Cold Reheated Facts

Rodriguez_Cold_FactRodriguez: Cold Fact (Light in the Attic) Success is difficult enough commodity to come by, but to have been awarded a platinum disc and not be aware of it for almost a quarter of a century seems an unnecessarily cruel twist of fate's blade. So it was with Sixto Rodriguez, whose album Cold Fact sank without a trace in the northern hemisphere, yet shifted in Sgt. Pepper-like quantities in South Africa and Australia. The world was smaller in 1970, and news of his distant fame didn't reach Detroit. He never got a rand's reward, though he did tour Australia towards the end of the decade. After another album, 1971's Coming from Reality, he threw in the towel, working in factories and building sites, giving up on musical ambitions. The sixth child of Mexican immigrants, Rodriguez was born in Detroit on July 10, 1942. A 1967 single, “I'll Slip Away,” on the small Impact label, was his first vinyl venture, but Cold Fact, recorded in 1969 and released in 1970, brought his unique abilities to a fleeting prominence. He was happier playing motorcycle funerals, gay bars, and dives, and once performed a music industry showcase with his back turned to the assembled throng of importance. There is an unyielding self-assurance to his work that suggests that compromise wasn't an asset he could harness or care for. Cold Fact remains a strange album. It could be described as a protest record, but is years late for the genre. It remains a very articulate, pissed-off one. The vignettes and moods within the songs have the grit and truth of experience. Kicking off with “Sugar Man,” a user's lament wherein Rodriguez pleads, “Sugar Man won't you hurry/Cos I'm tired of these scenes/For a blue coin won't you bring back/All those colors to my dreams.” He doesn't mince his bitter words. Delivered over a garage riff of rage, he snarls in “Only Good For Conversation,” “My pocket don't drive me fast/My mother treats me slow/My statue's got a concrete heart/But you're the coldest bitch I know.” His voice has a clipped and withering delivery, part incisive barb, part street-thrown sneer. The sound rests uneasily between early Dylan coupled with Jose Feliciano had he'd seen life from the frayed edges of society, cajoled with lashings of Arthur Lee's more electric Love. “This Is Not a Song, It's An Outburst; Or, The Establishment Blues” is a two-minute litany of grievances; bitter and truthful, it still remains pithy and sadly pertinent: :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.” The monochromatic rage continues in “Hate Street Dialogue,” which breezes through a sense of urban desperation: “The inner city birthed me/The local pusher nursed me/Cousins make it in the street/Marry every trick they meet.” James Taylor was never that pissed off! There's a street poetry articulation to Rodriguez. His observances are finely honed nuggets of twisted eloquence. “Inner City Blues” reveals this talent well: Crooked children, yellow chalk writing on the concrete walk Their King died. Drinking from a Judas cup, looking down but seeing up Cos Papa don't allow no new ideas here And now he hears the music but the words are not too clear. He is in a positively laconic vibe in the breezy “I Wonder,” but the sharp words possess a wounding but blunt humor: I wonder how many times you've been had I wonder how many plans have gone bad I wonder how many times you've had sex I wonder do you know who'll be next. You can't imagine these sentiments hogging the airwaves. The same applies to the almost surgical directness of “Jane S Piddy”: But don't you bother to buy insurance 'cos you've already died So you can't be serious I saw my reflection in my father's final tears The wind was slowly melting, San Francisco disappears Acid heads, unmade beds and you Woodward world queers I know you're lonely. Even the sensitivity implicit in “Gammorah, A Nursery Rhyme” is also barbed: Sleep now little children Don't lose your way 'Cos tourists don't see things In the clearness of day. The implicit concision of 'Rich Folks Hoax' does little to settle those of a sensitive disposition: The sun is shining, as it's always done Coffin dust is the fate of everyone Talking 'bout the rich folks The poor create the rich hoax And only late breast fed fools believe it. And as he signs off the proceedings with “Like Janis” -- And don't try to enchant me with your manner of dress 'Cos a monkey in silk is a monkey no less So measure for measure reflect on my said And when I won't see you then measure it dead -- you are left feeling slightly elated and a little disturbed. The truth isn't always easily digested, especially when rooted in a marginalized experience, a perspective most are fortunate enough to have been spared. It is easy to see how Rodriguez and his withering take on life went against the grain of the peace and love stragglers, but found an accepting audience in a society such as South Africa as it struggled towards modernity. It was in the mid-1990s that a South African fan determined to celebrate him via a tribute site. There were the usual stories and rumors attached to an elusive absence, an on-stage death being one. But the man himself, once discovered, was sanguine in his surprise at his standing in places he'd never been, this discovered by his daughter checking him out on the web. All that changed and a sold-out series of shows of South Africa was undertaken in 1998. Rodriguez was suddenly feted like the star he never knew he was, becoming the subject of a documentary, Dead Men Don't Tour. David Holmes used “Sugar Man” on his album Come and Get It, and Paolo Nuitini also covered the song. Now that Cold Fact has been lovingly restored via the Light in the Attic label, Rodriguez is finally reaping a late but much-deserved harvest of reward. It is an extraordinary album, fresh, raw, and strangely infectious. Four of the tracks from it appear on the final Family Dogg album The View from Rowland's Head, released in 1971 along with “Advice to Smokey Robinson,” a song Rodriguez seems never to have recorded himself, or if he did the tape has been lost. After the hauntingly poetic Coming from Reality, which he recorded in London (it sold even less than his debut effort), Rodriguez parted company with Sussex Records. He remains unclassifiable. Jazz, Folk, Garage, Psych, and Soul all surface in his work, but it has a timeless assurance and poise. In Australia there's even a Rodriguez tribute band called Viva Rodriguez, and if you do yourself the favor of buying Cold Fact you'll understand why. He seems in no hurry to add to his output, but if you only make two albums, make sure they exude the quality of these, and don't be surprised or downcast if recognition takes a while to call. - Rob Cochrane Rodriguez - Cold Fact cochrane.jpgMr. Cochrane is a poet and writer living in Manchester, England. His work has appeared in Mojo, Attitude, and Dazed & Confused. He has published three collections of poems, and Gone Tomorrow, his biography of the rock singer Jobriath, will appear via SAF in 2009.