A Life Beyond Imagination
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His lyrics perhaps spoke directly to those who would, over the years, rationalize acts of unconscionable self-interest: If Rodriguez was capable of pointing an accusatory finger, he did not exempt himself from responsibilities in what would be his musical unmaking: Were you tortured by your own thirst In those pleasures that you seek That made you Tom the curious That makes you James the weak? Always a mysterious figure at best, Rodriguez was clearly a loner reticent to demand rights and entitlements from those who seemed to be helping him.
He was likely content to be creating and recording his songs, rather than attending scrupulously to contracts and charting careful career moves. More importantly, neither Black nor white, in a Detroit where the music scene was ordered by these racial binaries, Rodriguez had no support networks to call upon to protect his interests.
He was the prototype of an outsider. This was a product of how class and race intersected in this particular historical moment, and also in this specific place, the Detroit of Bob Seeger-type working-class rockers and African-American Motown. Quick money was obviously there to be effortlessly had.
There were those willing and able to do a grab and run. Rodriguez, reliant on his own meager devices, would be left standing still. His music was too much, too late by a few years. Even before the socially explosive happenings ofDylan, an astute weathervane if ever there was one, had already consciously discarded much of his protest voice which always masked outrage in the kind of ambiguities Rodriguez never relied onclinging tenaciously and adroitly to his commercial capacities.
Apparently you did need a Weatherman to know which the wind blows, especially when a hard rain was gonna fall. It was an era where everything was moving so fast. Disco was around the corner.
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 As the utopianism of the counterculture soured, emptying it of so much radical content, what was often left was little more than a vacuous individualism.
Neither the emerging politics of the far left Maoist, Trotskyist, socialist-feministlet alone the surviving Old Left, trapped aesthetically in the limitations of the radical folksong paradigm, would be drawn to Rodriguez in the s: Rodriguez seemed to have run his short and seemingly reversing course. Indeed, for the next three decades — throughout much of the s, s, and s — he was largely confined to the pick and shovel brigade of the dispossessed. He also served a stint in the Eldon Avenue Gear and Axle plant, notorious for its dangerous work conditions.
Both of these awful and alienating production purgatories were nurseries of working-class uprisings, sites that had spawned the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. Rodriguez ended up in demolition work, inhaling dust and absorbing grime, backbreaking toil on the lowest rung of the non-unionized construction industry.
This was the kind of work that no one, in a Detroit not quite yet decimated by the later collapse of the auto industry, wanted. He even ran for municipal office, standing repeatedly as a candidate for both mayor and city councilman. This effort at electoral intervention proved futile: Against the grain of popular culture sterotypes, as well as learned depictions prominent in much contemporary critical theory, for instance, this class is not fractured and fragmented by racial and ethnic division.
Instead it is a multi-racial, multi-ethnic formation. As he exited the music scene in he spent a summer living and travelling with aboriginal people. Rodriguez helped organize pow-wows throughout Michigan, including at Wayne State University where he was studying philosophy. Not only are they articulate and proud of their friendship with Rodriguez, their running commentary on his good fortune is generous and genuine, always happy, and sometimes quite hilarious.
There is no hint of jealousy or antagonism or petty carping in any of this, let alone racial chauvinism. Instead, what is conveyed is a sense of class comradeship, of respect for a fellow worker, of heart-felt joy at his good fortune, however late arriving.
Globalization from the Bottom Up How do we know all this? The isolations and repressive containments of the apartheid regime boomeranged culturally, nurturing already-existing strains of rebelliousness among white youth and making it possible for an underground mythology to envelop an artist whom no one knew and who had dropped off the radar screen of the global music scene.
He personified drugs, sex and rock-and-roll, with an unmistakable oppositional undercurrent. As a Mexican American he occupied uniquely accessible ground in the racially charged atmosphere of a South Africa in which conflict seemed invariably ordered along a black-white axis.
To his disaffected audiences in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and other centers where apartheid seemed to have less and less purchase on the political sensibilities of the young, Rodriguez served as a surrogate for the challenge of a different socio-cultural-political order. He was as important as Elvis had been in the late s, the Beatles in the s, or Neil Young in the s.
It was thought that he must be dead or in jail. Then the stories circulated of how this had happened, all involving increasingly wild speculation about his self-destructive farewell, drugs, criminal behavior, and the like. The mystique would have been overpowering. Rodiguez was never made familiar; and the strange could not truly die.
Post South African anti-apartheid white youth kept buying his music, and someone was making lots of money. None of this largesse filtered back to Rodriguez. But some of this commercial bonanza, in the early-to-mid s, undoubtedly involved Sussex releases marketed through supposedly legitimate channels.
Meanwhile the dedicated throngs who bought Rodriguez, and listened to him intently, aged.Smokie - I'll Meet You at Midnight (Official Video) (VOD)
Lyrics were searched for clues, leading them, via Dearborn, to suspicions of a Detroit connection. In the age of the internet, it was perhaps inevitable that someone would connect with someone who knew Rodriguez, who was reclusive, had no inclinations to be plugged into computers, and preferred to live without a phone. His daughter Eva was of a different generation and contrary habits.
Light in the Attic Records re-released his albums, starting inpaying him royalties on sales for the first time in his life. Bendjelloul spent four years on the film, scrounging funding where he could, financing production in part by self sacrifice. He is over 70 years of age, is failing in health and somewhat frail, but buoyant in spirit and anything but embittered. A man of few spoken words, Rodriguez lets his songs be his critical voice. But I was never asleep. We need so much that we do not have in the struggle against a decayed capitalism.
A great deal has yet to be built. It is crucial to use all that the resources of our past can rally to our cause. Even metaphors are of an inestimable service, which is what a poet like Rodriguez provides: We may also allow our affiliates, service providers, data management providers and advertisers to serve cookies or employ other tracking technologies from the Services.
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SCENE I. Athens. The palace of THESEUS.
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I'll Meet You at Midnight
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