Rewind: Rodriguez—“Can’t Get Away”

By Jamil Fiorino-Habib

He’s a poet, a master, no: a legend. There’s only two chords in the entire song, yet somehow Sixto Rodriguez manages to extract so much complexity and feeling from them. The piece is as catchy as it is ominously haunting; just listen to the last minute of the song and you’ll see what I mean. There’s a repetitive inescapably of harmony and lyricism. “No you can’t get away”.

To all you philosophy majors out there who sometimes question what you’re doing– myself included –remember that Rodriguez has his own degree in philosophy, and no doubt it improves his work. He has an otherworldly grasp of the human spirit and brilliantly captures it in every one of his songs. He finds beauty and wonder in the subtleties of our experiences, even the melancholic ones.

His backstory is as mythic as the songs he writes. Rodriguez pens proverbs, love songs to humanity; he’s one of the most perceptive musicians I know. “Can’t Get Away” provides a glimpse into his life in Detroit, or as he dubs it “Rock and Roll, USA”. Through it, he tells his tale of living in the midst of a rapidly collapsing city, forced to embrace his oppression in order to survive. Like many of his musical contemporaries, his only hope of liberation was music. Unlike his contemporaries, no one knew his name.

I, like most of the North American market, had never heard of Rodriguez until the 2012 documentary Searching for Sugarman brought him back into the limelight. Rodriguez made his claim to fame in South Africa, going platinum with his albums, even outselling Elvis Presley during his time. Though his songs were anthems for anti-apartheid movements, their power never seemed to reach his home country. He knew nothing of his fame overseas. Even after his recent newfound success, he still lives, rather loyally, in the same ol’ house in Detroit. Fame and fortune was never his objective after all.

I’m very grateful to the director of that film for exposing me to such a true artist. I’ve fallen for every song he has written. So why “Can’t Get Away”? Well, because of its sound palette. Rodriguez has a grasp of instrumentation as if he had done a degree in music theory. The song is also always pushing the boundaries of control, both lyrically and through its gradual acceleration. The piece has a life of its own; it claims mastery over Rodriguez, not the other way around. Be sure to check out the rest of his discography, there’s a whole treasure trove to sort through.

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