Saturday, May 20, 2006

Not so cold facts about the Sugar man

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.

Sugar man met a false friend
On a lonely dusty road
Lost my heart when I found it
It had turned to dead black coal.
Silver magic ships you carry
Jumpers, coke, sweet Mary Jane.

Sugar man you're the answer
That makes my questions disappear
Sugar man 'cos I'm weary
Of those double games l hear.

Listen to 'Sugar man'

S, a good friend of mine, had been looking for 'Cold Fact' by Rodriguez for years (why he didn’t try and buy it when on his frequent trips to South Africa, I don’t know) when he heard 'Sugar man' blaring out in HMV in Dublin where he now lives. It was the same 'Sugar man' but sung by someone else. He rushed over to one of the assistants and asked if they had the original. The assistant pointed him in the direction of another assistant, saying that he’d know.

‘Who’s this singing Sugar man? Do you have Cold Fact by Rodriguez?’

‘That’s Just Jinger, a South African band, it’s their cover version of the original. No, we don’t have any Rodriguez.’

S recognised the South African accent. ‘So you know who I’m talking about?’

‘Of course, I do,’ he said, smiling. ‘Which South African wouldn’t?’ He obviously recognised S’s accent.

cold fact by rodriquezCold Fact came out in South Africa in 1971. The assistant was in his early twenties but he knew about Rodriguez. Just Jinger, now internationally successful, were the most successful South African rock band of the nineties. They cite Rodriguez as one of their major influences.

Despite having been released there in the early seventies ‘Cold Fact’ became a legendary album in South Africa. The music, its lyrics and the abrupt disappearance of Rodriquez ensured that he became a permanent fixture in South African musical folklore. In his profile on Rodriguez, Nils van der Linden has this to say:

By 1971 "Cold Fact" reached South Africa, where Rodriguez's frank songs about drugs, social unrest, political apathy and general disillusionment were embraced by teenagers and national servicemen. "In the deadly South African '70s, his songs of harsh political complaint, of the power of sex and the lure of drugs, awoke something in untold thousands of young (white) breasts. He stoked rebellion and _ who knows _ helped children of suburbia wake up to the need for change in their own country," was how writer Guy Willoughby accounted for the impact of the album that has gone on to achieve platinum status in this country.

Together with his legendary "Cold Fact" album, the reasons for the sudden disappearance became part of South African folklore. Some people claimed that Rodriguez had been burnt to death while performing. Others seemed convinced that he had murdered his wife and was now in jail, while further rumours stated that he had died of a heroin overdose. The most common belief, though, was that he had blown his head off, on stage, after reciting his famous words "Thanks for your time, and you can thank me for mine, and after that's said, forget it!"


Rodriguez, the son of Mexican immigrant parents, was born in Detroit in 1942. He brought out Cold Fact in 1969 but it sank without a trace in the US and Europe. It achieved some success in Australia and New Zealand before reaching South Africa. Rumours of his death started in the late seventies and he was assumed to be dead when Cold Fact was released as a CD in South Africa in 1991. The reappearance of his second album, ‘After the Fact’ (originally titled ‘Coming from Reality’), in 1996, triggered a worldwide hunt for the missing legend by a few diehard South African fans.

The rumours of his death were unfounded.

rodriguez nowHe was found living a quiet life in Detroit, where he worked as a construction worker. He was completely unaware of his fame in South Africa. In this Guardian report, Steven Segerman, who made it his mission to track down Rodriguez, had this to say:

"Cold Fact was never banned, but it never received any radio play, except on pirate stations like Swazi Radio, which weren't under the censor board. The song I Wonder had this line, 'I wonder how many times you had sex', which for South Africa in those days was about as controversial as it could get. For kids, it was like a joke song, they were like 'listen to this!'. Then they heard the album, and realised there was a lot more in it, it was trippy, it was beautiful, it had a lot of social content. It affected a lot of people in a lot of different ways. The commercial success was unbelievable. If you took a family from South Africa, a normal, middle-class family, and looked through their record collection, you'd find Abbey Road, Neil Young's Harvest and Cold Fact. It was a word-of-mouth success."

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.

Listen to 'I wonder'

article on rodriquez by riaan malanThe discovery of the missing legend led to a series of South African tours, two documentaries and a platinum disk. An amazing thing to happen to someone who'd been rumoured dead, who gave up his recording career in 1972, whose last concerts had been in Australia in 1981 and who'd never played in his home country. This is how he reacted:

"Oh gee, it blew me away when I found out, it was so good," says Rodriguez. "All these youngbloods came rushing towards the stage. It was crazy. In South Africa, people talked to me about how they ran into the album. It happens all over the place, people coming up to me, into the material."

He played his first UK concerts at the London Forum in October last year.

Had S been trying to find ‘Cold Fact’ now, he’s have had no problem - it's stocked by most of the major music stores and Amazon. He asked to buy the Just Jinger album but HMV in Dublin didn’t stock it. The assistant had recently been home where he’d bought the album and was playing it for his colleagues at HMV.

