Saturday, April 20, 2013

Any ordinary legend: Why I dig Rodriguez

When tickets for Rodriguez went on sale in Tucson, they sold out very quickly. Twelve days, to be exact.

Because of course they did. The Rialto, where Rodriguez was to perform, hits capacity at 1,200 people. I can't even imagine what the people in charge of this event were thinking.

A little background, for those of you who have never heard of Rodriguez. He made a couple of records in the early '70s. His label had high hopes for him, but dropped him after sales went nowhere. Part of the problem may have been his inability to promote himself. He had a habit of playing with his back to the audience.

So his music career came to an end, with no chance of revival ... until the late '90s, when some people from South Africa tracked him down. Amongst white progressive South Africans, it turns out, Rodriguez was bigger than Elvis.

* * *

Like most American fans, I discovered Rodriguez through the 2012 documentary Searching for Sugar Man. Listening to him for the first time was like remembering an alternate past. He sounded a little like Bob Dylan infused with Donovan. He sounded like I should have heard him a thousand times before. As if a very specific space had been reserved for him in my consciousness, and I didn't know it was there until his music filled it.

That's why I wasn't surprised when his show had to be moved from the Rialto to AVA, an amphitheater seating 5,000. Just about everybody in Tucson who saw Searching for Sugar Man wanted more of what they'd been missing all these years.

And let's face it, everybody loves a plucky underdog story. We don't just want to hear this guy. We want to be this guy. If I feel discouraged because Cinder Bridge hasn't yet garnered international recognition, I can take comfort in the tale of Rodriguez, who carried on with his life for over two decades before discovering that his music had connected with people after all. I can fantasize about the reactions of old friends, of acquaintances, of the checkout people who recognize me at the grocery store because I've been shopping there so long, when a song of ours becomes famous. We didn't know who you really were. We didn't know you were special.

At any rate, I got to see Rodriguez with a friend at AVA last night, and Rodriguez delivered. Not only did he sound fantastic live, but he's clearly gotten past his overwhelming stage shyness. Even if he wasn't chatting up the audience at every opportunity, he occasionally threw out a line or two to make the concert experience complete.

"I love you, Tucson."

"Maybe it's just the drinks, but I still love you, Tucson."

At one point he needed to pause between songs to tune his guitar.

"Don't rush me," he said. And then, after a few more moments, sounding like he was trying to stifle a laugh:

"I just want to be treated like any ordinary legend."

Don't we all.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


We've written a bunch of new songs recently, which means it's time to put a new set list together. I'm pretty happy with my first draft except for the placement of one song, a mellow, happy tune called "Saturday Morning." It isn't terrible where it is. It just isn't optimal. There are a few others that would go better in the spot.

But switching them around doesn't work. If I put "Saturday Morning" in a more favorable place, it displaces something else. And vice versa.

This is why set lists stagnate. There comes a point when you get tired of playing Tetris with the tunes.