profound lyrics left behind on Cold Fact were the only clues we had to invent the mystery and myth.
That has all been settled now, and the remarkable reappearance of this long-forgotten Hispanic American is a celebration of the enduring popularity of this album. Since it’s re-release on CD in 1991 by Polygram South Africa, it has sold a incredible 60 000 copies, encompassing several generations of fans from all quarters.
Soon you know I’ll leave you, and I’ll never look behind, ‘cause I was born for the purpose that crucifies your mind.
Like other Americans before him, notably Morrison and Dylan, Rodriguez was a hopeless romantic, inspired and troubled by the changing world around him. His lyrics were deep and poetic, yet it was the simple acoustic accompaniment that lent the album so much timeless appeal. Cold Fact opens with the ultra trippy Sugar Man, which may well have been straight out of an acid trip. “Sugar man met a false friend on a lonely dusty road, lost my heart, when I found it, it had turned to dead black coal” suggests just where exactly the inspiration came from as he goes on to list jumpers, coke and sweet Mary Jane. More than any other Rodriguez song, it is Sugar Man which personifies the artist in the minds of those who have always wondered. The eerie moog synthesizer, whistling in the background, the lazy and simple guitar chords and the dreamy nasal voice place the listener firmly in an era of fantasy. It sets a perfect tone for the album and the myth.
By contrast, Only Good For Conversation is nothing short of disturbing with it’s grinding power riffs and vocal echo. In fact it is a good indication of the irony and sarcasm that Rodriguez layers thickly throughout the album. “My statue’s got a concrete heart, but you’re the coldest bitch I know” shows just how blunt the singer could be.
The moon…. is hanging…. in a purple… sky.
At times, his music was simple and beautiful, his lyrics pure poetry. Lovesickness was often the theme, but it was always from the lips of a troubled soul. In Crucify Your Mind, one of the albums most subtle songs, one gets the impression he’s begging like a scorned lover. In fact, he’s competing for a girls attention, but is sidelined by the lure of narcotics, and the boys who push them – one of many references throughout the album. “Was it a huntsman or a player that made you pay the cost, that now assumes relaxed position and prostitutes your loss, were you tortured by your own thirst in those pleasures that you seek, that makes you Tom the curious, that makes you James the weak” he asks. The appeal of Rodriguez, is his ability to state common emotions so beautifully. Always cynical and often sarcastic, he later makes a similar jibe “and don’t try to enchant me with your manner of dress, for a monkey in silk is a monkey no less” in the song Like Janis.
Drifting, drowning, in a purple sea of doubt, you wanna hear she loves you but the words don’t fit the mouth.
At times, the songwriter on this album – whoever he may be – is a desperate character and it’s not surprising, sifting through these lyrics, that rumours of taking his own life abounded. In Jane S Piddy his self pity of lost love is heartbreaking. From the above lyric he goes on to describe himself “you’re a loser, a rebel, a cause without”. Similar poignancy emerges in the short and simple final track on the original side one, Forget It. At no point, does Rodriguez ever seem happy. All these clues lend credence to the incredible myth that fell into the void that his disappearance left.
I wonder how many times you’ve had sex, I wonder do you know who will be next, I wonder, I wonder, wonder I do.
It is at his most obsessive, Rodriguez is best known. The simple lyrics from I Wonder mean many different things to many different people, and yet they are all sung in unison, at the end of disco’s, around camp fires or in a beat up old combi, with the same feeling that summed up the curiosity across South Africa throughout the seventies and eighties. He says, in two and half minutes, what many young men and woman would love to say to each but never find the courage. Again, in Hate Street Dialogue, the same simple guitar makes you imagine you’re sitting around a campfire in an Indian reserve, listening to some one’s home grown ditties. “Woman, please be gone, you’ve stayed here much too long”, he chided melodically. It’s the simpleness that is so alluring.
Gommorah is a nursery rhyme, you won’t find in the book.
It’s written on your city’s face just stop and take a look.
Perhaps it is the social conscience that has such important role on this album, and most significantly suggest what sort of person Rodriguez was and is. He has managed, throughout the album, to make it clear that the world around him just isn’t quite right. “The baby’s sleeping whilst it’s mother sighs” from Rich Folks Hoax is innocent enough, but all the time it is seen through the eyes of a working class Mexican immigrant, trapped in the motor industry that encompassed his hometown – Detroit. More than anything, it is this character that best describes the man who had disappeared for 25 years. In using school children for the chorus of Gommorah, Rodriguez effectively demonstrates the irony of inner city life, as he runs through the countless problems on the street in his neighbourhood, drugs, prostitution, runaway kids and bemused rich folk tourists. His working class vitriol emerges on Rich Folks Hoax and The Establishment Blues where he states matter-of-factly that “The Mayor hides the crime rate, council woman hesitates” and “little man gets shafted, sons and moneys drafted”. Not surprisingly it emerged, upon his rediscovery, that Rodriguez now has his own political aspirations, having run for mayor eight times! His views on the wealth disparities between rich and poor in the worlds most prosperous country are never far from the tip of his pen.
Don’t say any more, just walk out the door, I’ll get along fine you’ll see.
Sixto Rodriguez (as we now know him) has moved on, we all do. The album (and it’s predecessor, Coming From Reality) never quite cracked the vast American market, and the artist hung up his guitar and talent to concentrate on other ambitions. The albums producers (and Rodriguez’s backing musicians), Mike Theodore and Dennis Coffey emersed themselves in the vibrant Motown scene that was emerging at the time and the later went on to work with Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and Jackson Five.
In South Africa it’s hard to imagine that a cult figure of such importance should belong exclusively to us. To a lesser extent he is known in Australia, New Zealand and Zimbabwe. Importantly, what remains is a character that didn’t really exist at all, but was created out of a time and place, spurred on by our own imagination. Cold Fact documents, with astonishing effectiveness, a turbulent America at the tail end of the sixties. The numerous drug references, the cynical tone, the frustrated lover, the disillusionment and inner city blues were a world around Rodriguez, one that he had a poetic eye for.
“Sometimes the fantasy is better left alive, it’s as unbelievable to me as it is to you” stated his daughter upon their discovery of a whole fan base at the tip of Africa. And that way it will remain, he is a deeply private person and indeed we have a fantasy that would probably be shattered. Perhaps we all took him a little too seriously when the needle scratched off those old pieces of Vinyl with the final words; thanks for your time , then you can thank me for mine and after that’s said, forget it”.