Most of you won't have heard anything by Rodriguez but, if you have, it will probably have been from ‘Come Get It I Got It’ by DJ and composer David Holmes who composed the soundtrack of Oceans Eleven. From the Guardian again:

"It has that combination of obscurity of quality," says DJ and Ocean's Eleven soundtrack composer David Holmes, who found a copy of Rodriguez's remarkable 1970 psychedelic folk album Cold Fact in a New York second-hand shop in the late 1990s, and went on to include its standout track Sugarman on his mix album Come Get It I Got It. "I'd never heard anything quite like it. It was quite surprising to me to see how many people don't know it."

'Cold Fact' is very typical of sixties folk music with lots of social commentary and I know that I'm probably biased by having grown up with it, but I suspect that many newcomers to his music will want to hear more.

29 Comments:

Blogger Dawn said...

Thanks for a great read. I recall all you describe with astonishing clarity. Going to 'overs' on a Saturday night took on a whole new meaning with the arrival of this album. I also remember my shock and surprise at realizing you really could have great sex without being goofed, as long as this album was still playing in the background.
I think you would enjoy the really cool walk down a South African music memory lane that this link offers (if you don't already know it).
www.cd.co.za/legends/2000plus/rocking.html
p.s. I have NO problem with you calling me 'bru', bru.
(is there an email address for the nomad, perhaps?)

3:39 pm  
Anonymous xmichra said...

wow.. that is a great story! And I like the two songs you have up to listen too. hmmm.. i wonder if Elvis is living in Amsterdam as a shop keeper after all... =P

3:52 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

Got your nostalgia stings tugged, did it?

I don't know that particular link but know of a few others. Thanks, will go have a look.

I know I could try work out your age but I won't (not polite, is it?) so I don't know if this nostalgia site will have much relevance to you.

3:54 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

Oh, as for the email address, I sent it to you.

3:55 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

xmichra: Glad you liked it - quite amazing, actually. What are you doing blog-surfing on a Saturday when you should be entertaining Kira? :-)

3:56 pm  
Blogger Rocco said...

Hi there

I'm glad you like my blog... I am so amazed with yours, it's so so cool!! I loved the videos about Aids awareness and I am including your blog in my blog list. How did you styled your blog that way?? It is awesome!! Where u live now? So many questions wow!! hey stay in touch!! Rocco

4:36 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

rocco: Welcome and thanks for adding me to your blogroll.

Glad to hear you think this blog is so cool. This is a standard blogger templated that I fiddled around with. Although I'm an IT person, my knowledge of HTML is very limited but I persevered and managed to add my own touches. It's not difficult to do but takes a bit of time to know what certain commands mean.

I now live in Nottingham.

5:23 pm  
Blogger nyasha said...

this is the type of music better-half LOVES. it's the grooooove! it is great to hear that someone actually took it upon themselves to hunt Rodriguez down and give him some proper recognition. I always think it is a shame when people built pedestals to honour great people AFTER they have passed away. Thanks for introducing Rodriguez to us :)

8:22 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

So, unlike you, the better half has taste? *DUCK* :-)

Off out on the tiles now. I'll have a hangover tomorrow. Oh dear!

10:10 pm  
Blogger Beaver said...

An one Haitian flag! One ! :o)

12:32 am  
Blogger Vitor said...

hello nomad!

thank you very much indeed for the comment :)

your portuguese may be rusty, but it's still just fine!

as far as the clip was concerned, it was from northwestern portugal. bragança :)

well, if you knew your friends addresses it would, obviously, be much easier... but if you don't... it's tricky, especially if your friends live down on alentejo.

arraiolos isn't very big, and if your friends aren't portuguese it's a good bet people will know them. you could try phoning up the city council. or their emabassy.

if you know they're portuguese and you know their names go to www.118.pt and type in their names.

i'm sorry if i'm not being much help.

if you need anything else don't hesitate to head over to Blogovitor and comment!

Thanks Again!

11:35 am  
Blogger Terri said...

Interesting, I wouldn't have thought twice about it but I always just assumed that Rodriguez was as well known all over the world as in SA.

Happy 101 flags!
:)

4:03 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

Beaver: you were number 100, you deserve a prize! Tanzania was 101 but I don't know which country was 99 and I was really hoping to know which one it was. Yes, sad, really. Anyway, thanks for popping by.

Vitor: Thanks for coming by and giving me that info. The family in question were very good friends of mine in Mozambique and returned to Arraiolos as that's where they came from, ie they are Portuguese. I visited them there in 1984 so I know what a small place it is. I know that the father died many years ago, don't know if the mother is still alive but the kids may have moved elsewhere since then.

Terri: I always knew he was not a worldwide star and I knew that he had 'disappeared' and that he had been found but didn't know the circumstances of his discovery. Thanks for the happy wishes.

