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.
‘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’)