My ears have been increasingly inundated over the years with the smooth, and not-so-smooth, melodies of the great Indie music machine. But sometimes it’s too much. Sometimes I can’t take the musical aptitude of so many cusp-artists, and the excitement of musical exploration crashes, and I give up.
It is only fitting that the last time this occurred, and my desire for the inevitable search of “the new” subsided, a man of Detroit’s own 1960s motown glided, oh so sensually, out of history and into my lap. Well, maybe not my actual lap. But here’s to hoping.
Sixto Rodriguez, known by some as “Sugarman”, is finally entering musical stardom some 40 years after his original album and first attempt at breaking onto motown’s scene in the late 1960s.
The catalyst for Sugarman’s resurrection was “Searching for Sugarman” — a Swedish-British documentary directed by Malik Bendjelloul. The film won a number of awards, including an oscar for Best Documentary in the 85th Academy Awards as it detailed the journey of Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom, two Cape Town Sugarman fans bent on solving Sixto’s enigmatic disappearance. And apparently they did. Finding him alive, a Sugarman revivial took hold and landed Rodriguez, at 70 years old, back on the stage.
Sixto’s work began early. He recorded his first album, “I’ll Slip Away”, in 1967 on the Impact label. Sadly, to no musical avail. He then joined sexy forces with Funk Brothers’ bass player, Bob Babbitt, and in 1969 recorded “Cold Facts” which would be released finally in March 1970. It included the hit aptly named “Sugar Man.”
The Facts piqued interests much more than his first attempt, as the album explored a psychadelic realm that the likes of Led Zeppelin hadn’t yet ventured.
In the golden age of governmental and societal protest through song, before misguided anarchy and angst spilled out of the mouths of babes like Green Day’s nauceously iconic “American Idiot” (don’t even attempt to defend them), Rodriguez stood among classic anti-establishment artists with songs like “Establishment Blues” and “Hate Street Dialogue.” He encapsulated the social unrest of the time in lines like “I’ve seen Hate Street’s hanging tree.”
And Establishment Blues proves to be a canon of Rodriguez’s own social disapproval — sentiments shared by many then and now.
“Garbage ain’t collected, women ain’t protected
Politicians using people, they’ve been abusing
The mafia’s getting bigger, like pollution in the river
And you tell me that this is where it’s at.”
“Gun sales are soaring, housewives find life boring
Divorce the only answer, smoking causes cancer
This system’s gonna fall soon, to an angry young tune
And that’s a concrete cold fact.”
His “inner-city poetry” and political jabs written so long ago can still be applied to topics of our time, “Like his poke at the pope’s stance on birth control, and his plaints about corrupt politicians and bored housewives,” as a Huffington Post entertainment article explains.
While now back on some stages, Rodriguez’s current fight persists in his demand of the royalties accrued during his absence, when his music became increasingly popular in South African culture and society. But Rodriguez isn’t giving up or leaving anytime soon. He tried that once and it only worked for 40 years. I am hopeful, even at 70 years old as he struggles to reach those notes he once slid out so perfectly, that Rodriguez will regain his footing again in music’s history.