The magic of Cold Fact and Rodriguez

I often wish I could go back to before I had heard Rodriguez's Cold Fact - just so that I could hear it again for the first time.

Cold Fact was released in 1970 and the following year there was Coming from Reality. A third album was abandoned in the mid-1970s; a best-of was released in 1977.

Rodriguez was born Sixto Diaz Rodriguez (and sometimes he goes by Jesus Rodriguez and Jesus Prince). He is an American musician.

I first heard Cold Fact about 30 years after it was released. It had been reissued for CD and a guy that ran a music store told me (some of) the story of Rodriguez. Just briefly. He told me that he was a cult artist essentially, huge in South Africa (of all places) and popular in Australia too. But he hadn't carried on. His records had flopped when they were released - but that he was so very much the real deal.

I put the headphones on in the store and heard the opening strains of Sugar Man - I don't think I made it much further than the first verse.

A new purchase for the collection. I would save that full listening experience for when I got home - I'd sit and take it in, the whole album.

It was similar to when I spent four hours working through the first three volumes of Bob Dylan's Bootleg series. My brother bought the cassette tapes for me as a Christmas present. Probably the best Christmas present I've ever received.

Hearing half of Sugar Man was a similar experience to when I heard Things Behind the Sun and then sat stunned listening to Nick Drake's Pink Moon album three times in a row.

It was similar to when I heard Shuggie Otis.

Rodriguez's songs - particularly the ones that appear on Cold Fact - have been close friends for the past 15 years. It's an album I never ever grow tired of. An album that still blows people away when they first hear it - one of the great joys of collecting music is passing it on to people. Nowadays we post links (and write blogs) - but back then we made tapes and lent CDs. I've bought a bunch of copies of Cold Fact - to replace the boomerang-copies that never quite made it back; to give as gifts. I bought blank tapes and recorded it from CD to tape at least a half-dozen times. I would have doubled that when transferring CD to CD or Mp3 to iPod.

It's an album I'll sit with and listen to alone. Just curl up with the record - and listen. I'll walk around town with it in my ears. It comes for car rides; it goes out on loan - always seeking a new home.

Well last night I got as close as I'll ever be able to in regard to going back to hearing the album for the first time.

I got along to the Film Festival programme launch and saw Searching for Sugar Man, a documentary about Rodriguez.

The film is one of those special music documentaries - I put it alongside The Devil and Daniel Johnston and Still Bill - where the music soundtracks the journey, is crucial in so many ways, but it is (more) about the human story, the heart that beats behind the songs and because of the songs.

In this case there are many themes and, if you will, subplots. And many joyous, sad and beautiful moments - and it's probably irresponsible of me to spoil the great twists and turns and the sublime storytelling that this film offers. So I won't go further with discussion of the documentary. I want you to see it for yourselves.

But it took me back to when I first heard Cold Fact. And on from there to Coming from Reality. It had me thinking about people I no longer see - we're probably friends on Facebook for all I know - but hey, back then (whenever it was) we were bonded by Cold Fact. And probably many other things too of course. But if Inner City Blues or I Wonder or Only Good for Conversation came on we'd be locked into whatever stories from that time. Instantly.

The film tells an amazing story, or stories - with so many great sideline characters. And I left the cinema feeling even closer to the record for seeing this version of events; a halo-glow sits behind the picture of Sixto Rodriguez that is in my mind now. Maybe, in some way, that was always there. Before this new illumination.

Straight home from the theatre and Cold Fact goes on the stereo. Sugar Man kicks in.

And I'm thinking about how lucky the Film Festival audiences that see this documentary will be.

I'm thinking, too, about how every time I hear Cold Fact it does - in its own way - feel like the first time.


So are you keen to see the Rodriguez documentary, Searching for Sugar Man? Are you a Rodriguez fan? (The soundtrack to the documentary will feature tunes from his two studio albums - a new best-of, essentially.)

And if you've read this far with no interest in Rodriguez I a) hope you are keen to try Cold Fact and/or Coming from Reality. Maybe you'll also go to a screening of the film. And b) a more general question: what album do you wish you could erase the memory of and go back in time to hear it for the very first time all over again? Do you in fact have an album in your collection like that; one you're sure you feel like you are hearing for the first time every time you listen to it?

Here's the trailer for Searching for Sugar Man.

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