When I spoke to Rodriguez by phone earlier this month, we didn't have time to discuss all the aspects of his long and improbable career (which are covered at length in Light in the Attic's typically exhaustive liner notes to his two reissued albums), but we did rap about politics, philosophy, and rock 'n' roll. Here are some excerpts from that conversation:
WW: You're touring based on these recent reissues of your older material, but are you still writing? Do you have any new music in the works?
Rodriguez: The thing is, what I'm focused on right now is the two reissues. And the audience responds to that material. I was in London this past week, and 1,400 people came to the show. Even though it's catalog, reissues, it comes off very new. The horn players were just learning the songs three hours before the show, but it still came across. We had a Wurlitzer, a great [backing] band from Sweden. But then I'll say, "What next?" Someone described rock 'n' roll as a living thing. It's an in-flux kind of discipline. As far as new music, I play my guitar, and like any writer I write down ideas, you know, ever honing your craft. I've made some other music since [the reissued albums], but just ten three minute songs, not very good.
You've also ventured into politics since that time.
Yes, I've run for mayor, city council, state representative... I've also run for my life! I'm from Detroit, know what I mean? A few years ago we had 800 murders in one year. The last mayor, four months ago, went to jail. Is that the best we can do? And only fifteen percent turned out for the last election.
I'm involved. I consider myself musical-political. My positions are basically, against police brutality, for decriminalization of weed—make it a small fine if you need to, save Social Security, and let's cut down at least one of these wars, so the young bloods don't have to worry about it. I'd like to offer free college education, like in California. Save the health system, create more good, new doctors.
Is there a common thread in your music and your politics?
There's a certain kind of consciousness about it. You know, when a bell goes off in your head, whether it's love, or whatever connection, once you know it, who you were before, you can't go back there. You're cognizant; you know that's what it is. The backdrop of all this stuff is that you realize these things. In humanity, like in literature when the hero hits the realization of what's happening, that's what you're trying to achieve. We're all ignorant 'til we get to the point that we know. And that knowledge is nothing in itself—it's what you do with it, where you take that knowledge or that love, and where you move it to.
You know, back then... Kent State, seeing that was etched in you... the My Lai thing, these kinds of things. The Zapruder film... you know, i remember hearing that if Kennedy got elected, he would raise the minimum wage to $1.25 an hour—and money meant something then! I mean, by another measure that wasn't much of a salary, but at the time, "Hey, get him in there!"
Now, the multinationals have their cheap labor, but they're raising the price on everything. These things continue between the have-nots and the haves. People are worried about this and that, but it'll be all right. I'm not a doom and gloom guy. We've just got to take action, and that's the key.
Rodriguez plays Doug Fir tonight! Photo courtesy of Rodriguez!