by D. House
June 26, 2009
Sixto Rodriguez is a Detroit musician whose two albums came out in 1970 (Cold Fact), and 1971 (Coming from Reality). His unique politically and socially fueled psychedelic folk sound failed to break at the time, but now almost forty years later, he's experiencing a resurgence thanks to both records being re-released by Seattle-based Light In The Attic. Even at age 67, Rodriguez is politically aware and socially conscious.
I've heard that originally when your records came out they didn’t do that well in the States, but then you’ve had subsequent rediscoveries in Australia and South Africa and now here in the States. What is it like having this resurgence after this many years?
Well, I think it’s a phenomenon, that’s how I feel. It’s through Light in the Attic [Records] and the Internet. Suddenly there it is. If it wasn’t for the technology, I don’t think I’d be in the same position. I have to credit my three daughters, Regan, Sandra and Eva. They each helped me get information because I don’t have a computer. They come by and give me papers and information, and they travel with me as well, which I appreciate because they’re very helpful.
Do you not have a computer by choice?
I don’t have that ability. In fact, Regan got me the phone. For years I didn’t have a phone and I’ve been out of contact. I was getting too many calls, and I was coming home to answer the phone, so I pulled it out. Then I didn’t get a new one, so Regan got me one. And now we’re on this major tour.
Where is this tour taking you?
It’s all over the country. We’re going to Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Los Angeles. Then Amsterdam, Dublin, Paris, Berlin.
All the major cities in America and in Europe?
Yes, and I’ve got different bands for the different places. In San Francisco, we’ve got a band that’s beautiful. It’s all happening.
Does it feel a lot different to you playing now than how it did back in 1970?
No, because the audience is there. One guy described it as, ‘music is a living thing.’ So that’s pretty much the credo. We create it, we try new stuff, and each night is different. I’m reaching people, young people in the audience and it feels great. The difference is also due to the different bands. I have a Swedish band for part of the tour in Europe. I’ve played with them already, so we don’t have to do a lot of rehearsal. That’s the thing with my career; I just hook up with other musicians. I’m more a musical slut than a whore.
The music that was coming out in the late 60s and into the early 70s seemed to me so much to be an extension of what was going on in society, and people used music much more to voice protests and speak out against injustice. It seems that music doesn’t tend to play that much of a role socially like it used to. What your thoughts are on that?
With people like Neil Young and [Bob] Dylan, there was a certain social consciousness of what was happening in the 70s. The assassinations, the people in the cities protesting against the (Vietnam) war, the burning of draft cards. It’s a good question, because there’s a lot of what’s going on today is exactly like it was then, but at that time, there was a certain age group, they were all hitting the streets and they were all faced with the draft. With the assassination of John Kennedy, they said that was the real beginning of photojournalism because it of the Zapruder film. I think there are similar things happening now with the technology. But now, there’s more control with all the commercials…you have television with the commercials, radio is full of commercials, and I’d like to keep the Internet without too many commercials. I think it’s easier to control the population even though there’s more information than ever before.
Why do you think that is?
What the multi-nationals have done is get the cheap labor, and now they raise the prices and take the rest. Exxon, Mobil, the oil companies are the ultimate beneficiaries. War is easy, and war is always a good distraction from what’s really going on. I do feel people are more conscious of what’s going on. I like to think that think change coming, that change is here. Cut down on one of these wars and make that a guarantee to the young people of the country. But what can I do? I wish I could talk to them.
Music is such a strong platform - you have the attention of all of these people who are there to see you and hear what you have to say. It seems that between the stage and your audience, you have a means to change consciousness. Do you think that people collectively have a purpose or should it be more of an individual thing?
You have to do it together. Problem-solving is a group effort. One person can solve a problem, but if you have a group of people you can solve it quicker. A group can bring down a war, I don’t say the system anymore, but the ideas of the system: the “isms.” The ideas have to come down. There’s nepotism, cronyism, and favoritism, these are the things that need to be stopped. Back in the early ‘70s, they came out and demonstrated against the Vietnam War. They came out of the buildings and blocked the cities, and people came out in mass protest against these things. They stopped the advance of the war, at least to a point. That is the power of the group vs. the individual.
What do you think of the fact that we now have [President Barack] Obama in office and the historical significance of having a black man in the White House?
I think that was wonderful that we’ve changed the administration. I’m really happy that he’s in office. It’s finally reached that point where something like this can happen. When you have soldiers in Iraq who say, ‘I love you,’ and Obama yells, ‘I love you,’ back, that wouldn’t have come from [George W.] Bush. They spent their time alienating the rest of the world from us instead. They tried to rebuke the world, but the world rebuked them. I’ve been around the world several times, and there’s enough for everyone. What we need are good doctors and free education. In Southern California, they used to have free college education, and then Reagan became governor. They need to fix the social security system once and for all. Health can be fixed. People created the problems, so people can fix them.
Do you think Obama is someone who can change those ideas and help steer things in a new direction?
I certainly think so. Again, some of the political maneuvers are continuations of what’s already happened before because they can’t just pull out. There are so many things; it’s not just one thing. I liked it when [Ernest] Hemmingway said he didn’t think there was any one truth; he thought they were all true. I like that. I like American expressions and freedom of speech and freedom of the press. That’s the kind of thing we have to take care of. I met John Sinclair [founder of the Detroit Artists Workshop] a couple years ago, he did nine years for two joints. That’s the thing about the states: you can do something harmless like smoke a little marijuana and then you end up doing some time. We need to get our priorities in order.
Let’s talk a little bit about the early days of you making music in Detroit in the late 60s and early 70s. You had all the rock ‘n roll going on with bands like MC5, The Stooges, and The Amboy Dukes, as well as the whole Motown scene. What was that like for you being in that scene and a part of all that?
I never really felt so much a part of that scene: I worked in a factory at one of the major automobile companies, and it was hard labor. So my experience of Detroit was more about the blue-collar experience, not so much the rock and roll scene at the time. I did do some of that stuff, but overall I was a factory worker.
How did your records get re-released here after almost 40 years?
Light in the Attic is the record label that found me and re-released my records here in the states and helped me out. I reached people before, but now it’s different. I’m reaching people, young people in the audience
Back when you had your resurgence in South Africa, you were playing to really big audiences, weren’t you?
In 1998, I went there for the first time and we did four shows. And then I signed with Columbia there and they put out Live Fact. That helped me have product. Light in the Attic has done the same thing. They’ve put me out here in the states again after so many years, and it’s a great package. They work really hard. I’m lucky to have the opportunity.
Do you foresee the possibility of doing any new recordings? Writing any new songs?
We’re going to have a film released made by a Swedish film group. It’s going to be released next spring. We’re going to do Wales and the Green Man Festival, the Big Chill Festival in London. These are all major venues. I think they’re going to put me in Austin City Limits as well.
Would you consider recording a new album?
I would love to, but I’m focused totally on the re-release of my records currently.
Let’s say it’s a year from now, and Light in the Attic asked if you’d be interested in going into the studio and recording a brand new album of new material.
These are hypotheticals. It would be great. I’m working on stuff, I really am. I really appreciate you knowing so much about my records. Thanks for the cheer. I really feel the pressure though. This has been a major transition
You’re just taking everything as it happens, not thinking too far ahead?
You can try and live in the future, but you have to be in the today. Some philosopher says, ‘forget the past and be the day.’ I like to leave it like that. You’ve got to have plans to have a future.
Do you have a parting thoughts for our readers?
Get your hugs, stay off drugs. “Sugar Man” and all those songs, I’m not promoting those things. It’s a descriptive song, not a prescriptive one. I try to make that clear because people misinterpret.