Ten or so years ago, I read an article in Mojo Magazine about this obscure artist named Rodriguez who made two great records and disappeared. I kept the image in my head and early last week I read a review of the film, “Searching For Sugar Man.” A week ago, today I walked alone into the intimate setting of the Angelika Theater, one of NYC’s excellent art/indie theaters, to see the film not knowing what to expect or what the music could sound like after 40 years missing in action.
As you can glean from my film review posted last weekend, I became immersed in this artist and his music. I talked friends into seeing the film and accompanied them on different nights so I saw it four times in the space of five days and was not bored for a moment. The music is so powerful that it becomes richer and deeper each time. The only other film I have had repeated theater viewings was “Young Frankenstein,” while in college. Not quite the same thing but both films introduce a character that is rediscovered.
The music in the film was ethereal and moving without being pretentious. The first time I watched “Searching For Sugar Man,” I visited Barnes & Noble to pick up the soundtrack but it was sold out all over the city but due back in stock on Monday. Likewise, his NYC debut at the Highline Ballroom sold out in a day.
As Arlo Guthrie would say, “This is a movement…a conspiracy…or a movement.”
The CD and film open with “Sugar Man” who was a real person in the wilds of Detroit who was a local supplier of goods but not Rodriguez himself so the title is a bit misleading - but what a cool title for a film. Much more appealing than “Searching for Rodriguez. From the first few strums of the guitar and his voice and lyrics, one is hooked. You usually expect the best songs to be upfront, (the Don Was doctrine), but there is nothing on this CD that is less than moving even with repeated listenings. The songs on Searching for Sugarman” put Jeff Tweedy, Ryan Adams, Connor whathisname and countless other emo shoegazers in order. And none of them were born when these tracks were recorded in 1970/71. All 14 tracks are relevant today – the political ones, the social, and romantic ones as well.
"Cause I lost my job two weeks before Christmas and I talked to Jesus at the Sewer and the pope said it was none of his goddamned business. Cause they told me everybody’s gotta pay their dues and I explained that I had overpaid them."
Unbeknownst to Rodriguez, one of tracks, “I Wonder” played a major part of the end to apartheid in South Africa. Bootleg copies of his two records, “Cold Fact” and “Coming From Reality,” only available in South Africa and Australia, changed the face of the anti-apartheid movement by giving them a theme that was both political and social. It also has the most infectious bass line since In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.
"I wonder how many times you’ve been had and I wonder how many plans have gone bad. I wonder how many times you’ve had sex and do you know who’ll be next. I wonder, I wonder, wonder I do. I wonder how much goin’ have you got and I wonder about your friends who are not and I wonder.
I wonder about the tears in children’s eyes and I wonder about the soldier that dies. I wonder will this hatred ever end I wonder and worry my friend, wonder don’t you?"
The power of the songs in the context of the film is almost overwhelming and I feared it would not transfer to listening to the soundtrack on CD. It does.
The mayor hides the crime rate, councilwoman hesitates, public gets irate but forgets to votate. Garbage ain’t collected, women ain’t protected politicians using people they’re abusing, the mafia’s getting bigger like pollution in the river and you tell me that this is where it’s at.
"I woke up this morning with an ache in my head, I splashed on my clothes as I spilled out of bed, I opened the window to listen to the news but all I got was the establishment’s blues. Gun sales are soaring, housewives fine lives are boring, dive the only answer, smoking causes cancer, the system’s gonna fall soon to an angry young tune and that’s a concrete cold fact."
The lyrics above were written 42 years ago – or was it last week?
"Was it a huntsman or a player that made you pay the cost that now assumes relaxed positions and prostitutes your loss? Were you tortured by your own thirst in the pleasures that you seek that made you Tom the curious, that makes you James the weak?"
This is the song Rodriguez performed on Letterman, with a 12 piece horn and string section and double bass player, and is something all the politicians and Wall Streetersshould hear repeatedly.
Rodriguez closes the CD with the spoken word line:
"Thanks for your time and you can thank for mine and after that’s said, forget it…"
Well, thank God that Rodriguez has been discovered four decades on. He is selling out shows all over the world, not just South Africa, (where he has toured four times since 1998). He is even headling the Royal Albert Hall. So much for obscurity. It makes perfect sense that he would be introduced to the world now. The same sentiments that ran through the country and the world have also resurfaced over the past decade. I think we need Rodriguez more today than when he made this timeless music.
Thank you, Rodriguez.