Sometime in the last year or two, I heard a song I liked on Sirus/XM satellite radio's "Little Steven's Underground Garage," "Only Good For Conversation," by Rodriguez. The song had a buzzing drive to it and sharp lyrics that rang in my head. It told a tale of a guy who meets a woman who he realizes has little concern outside of her own little life-- she cares little about politics, the oppressed, etc.
You're pretending that you got it made
You know I know you know no truth
You're still serving cookies and kool-aid
You're so proper and so cute
After hearing it a second time and loving it still, I bought it on Itunes. I assumed that the song was a fairly recent one; perhaps one of the many garage-rocky sounding groups coming out of places like Detroit and Buffalo lately.
A few weeks ago, the song popped up on my ipod shuffle and it occurred to me to look up Rodriguez. Turns out that I had the Detroit part right. But Detroit native Sixto Diaz Rodriguez recorded "Hard Fact," the album the "Only Good For Conversation" was from in 1970. Out of curiousity, I went on Youtube and listened to most of the rest of the songs on the album. By the end of the evening, I'd bought the whole album online and had messaged my friend Peter, who owns a record store about buying the album (he had a used copy in stock).
"Hard Fact" is brilliant. It's as if a child of Mexican immigrants (which he is) had hung out with Billy Bragg, Donovan and Jack White, and recorded Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On." (there's even a song called "Inner City Blues" that is thematically similar to the Marvin Gaye song of the same name, though different stylistically and preceded Gaye's song by about a year) The album explores styles from folk to R and B (it was co-produced by noted R and B producer Dennis Coffey) with a lot of rock in between. He examined inner city drug addiction-- "Sugarman," politics and apathy ("This Is Not a Song, It's an Outburst, or The Establishment Blues") and relationships ("I Wonder").
Listening to the album, I was floored by the fact that it moved me so much-- and that I'd never heard it before. In messaging back and forth with Peter about the album and artist I discovered why; the album hadn't done much when it came out. Auto worker Rodriguez went back to working factory jobs and raising a family after his second album, "Coming From Reality" didn't too well either.
Then, in the seventies, his songs began to gain popularity in Zimbabwe and South Africa, where people were fighting apartheid regimes. He toured Australia in the late seventies and early eighties with Midnight Oil, but remained unaware that his music was the soundtrack to a revolution until his daughter discovered a tribute website for him in 1998. Rodriguez began touring again, starting with South Africa, and in 2008, "Hard Fact" was reissued on cd. "Coming From Reality" was released last year.
Peter mentioned that he played in the Chicago area last year. Hopefully he'll play again sometime after I finish nursing school (when I can afford to go out to concerts again). He's supposed to be great live. In the meantime, I can't recommend "Cold Fact" enough.