Recently there was a level of conclusion for me regarding the way in which some musicians,especially rock musicians, are promoted. Or not. A prime example involves Detroit native Sixto Rodriguez, a Detroit native who prefers being called by his last name. In 1970 Rodriguez released an album called Cold Fact whose mix of folk,rock,psychedelic soul and elaborate song craftsmanship earned Rodriquez an enormous amount of critical acclaim but few sales. After a failed follow up album recorded in London the next year, Rodriguez disappeared. The story of what happened to this man is illustrated wonderfully in the documentary film Searching For Sugar Man. What fascinated me most though was that, apparently due to Rodriguez’s elusive nature, a number of people in Detroit started a rumor that Rodriguez had set himself on fire (or shot himself) on stage due to the lack of success of his records. This was totally untrue of course. Much as apparently has occurred with Jimi Hendrix based on his father’s book My Son Jimi regarding the circumstances of his very real death. But it does bring me to the original topic that Rodriguez’s story inspired.
It would seem that one of the things an inquiring mind has much difficulty handling is a lack of firm knowledge about a given interest. A perfect example would be the intelligently literate end of the pop and rock musical culture. Having read a number of album and artist reviews in magazines over the years, its not exactly a revelation anymore that such people often become fixated in their interests on one or a few artists they admire. I suppose most of us do. However when such an artist passes away,some strange things happen. A lot of times it goes back to the old “opposite type of legend” chestnut. This led hundreds of Beatle fans to believe Paul McCartney had died through secret clues on Beatle albums when he was really alive. And alternately maybe thousands of Elvis fans believing he was still alive, buying cheeseburgers in convenient stores all over America when he really had died. Of course sometimes the tragedy of the deaths of people such as Buddy Holly, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison,Tim Buckley, John Lennon, Marvin Gaye, Jackie Wilson, Phyllis Hyman, Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse seem just too much for some people to bare and even talk about.
Now if one were to ask me my own personal take on all of this, it would come down to a conversation I had with my friend Henrique just yesterday-about one of our favorite topics of discussion: generationalism. The discussion at hand was about how contemporary society might have a more balanced point of view on most factors of life if they could somehow harness the enthusiastic idealism of the Baby Boomer’s and the sometimes staunch realism of Generation X. Despite my own generational embarrassment at some of the cynicism and lack of interest in world affairs of people in my own age group, I couldn’t help but agree with this statement. Needless to say much of the rock mythology I speak of was the domain of Baby Boomers-whose idealism led the pop culture critics of that era to create overly grandiose tales when musicians of their generation passed away. That’s one quality that had actually been passed down into pop culture throughout the years and generations. And it really makes one wonder. How many artists like Rodriguez who are assumed dead and/or missing are alive and active out there? Perhaps its something we should contemplate a bit more.