Coming From Reality
In the depths of Acid Detroit
“My story isn’t a rags to riches story,” he said. “It’s rags to rags, and I’m glad about that. Where other people live in an artificial world, I feel I live in the real world. And nothing beats reality.”
I don’t think Sixto Rodriguez, who died in early August, was saying that reality is necessarily preferable to the “artificial” alternative here. Merely that no matter how thick the synthetic walls you build around yourself, the real will always break through. That’s not realism — at least not in the way that Mark Fisher conceived of it. In this case, it’s a refusal of the cynical, exploitative, subjugative logic of a fundamentally insane world.
Even as he moved on from music and remained relatively unknown in the United States, his music was, in the words of Joe Molloy, “taken up as the soundtrack of South African revolution. Considered a revolutionary songwriter like Pete Seeger or Bob Dylan, Rodriguez became South Africa’s best-selling artist, promoting unity, peace and love across the apartheid-torn country.”
The idea that unity, peace and love could be the reality that capital and state repression can obscure, rearrange, but cannot ultimately overtake, seems quaint at first. It also bears something in common with a quote from Matt Colquhoun that I use in my review of Molloy’s Acid Detroit:
‘Acid’ is desire, as corrosive and denaturalising multiplicity […] an ideological accelerator through which the new and previously unknown might be found in the politics we mistakenly think we already know, reinstantiating a politics to come.
The idea of acid communism, as relayed by both Molloy and Fisher, is therefore in part an idea that says reality is up for grabs.
Rodriguez’s music, in its own way, its lightly worn strangeness, understands this. It swims through the detritus in the name of, and in order to champion, those countless other “rags to rags” stories. The stories that manage to be weirder and more real than anyone else’s.
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Along with reading my review of Acid Detroit, I’ll encourage readers to listen to my recent appearance on the Citations Needed podcast, in which I discuss with hosts Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson the spate of disturbing country music songs that have pushed their way into playlists.