Features, One Song One Story

The Soldier That Dies: Rodriguez’s “I Wonder”

When you live with a song long enough, it becomes part of your memory-scape. In our column One Song, One Story, our writers share a song, and the story it evokes in them.
cold-fact

People say Detroit is making a come-back. I listen to Rodriguez and see through his dated words the percolating problems of the era, their public disregard and perpetuation into the worries of myself. Sixto Rodriguez is from Detroit. Sixto Rodriguez was a folk artist, overlooked not only by Generation Big-Hair Rock’n’Roll but also by his peers, Bob Dylan fanatics. Listening to his words, rife with anti-establishment blues, awakens the anarchist in me, but more than that it rocks my understanding of how those Greenwich Village hipsters of the folk revolution didn’t pick up on him. Rodriguez sings deeper, he recreates the scene of corrupt, out-of-touch politicians that have allowed the city to fall to increasing decay. He is no textbook saint, but a sex-peddling martyr. Many of his songs are explicit but in a way that leaves you smiling in tune but boiling in sentiment. He sings,

I wonder how many times you’ve been had

And I wonder how many plans have gone bad

I wonder how many times you had sex

I wonder do you know who’ll be next

I wonder l wonder wonder I do.

(Doesn’t that make you wanna giggle while you wear a sneer? Current feminist-agenda or not, I can’t help but wish I had asked him ask the woman in question just to see that reaction. )

Sixto is cheeky and that’s why we like him. He is no pop star — singing about wanting to be my hero repeatedly or something about airplanes being like stars (((?))) He also doesn’t take himself too seriously; no contrived, phony meta-descriptions of the hierarchical-based discriminatory institutions — I mean, sure, he talks about it, but I would too if I lived parts of my life hustling in the streets of 1970’s Detroit.

Sugar man

Won’t ya hurry

Coz I’m tired of these scenes

For a blue coin

Won’t ya bring back

All those colours to my dreams

Silver magic ships, you carry

Jumpers, coke, sweet Mary Jane

“Sugar Man” is the opening track of Rodriguez’s debut album Cold Fact. It is also the name of the Rodriguez-featured documentary “Searching for Sugar Man.” Earlier I mentioned that Rodriguez never really took off… in the United States. However, if you were a citizen of South Africa or have already seen the documentary then you know where I am going with this. Somehow, according to local legend, a girl-meets-boy story takes one single Cold Fact record to South Africa during the height of the apartheid. His anti-establishment rhetoric revolutionized the mentality of the public in regards to their government, teaching them to question orders – the popularity of Rodriguez caught fire.  His rise in South Africa grew from single copy then myriad record-copying brought record stores to carry the album, bringing him from counterculture to pop culture.

Naturally people began to wonder more about him, but nothing was to be found — the only information offered was the legend that this poor, two-album releasing artist who, frustrated with the bitter disregard he was paid by his home country audience, caught fire to himself onstage as the close to his set.

Sounds pretty dicey, right?

I won’t divulge more in fear of spoiling an extremely well-done documentary, but do wonder.

I walk through today’s New York City with a long-legged stride on a cool fall day; undoubtedly Rodriguez is playing in through my buds and out through my butchering rendition.

He fills the void that Nico once held as my blue-sky day / grey-sky day go-to album, no disrespect to the late-German experimentalist but another calendar has come to pass and yet I still wonder…

 

October 14, 2016

About Author

airschl Gauraa is excited for me to write a small biography about myself -- I imagine my professors share her level of excitement at the thought I might turn in my homework on time. As for both I think I will sip another beer and hope a security breach on the server will crash the system and give me more time to think of something funny to describe me.


ONE COMMENT ON THIS POST To “The Soldier That Dies: Rodriguez’s “I Wonder””

  1. Nerice says:

    Kudos! What a neat way of thinikng about it.

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