4:26 pm  
Blogger Babsbitchin said...

Very interesting story, although I am unfamiliar with his music.

8:19 pm  
Blogger Jiggy said...

I couldn't agree more with what you have written here - Cold Fact is a masterpiece and deserves to be heard by a lot more people. I'm actually from Australia - my brother went to a gig by a local band called the Fauves who played a cover of Rich folks hoax from Cold Fact. That was enough to make my brother buy the album, and after listening to it I had to buy it myself as well. A timeless lost classic.

4:41 am  
Blogger kleverkloggs said...

If your going to date an ex-pat South African as I did, better place your order your order for Cold Fact now. They'll be like putty in your hands. Hope you like putty.

11:53 am  
Blogger Wenchy said...

I absolutely LOVE Rodriguez. With a great, great passion.

"Forget It" is my favourite.

6:46 am  
Blogger Pisces Iscariot said...

haha 'goofed' there's a word I haven't heard for at least 14 years - I grew up on the Bluff in Durban - goofed! haha

2:58 am  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

Seems like quite a lot of you like/love him.

kleverkloggs: I AM a South African, so I know exactly what you're talking about.

pisces: its a great word but I think it's going out of fashion in SA

2:42 pm  
Blogger Susan said...

Soooo, besides that this was an absolutely gorgeous read ( i hadnt even thought about putting anything as well dugged up and put together as that on my blog, but then again i havent been doing this long enough) i do on the other hand have a small question. See when i get bored i design t-shirts, and when i design t-shirts i would like to research as much info as i can on the subject i am drawing about. Now your blog has given me quite a bit of info that i was not aware of, but my question still stands: Jumpers, Coke, Sweet Mary Jane? My newest t-shirt design is based on this song known to me as "sugarman". To be able to design it properly i need to know what those things are. Mary Jane and Coke i already knew, but what are "Jumpers". Now seeing as the other two are drugs to im almost certain jumpers is a drug to, but it could be one of many different things. Jumpers definition goes from clothing to books to plays...So here it is: Do you know what is meant in the song by Jumpers? Please let me know if you can, maybe i can finally get started on this design.

2:22 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

Susan: I'm glad you liked this post. But, I can't help you with 'jumpers' as I can't find any drug reference to it anywhere apart from this song. I assume it must be a drug reference. Perhaps it referred to some sort of amphetamine?

9:51 pm  
Blogger Susan said...

hey there, i was actually thinking the same thing. some sort of "pep-me-up-pill". I have decided to leave it at that though, seeing as i can't find anything else on it either. Thanks for the look around though, atleast im not the only one who can't find anything. Once i am done with the design i will leave a note and add it to my blog, maybe you can come have a look at it if you want then.

1:59 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder is one of my favourite "irregular" tracks, I heard it on the radio in SA just before we left in '95, found it on napster a year or so later after a struggle. Anyway interesting read and I'll follow up the other SA music link, originally a Brit but I do like PJ Powers / Hotline, Johnny Clegg, Clout, Mango Groove, Jennifer Ferguson and LBM to name a few. I'll try to get a listen to his album now.

4:56 am  
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3:49 pm  
Anonymous Norman said...

The dude is completely just, and there is no skepticism.
Kraut Burgers (Bierochen)

5:12 pm  
Blogger Kitri said...

With regards to you guys asking about jumpers-
I think it's slang for speed or some kind of amphetamine. I have no proof of this, but speed does make you extremely jumpy (I'm a dancer, I know exactly what people do when they're on it), so I think that's what it would be. Also, I think the silver magic ships might be a reference to LSD, or the "colors to my dreams."

6:10 am  
Blogger KAM said...

"Silver" has typically been a reference to intravenous drug use, as needles are silver. Simon & Garfunkel - "Sail on silver girl, sail on by, your time has come to shine, all your dreams on their way."

4:23 pm  
Anonymous lance said...

hi everybod ,i picked up on rodriguez in oz in 1977. we had an album called "at his best" released out here with tracks from both his first and second albums.the common interpretation was ,jumpers were uppers coke and mj were obvious and silver ships were the foil packets we got our sugar shipped in.hope that's ahelp. also the blue coin is a slang or street phrase for lack or loss of pride. i haven't seen the SA doco on rodriguez yet but am keen as this has brought back some cool music to these old ears.haha
Lance gold coast australia

11:51 pm  
Blogger Yankun said...

Hi

Thanks for all the great stuff on Rodriguez and the comments it has generated. We've just seen "Searching for Sugarman" here in Osaka (would you believe 10 people in the audience on a Saturday night?!) and one of the most shocking scenes was when the woman in the archives showed the LP of "Cold Fact" with the first track (Sugarman) crudely scratched out so it couldn't get air time. When you say, "Cold Fact was never banned', that may be literally true, but the cruel and vicious scratching out of that track was probably even more effective than an official ban.

4:58 am  

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