Cold Fact

6 Nov

If you saw the documentary Searching for Sugar Man or his interview on 60 Minutes, you know the story of Rodriguez. If you haven’t, consider this a spoiler alert:

Sixto Rodriguez, a promising Mexican-American singer/songwriter, recorded two albums in the early 1970 yet his career went nowhere and he had to make his living cleaning out abandoned houses. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, his music became hugely popular with white, liberal anti-apartheid South Africans, who considered him on par with Bob Dylan. After years of obscurity, Rodriguez connected with his Afrikaans fans for the first time in 1998. Now at age 70, he is reaping the rewards of being a world-famous musician while staying humble enough to remain in downtown Detroit.

Rodriguez played at the Crofoot Ballroom on Friday night to a sold-out crowd, many of whom (judging by their age and attire) probably hadn’t been to a rock concert since Three Dog Night only had two dogs. Venue management knew they were in for an influx of elder newbies because I received an email like none I have never received before in my whole history of concert-going: a step-by-step guide on how to better enjoy the show if you’re one of “our older friends”:

“The Crofoot is a ‘general admission’ venue. We have standing room for 1000 guests. For our older friends who are coming to see Rodriguez, there are lots of spaces to stretch your feet, walk on the patio, talk to your friends, and then – step anywhere into the ballroom. The Crofoot sound system is one of the best sound systems in the Midwest. It will provide great listening – instruments and vocals — everywhere in the ballroom. You do not have to stand in front… guard your place…or worry about getting a special place… it’s all special.”   

Would that I could have received a similar guide for some of my past concerts:

For our truly middle-aged fans (come on, you’re not fooling anyone into thinking you’re 28) coming to see Wilco, please note that others seated behind you would like to view and enjoy the show as much as you do. Please dance – if that’s what you call it – only in designated areas. It’s all special.

For our more mature friends coming to enjoy The Hives  (and we will refrain from asking why you are coming in the first place), please wear beer-proof, steel-toe footwear and attire that can withstand the perspiration of others. You do not have to stand in mosh pit territory in order to see the show, although it does afford the best view of the stage if those sweaty, tattooed meat heads would get out of the way. It’s all special.

And so on.

Rodriguez at the Crofoot

Right on time at 10:00 p.m., Rodriguez was guided to the stage for a 90-minute solo set. The crowd was adoring and the performer … well, he did his best. He doesn’t do a tight show: his vaguely philosophical/ political commentary rambled, and he repeated his best one-liners more than once. His musicianship has been hampered by time and personal health history: while his guitar-playing was essentially strong, his voice was not. By musical standards it was not a compelling evening of rock music. (His albums are a bit of an acquired taste in 2012, too, with the production a bit dated and dusty and the songs hewing a little too closely to Bob Dylan’s meandering style for my taste.)

And yet I heard someone standing behind me telling his companion, “This is the best concert I’ve ever been to … except maybe Sting.”

The experience overruled the music. The thousand of us were there to pay tribute to a man who’s been through a great deal and whose rock-and-roll Cinderella story resonates with many of us of a certain age and artistic sensibility. His current fame taps into our deep well of desire to be discovered. It gives us a subliminal sense of hope that fate might someday smile on us, making us the stars we know we could be if given the chance.

Next up for Rodriguez? Perhaps a trip to the Academy Awards. Only in America.

See you on the flip side …

 

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9 Responses to “Cold Fact”

  1. Julia November 6, 2012 at 11:38 am #

    As true concert fans know – concerts are always about the experience! Many times friends who rarely/never go to concerts report disappointment after the fact that the artist or band “didn’t sound just like the album” – not realizing that they missed the pure joy of the live performance, flaws and all.

    • lpon45 November 6, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

      This was certainly a compassionate, forgiving crowd happy to bask in his presence. II’d be interested to know how many people actually had heard his albums back when they came out – that would be an interesting conversation.

  2. Jason Wendleton November 6, 2012 at 9:24 pm #

    I really want to see this documentary! Awesome post.

    • lpon45 November 6, 2012 at 10:26 pm #

      Thanks, Jason – and when you see the doc let me know what you think.

      • Jason Wendleton November 6, 2012 at 10:48 pm #

        I will. I’m so lame, the local art-house theatre was playing it but I let it slip by me. Hopefully it’ll pop up on Netflix soon.

      • lpon45 November 6, 2012 at 11:13 pm #

        It got a huge amount of publicity out our way, naturally since the story is rooted in Detroit. Don’t beat yourself up: I’m sure it’ll be available as the “For Your Consideration” PR push begins.

  3. marmaladefille November 6, 2012 at 10:35 pm #

    I was fascinated by his story and it was great to read your account…for real, a true fan is so involved in the moment and the love for a particular artist, and his or her back story, that all else really becomes secondary. There are artists I would weep to see, even if they were reading the phonebook.

  4. Every Record Tells A Story November 7, 2012 at 3:18 am #

    Love the middle-aged persons guide to attending a show…

    • lpon45 November 7, 2012 at 11:12 pm #

      Yeah, that made me feel incredibly feeble …

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