Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Opened the Window to Listen to the News...

...but all I heard was The Establishment Blues.

South Africa in the 70’s: The Apartheid years, as all the world knows, included the pass laws; police beatings and killings without recourse to the law; segregation; subjugation and poverty.
On the other hand for white South Africans there was a secure future, jobs for life, education, cheap domestic servants, money and superior Anglo/Aryan genes.
No cause for complaint then, who cared if we also had a one party state; conservative nationalism; enforced Calvinist morality; compulsory national service (to ward of the communist threat) and rampant censorship. (Sound familiar?)
Everything was censored; nothing was permitted: no politics, no opposition, all the good books were banned… and no sex.

For us whiteys the visible face of censorship was sex. Sex; nobody ever spoke about sex.
Naked women, as they appeared in Scope Magazine - a very tame mens' mag - were adorned with black stars that covered large proportions of exposed flesh; the last time any boy saw a nipple was when he was weaned from his mama’s breast.

"Jislike! A nakid lady!"

There was a joke put about in the ‘80s by drag-comedian and satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys that went “Tomorrow has been banned because of the crack of dawn”

So how did it happen that sometime in the early ‘70s an LP emerged that contained a song with the line
I wonder/ how many times you’ve had sex
Rodriguez - Cold fact. Boy did we love that album. This American guy singing songs poetic and clever and...well...using the word SEX! It was shocking; a guilty pleasure.
Now white South Africans in general were not well known for speaking out against injustice, we were comfortable, we didn’t need subversion - bleddy hell; we didn't know there was such a thing. Here's this Jesus Rodriguez telling us the world was not so perfect; about crime and love and poverty and cynicism – shit we didn’t even care to find out about what was going on in our own country (Sound familiar?)
But sex? Man, we could go for some of that. It was the hook that made us listen and love the whole album as if it were one 30 minute song. And subversive it was, by white South African standards it was way out there.

‘Mama Papa stop/treasure what you’ve got/soon you might be caught without it’
How prophetic can you get?

‘and don’t try to impress me with your manner of dress/’cos a monkey in silk is a monkey no less’

Rodriguez became an underground legend in South Africa.

Thanks to the efforts of a couple of fans in the late ‘90s, he was rediscovered, to his great surprise, while working as a construction site labourer in Detroit.

Here are a couple of articles that give all the details:

Bizarre is a word for it by Rian Malan 06.10.2005

The singer who came back from the dead from the Guardian 07.10.2005

Get yourself a copy of Cold Fact, you won't regret it.

A forbidden word, when spoken aloud, may open a door in the mind


elasticwaistbandlady said...

Sounds interesting. Another musical homework assignment from you alongside The Go-Betweens. I've been enamored with Johnny Clegg and Savuka/Juluka since I was 13. Are you a fan of him as well?

Pisces Iscariot said...

It wasn't cool for hip young New Wavers in the eighties to enjoy Johnny Clegg & Savuka, so I can't say I'm a fan, but that doesn't mean anything does it? :-)
The softening lenses of age...

elasticwaistbandlady said...

I thought that I was culturally "elite" to defy the typical teenage fare of Depeche Mode and the New Kids On The Block in the 80's by listening to stuff that my peers hadn't heard of. Rebellious youth. ;)

The Internet has absolved all musical obscurity as it's easy to look and listen for new things. No wonder I'm addicted.

elasticwaistbandlady said...

No pressure, but isn't it time for a new entry?

I hope you're not still waiting for an elusive forbidden word to open up your mind. Growing up, saying "crap" was forboten. Of course I said it all the time and got my mouth scrubbed out with soap for my impertinence. It opened my thought process though and likely contributed to me enjoying the less couth things in life.

Reluctant Nomad said...

Great post!

How interesting that you and I should post about Rodriguez within days of each other!