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This article was first published on CLUAS in April 2000

Rodriguez - An Unknown Legend

Frank on a little musical secret...

Every music lover loves a romantic tale, finding an undiscovered talent that they can take to their heart and call their own. In this part of the world David Gray is the perfect example. His cult-status among Irish listeners is now unquestionable. A man who can fill the Point Depot with consummate ease yet still struggles to fill a small bar in his native Wales.

Sixto Rodriguez then...Now let me introduce you to Mr. Sixto Rodriguez. Initially I wanted to title this piece "Oasis' Liam In Orgy With Thai She-Man" or something sufficiently tacky in a desperate attempt to lure your sordid attentions. Why? Because this is a tale that needs to be told, about a man, whose music needs to heard!

Mexican by descent, American protest singer-songwriter Rodriguez is the man the Woodstock generation forgot. He should by right share the same virtual immortality enjoyed by Bob Dylan, Neil Young and others of their ilk. Instead, if you were to ask the most studious of American music-writers what they know of him you would get nothing but quizzical shrugs and blank expressions in return. On the other hand, take yourself to far away South Africa and ask the same question to pretty much any old Joe Bloggs you see walking down the street? "Rodriguez, yaw! He's an American dude, I grew up to his album 'Cold Fact', he's dead now, he killed himself on stage?" Well that's what you would've been told a few years ago anyway. 'Cold Fact' was the album that caused all the fuss. It was an album so incredibly mainstream in appeal despite being anything but mainstream in content and for a quarter of a century it was all people had to go on. Never before had there been such an air of wonderment and mystery about an artist. It was not known who he was, where he was from, how the album got to South Africa, it wasn't even known if he was dead or alive. Rumours of suicide, drug overdose and countless others did the rounds. One man even reported seeing him shoot himself on stage. The only thing that was known, as his songs were passed from generation to generation, was the music and the quality that lay therein. 'Cold Fact' consists chiefly of beautifully brief, straight-to-the-point numbers with his incredibly poetic lyrics providing the focal point throughout.

Opening track "Sugar Man" is as drug-induced a song as you're ever likely to hear and when the song reaches it's eerie finale you'd be forgiven for thinking that you were the one who'd been doing the indulging. All of his work seems to be as much philosophical as musical and you'll find his verses popping into your head at the most opportune times. When I was asked to sign the book of remembrance for the victims of Omagh the opening lines of "Crucify Your Mind" came out. "Was it a huntsman or a player that made you pay the cost / Who now assumes relaxed position and prostitutes your loss." With his words and his mind-blowing use of imagery he truly can paint a song as he covers most social topics from drug-abuse and government inadequacies to self-pity and heartbreak. On "Establishment Blues : This Is Not A Song It's An Outburst" he shares the same 'clean the scum off the streets' attitude as psychopath Travis Bickle from the classic flick Taxi Driver when he sings "Woke I this morning with an ache in my head / Splashed on my clothes as I spilled out of bed / Opened the window to listen to the news / But all I heard was the establishment blues."

For years there had been rumours abound about the existence of a prior album which had vanished before Cold Fact even saw the light of day. In late 1996 a copy of this 'holy-grail' was finally uncovered. It sparked renewed interest and intrigue in the Rodriguez saga and prompted a worldwide search Rodriguez nowfor 'the messiah' involving web-sites, musicologists and private investigators. Within a year the new album, "Coming From Reality" was released and adored by his followers. Once again it was a collection of songs with writing so touching and thought provoking you could slap a dusty cover on it and call it The Bible. Within weeks of that a response came through on the 'Great Rodriguez Hunt' web-site from Eva Alicia Rodriguez Koller stating "Rodriguez is my Father." Through his daughter, contact was finally made with the man himself and at last, after 25 years, all those questions could be answered. It was no surprise to find him completely overwhelmed by the fact that people not only listened to his music but found inspiration in it. In keeping with his songs it was revealed that not only had he done extensive social work in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan but had also run for public-office on four occasions.

Six months later Rodriguez arrived in South Africa to perform a string of sold-out concerts around the country. It was an incredible thing to witness, entire arenas squinted to see if he was indeed the real thing or if it was just one big elaborate hoax. And he, himself carried on stage with him the look and behaviour of an orphan child who'd just been adopted by the Brady Bunch. The rest can only make sense if you listen to his work which is available on import through Tower Records or over the net through www.cd.co.za/rodriguez. Nothing in this world could come more recommended.

Frank McNally

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