Rodriguez - The Myths and The Mystery

"...nobody was ever interested in my music..." - Rodriguez, 1998

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Cape Times, Wednesday, 4th March 1998


Rodriguez flies in from seventies


I have seen The Sugarman in the flesh and he is real. Yup, true testimony to the fact that Mister Cold Fact is indeed the walking, talking and soon-to-be singing version of the hippy that made us so happy during the 1970s. Rodriguez is alive, folks, and what's more, he still knows all the words to all the songs that we know all the words to.
Group hug, anybody?
It's easy to get cynical and supercilious about a period in our lives when we wore bell-bottoms and burnt incense. There was an innocence which characterised the pre-crack era, an earnestness that went with the politics and an enthusiasm that swept it all along. Squeaky-clean, perhaps, in retrospect, but genuine all the same. Rodriguez, street poet and serious guitar-strummer, encapsulated much of it on his two albums Cold Fact and After the Fact, records which lashed out stridently at the system, spoke about sex and nonchalantly discussed drugs. They were perfect for a generation of repressed yet desperately-seeking-excitement South Africans who took the man and his music to their hearts and never quite let him go. And now, just like bell-bottoms, he's back. In Cape Town, this time around. And he's going to perform all the material on his (only) two albums, especially for us. Basically, nobody else has wanted to hear his stuff anyway. Rodriguez, soft-spoken and gentle-mannered, admits this quite freely. "I've never even played a gig in America, my home country. I've jammed informally with friends, yes, but never a formal concert. Nobody was ever interested in my music," he smiles. It was only in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Australia that the albums ever sold well. "I'm quite overwhelmed with the response in Cape Town so far," admits Rodriguez, referring to the adulation that has surfaced since his arrival this week.

And the questions on every fan's lips? "Where have you been all this time?", followed by "So when is the next album due?" The answers are simple. "I've been working on my conciousness for the past 20 years, and on an arts degree (majoring in philosophy) for the past decade. It took me so long (for the degree) because I was busy with other things in between," explains Rodriguez. "I've been mainly based in Detroit, which is where I was born and raised." And, unsurprisingly for a songwriter who has commented so strongly on corruption, social inequalities and urban decay, he has stood for political office seven times, all in Detroit, and all as an independent candidate. "I ran for mayor twice, for state representative twice and for the city council three times," he admits. And, yes, he has been working on other material. "I've always concentrated on social issues, because I've always found it easiest to write about things that upset me. But I can (and have) explored the boy-girl theme in music and I enjoy writing ballads too," Rodriguez said. "I have a producer now and I've got some songs lined up. This time around, in South Africa, I'm purely going to do my old material. But you can be sure that when something new comes out I'll be right back here promoting it," he said enthusiastically. Rodriguez finds Cape Town "a great change" to Detroit, for a lot of reasons. "Detroit is an urban industrial area, and although I was born there (to Mexican parents in 1942), I can really appreciate the contrast. Very much so," he says with feeling. Likewise, many Capetonians appreciate his visit. Equally much so. The years may have passed, but the essential emotions associated with Rodriguez and his passionate, politically-rousing material still sit nostalgically in our pockets. Bell-bottomed or otherwise.

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