It's Saturday and time for a 20th anniversary posting that points the way towards one of the most unlikely and amazing tales ever told about the music of our lifetimes.
If you don't know the story, it's hardly believable and if you don't believe it I certainly don't blame you. But every word is true.
Once upon a time there was a songwriter from Detroit who made two (yes they are timeless) LPs for Sussex Records in 1970 and 1971. They sank without a trace -- well, in America, anyway.... not a country known for its good taste -- and their author returned to his previous career of demolishing and rebuilding houses.
Several years went by and he found his records blowing up in Australia, so he went Down Under and toured a few times to adoring crowds and sold out venues bigger than any he had ever dreamed of playing. This would not be the last time a place light years from Detroit would open its arms to him.
More years went by and nothing happened, so back he went into the construction business. Little did he know what his music was building in another Southern Hemisphere location.
For, completely unbeknownst to him, his two records had found their way to the strife-torn pariah state of 1970s South Africa, where a movement was gathering momentum that would eventually result in the near-total transformation of its society.
The white activists -- many of them musicians -- attempting to help the Black South Africans overthrow the heinous Apartheid system adopted this man's music as their rallying cry as, over the next two decades, they worked to remake their country in a more humane image.
In the mid-1990s Apartheid fell, and the activists set about trying to locate the artist who had provided them with so much inspiration. Over the years various ridiculous rock-n-roll myths had grown up around him, with various onstage suicides ranging from setting himself ablaze to blowing his brains out mid-song.
None of these turned out to be true, so when his daughter happened upon the website they had created in his honor, she contacted the South African musicians and let them know that their hero was not, in fact, dead.
They set up a triumphant tour for him -- six sold-out, SRO concerts -- and away he went. A documentary was made about the whole excursion, and it won an Academy Award.
From there, he was finally acknowledged as the Global Royalty he was and is. Mega-tours followed, which saw him pack venues both on his own and as opener for the likes of Beach Boy Brian Wilson. He appeared on late night TV talk shows and was treated as a deity.
Sound implausible? It does, doesn't it? That's only because you weren't born Sixto Rodriguez.
His songs are in no way for the faint of heart and often make the more misanthropic expressions of Bob Dylan sound like "Something Tells Me I'm Into Something Good". One time long ago I got on a Friday night BART train to go to SF and it was packed with poseurs and preening pathos plumbers plucked from the grooves of his albums, one of which I had in the headphones that particular night. Too real, too sad.
Anyway back to that initial South African tour, back in 1998. It seems a live CD was issued from one of the performances... a real rarity that was only issued in SA at the time and which goes for large sums on Amazon and ebay. Well, a real rarity unless you're scrolling down this page, anyhow.
Standard Bank Arena
Johannesburg, South Africa
01 I Wonder
02 Only Good for Conversation
03 Can't Get Away
04 Crucify Your Mind
05 Jane S. Piddy
06 To Whom It May Concern
07 Like Janis
08 Inner City Blues
09 Street Boy
10 A Most Disgusting Song
11 Halfway Up the Stairs
12 I Think of You
13 Rich Folks Hoax
14 Climb Up On My Music
15 Sugar Man
16 Establishment Blues
17 Forget It
Total time: 1:04:47
Sixto Rodriguez - vocals and guitar
with Big Sky:
Willem Möller - guitar
Russel Taylor - keyboards
Reuben Samuels - drums nnd percussion
Graeme Currie - bass
Tonia Selley - vocals and percussion
Robin Walsh - guitar overdubs
engineered by Dave Segal
introduction by Tony Blewitt
memento CD of Rodriguez's 1998 South African tour, released by Sony Music only in South Africa in June of that year
398 MB FLAC/March 2018 archive link
I promise you one thing: you'll never hear a more enraptured, devoted audience on a live record than the boisterous aggregation on this one. The whole 65 minutes plays both like a valedictory celebration of Apartheid's demise and a love letter to the inestimable power of music in our world. Rodriguez -- he goes by just his last name for the purposes of his art -- is ever understated and thanks them for "keeping me alive".
So I heartily encourage you, if you haven't up to now, to crucify your mind upon the sounds and the story of this extraordinary artist... definitely try to see the film also, as it is as good as such chronicles get. And of course a thank you of recognition and utmost appreciation to the man whose songs helped shatter one of most grievous injustices our world has ever seen, Sixto Rodriguez.--J.