Friday, January 20, 2012
searching for sugar man (sixto rodriguez)
BIG shout to detroit's sixto rodriguez, subject of searching for sugar man, a new documentary by swedish director, malik bendjelloul. in 2008, light in the attic records reissued the singer songwriter's two folk-rock LPs (cold fact and coming from reality), originally recorded for clarence avant's sussex records in the early 1970s. filled w/ astute social commentary and the artist's acerbic wit, the albums, w/ lack of promotion, went nowhere... until they were "discovered" in south africa by a disenfranchised population who related to rodriguez's lyrical brand of storytelling. folks in australia and new zealand also caught the spirit, but it wasn't until a few dedicated super fans decided to track the man down that this story takes a unique twist.
i was honoured to write liner notes for LITA's rodriguez re-releases, making a trip to detroit in the winter of 2008 to spend some time w/ this musical enigma. thanks again to the rodriguez family for letting me into their homes and the chance to learn more about one of america's most talented songsmiths.
here's a short excerpt from my cold fact essay (don't forget to LISTEN to the music, WATCH the doc, and see rodriguez LIVE!!!):
February 15, 2008
Rolling into town between breaks in the tough winter weather, I met Rodriguez at the Detroit Public Library. It’s a place where the enigmatic singer-songwriter spends a lot of time, reading and researching any number of topics from current affairs to archaeology. His ongoing quest for truth and knowledge is insatiable.
When we take to his beat, in-and-around Detroit’s Wayne State University campus — the area Rodriguez has called home for decades — it’s clear that he is a man of the people. As we slip through the streets, he takes time to talk up everyone, from the local parking attendant and convenience store clerk, to the eclectic café crowd. When we venture into People’s Records on West Forest, he is warmly greeted with an interested “How’s it going? Where you been?” from the store’s employees. These are the “young bloods” as Rodriguez calls them; the brothers and sisters who are making things click now.
They clearly give him inspiration and he sees close parallels with the young folks of his day. In the face of the growing generation gap that so many don’t attempt to shorten, it’s refreshing to see Rodriguez extend his hand to a new generation. There is a solid connection. He speaks with passion about Detroit, its inhabitants and its strong, yet complicated cultural fabric.
But despite these very public interactions, Rodriguez is also a private family man. In terms of his musical past, he is hesitant to pimp his personal histrionics. In these times of gross commercial over-saturation and gratuitous documentation, this is encouraging to see. I think he was always that way. It’s just not his style. Still, the poet in Rodriguez is alive and well and I learned a great deal over my far too short Michigan visit.
With a life that has taken so many unexpected turns, Rodriguez feels lucky to have been given the opportunity to share his words, art, and music with so many. We are truly honored to help continue to spread the message. As we said our goodbyes, Rodriguez left me with a copy of the latest New York Times, a paper he reads from front-to-back every day. It’s a symbolic gesture. Keep reading, keep listening, keep learning, and keep striving. It’s a simple goal we should all aspire to reach.
Kevin “Sipreano” Howes