Politics & Prejudices
The Senator and Sugar Man
Universal Songs with Detroit at Their Core
Published: March 13, 2013
By now just about everyone has seen the Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man, about the amazing and forgotten singer from Detroit who never had a clue that his music had helped overthrow apartheid in South Africa.
While others made millions from his records, and his songs made history, he was doing dirty manual labor and living in what appears to be a ramshackle house in the slums.
Well, if you haven’t seen that movie, see it the minute you can. Then immediately buy both his albums, Cold Fact and Coming From Reality, and listen to and read the lyrics.
The above sample, by the way, is about Detroit today. Except Sixto Rodriguez wrote that song in 1969, the year Carl Levin first got elected to Detroit City Council.
Nineteen goddamn sixty-nine! That’s not even his best song. This guy is as good, or better, a writer than the early Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen were, and has a vastly better voice.
After hearing it, I cannot believe that “I Wonder” was not a number one song that we know today as well as we know “Blowin’ in the Wind,” or any of the great Beatles standards.
The songs are universal and, at the same time, Detroit to their core. That he was forgotten here for so long proves the utter dismaying truth of that line from the old Paul Simon tune, “The music suffers, baby. The music business thrives.”
Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at email@example.com.
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