Guest post by John Samson, author of Cold Fiction.
I often joke with people in the UK that I didn’t leave South Africa of my own free will, but was actually kicked out because I was not fanatical about rugby and I didn’t drink, both activities that white South African males are meant to excel at. I could also have said in 1996, when I moved from South Africa to the UK, that a further reason for my being exiled was that I did not own a copy of ‘Cold Fact’ by Rodriguez. However no one in the UK would have understood what I was talking about.
But now with Malik Bendjelloul’s brilliant film ‘Searching For Sugar Man’ bringing Rodriguez to the world’s attention, I can mention the omission in my music collection and not be met with question mark faces. I am still not a huge rugby fan and have not taken to drinking alcohol, but I did rectify the lack of ‘Cold Fact’ problem on one of my early trips back to SA a couple of years after moving. I had been familiar with the album’s distinctive cover from many an hour spent flicking through the albums at my local record shop, but as a teenager in the 80’s I was hell bent on finding the next big New Romantic band and had no interest in ‘fossil music’ as I thought of it back then.
A further reason for the lack of ‘Cold Fact’ in my collection was that I managed to avoid military training (where a lot of guys were introduced to Rodriguez’ music) and counted my days working at the Receiver of Revenue, which I regarded as the lesser of two evils. Purchasing ‘Cold Fact’ became almost mandatory when I was lucky enough to befriend Brian Currin and Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman, both of whom played a part in discovering the fate of Rodriguez. I was drawn into the world of the SA Rock Digest, an online music magazine focussing on South African Rock music, which Brian and Sugar had set up. With two such music aficionados as friends, I quickly discovered gaping holes in my music knowledge, especially regarding the rock scene in South African in the 70’s.
I began to correct this problem so as not to look foolish in front of my new found friends and part of the polyfilla (spackling paste to those not familiar with this brand) to mend the gaps was purchasing a copy of ‘Cold Fact.’ I don’t recall ever having heard the album before that and, given its banned status on the radio, could not have unknowingly heard it there, but as the first chords of ‘Sugar Man’ wafted through my speakers, I knew the song. It was as if it was a part of the ether in South Africa and had just soaked into me whether I had heard it or not. ‘I Wonder’ was also familiar to me and the rest of the album, although less soaked in, was also striking a nagging familiar chord.
Yes, unless you believe in the collective consciousness, I must have heard the album somewhere before that ‘first’ listen, but I cannot for the life of me remember where. That said, a part of me does like to believe that the music was just in the air we breathed in SA, that it was, and will always just somehow be there, as essentially part of life as oxygen and sunshine. This image, to me, seems to fit in with the mystical and almost mythical character that is Rodriguez.