'Sugar Man' on his past, his music and running for mayor of Detroit

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Many of the songs on Cold Fact and Coming From Reality deal explicitly with life in Detroit during the late 1960s and early ’70s. What was Detroit like during the time he was writing those songs?

“The troubles in the city, the riots in Detroit, in ’67, those were the things,” he says. “Let’s see, we had the Vietnam War, which is the backdrop, the students were burning their draft cards resisting the draft, that kind of thing. We had conscription. The students were moving to Canada, stuff like that. The protests were going on. All these things were happening. Detroit is an industrial city, post-industrial, they were in the thick of it. If you remember the slogans of that time, ‘If it’s good for General Motors, it’s good for the country’.

“I remember, in 1964, three students went down south to help a vote of registration and they were killed in Mississippi. One of them was James Chaney and there was two more, I believe. There was another lady called Viola Liuzzo. She was a Detroit lady, a white lady from the suburbs, and she went down to help a vote of registration and she was killed in Alabama, in ’65. So Detroit has supplied some of these issues, from the northern cities to down South. They might be obscure people but there certainly were part of the 1970s, ’60s, Civil Rights movement. Civil Rights and women’s rights was championed at that time. So those kinds of things were at least fresh then. The kids were starting to have tie-dye shirts, writing on their T-shirts. Now it’s a big fad. But at that time, T-shirts were generally blank. Martin Luther King walked hands in hands with Walter Reuther, labour, the United Auto Workers, and priest and clergy, of course. But the thing is that labour Detroit has always been for the working people, so that’s what my orientation is.”

“I feel a lot of musicians are listening to me right now,” acknowledges Rodriguez. “A lot of people in the industry. We’ve been on Pollstar, on the front cover of the touring magazine, we’ve been in Billboard, a lot of industry people are going to be listening. So I’m going to have to do a real good album, CD or whatever.”

Does Rodriguez think his life has unfolded in the right way?

“This is what I always wanted, to make something of myself through music,” he reflects. “Has it changed me? I divide it in certain ways. It started out with wanting personal success, but now it’s much larger than that. You can’t see it the same way. But it certainly is success, undeniable success, and so that in itself is what I was searching for, so there it is and it’s great to enjoy it, share it. In music, I think if I put another thing out and it has a value, I’ve achieved. If it can make them dance and sing, it’s good, I can feel that.”

  1. 1. Introduction
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