Thursday, August 16, 2012

Rodriguez and The Spirit of Detroit

Beware: If you don’t know the story of Rodriguez and you’ve been interested in the documentary “Searching For Sugar Man”, go see the movie first. It’s rare for a documentary to have spoilers, but people who are in the dark about Rodriguez (which is most people) might be in for a surprise if they saw this movie. However, I can’t think what would motivate someone who didn’t know Rodriguez to see the movie so I might have just wasted a paragraph.

My wife and I have been excited about this movie for a long time. She came to Rodriguez the way she comes to 99% of new I came to Rodriguez the way I come to about 25% of new brother. He gave me his first record (Cold Fact) and told me the story and it kind of sat on my iPod for a while (as most things do). When I finally sat down and listened to it, I was captivated. From that point on, any time we had people over to play games, Cold Fact was a go-to record for me to put on. It’s not so intrusive that you can’t talk over it, but it’s so good that eventually someone at the table says “What is this?” and then I can launch into the tale of Rodriguez.

The short and sweet version goes like this. A working class guy in the 60’s writes some songs. He’s very Dylan-esque. Some record producers see him in a bar. They cut a record with him. It sells very few copies. They cut a second record. It sells even less. He goes back to doing construction and odd jobs. Unbeknownst to him, in South Africa, the anti-establishment message of his music has become the soundtrack to the anti-Apartheid movement. He’s considered an equal to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in South Africa, however, no one knows much about him. Rumors of his death by onstage suicide begin to circulate. 30 years later, a South African music writer and a record store owner set out to learn everything they can about Rodriguez and they find out he’s still alive and living in Detroit, still working the same odd jobs to make ends meet. They convince him to come to South Africa where he plays 5 sold out arena shows. He learns he’s sold half a million dollars and that his South African record distributors had never been able to track him down for royalties (believing the rumors of his death to be true). But Rodriguez ain’t mad. He’s not all that interested in his new found popularity. He plays shows because he likes it, giving most of the money he earns away to friends and family and continues to work odd jobs when he’s not playing. He’s happy with his life the way it is. For him, music is fun and it doesn’t matter if he makes money on it. He doesn’t need it. And there you have it, the tale of Sixto Rodriguez.

Saturday my wife and I went to see the movie. It was really great and very touching. It made think a lot about how the story of Rodriguez can be looked at as a metaphor for the story of Detroit. Rodriguez is a working class guy with a brilliant musician inside. Detroit is a working class town where amazing art is happening all the time. No one paid any attention to Rodriguez. No one pays any attention to Detroit (at least not positive attention). Rodriguez doesn’t care about being famous or rich, he just wants to play his music and he hopes you like it. Detroiters don’t really care about fame or fortune, they just want to do their thing and they hope you’ll like it. Rodriguez is a perfect representation of what Detroit is all about. Detroiters find something they want to do and they try it. Who cares if they fail, it’s not like things could get worse and who knows, one day, the story of Detroit could be the backbone of a movement and Detroit could get discovered for what it truly is.

Needless to say, seek out both of Rodriguez’s albums, go see him live if you get the chance, and if you can find a screening, go see this movie. And the next time you’re trying to decide where to go on vacation, consider Detroit. You haven’t had a hot dog until you’ve had a Lafayette Coney. You’ll thank me later.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The CTA's new in transit entertainment strategy

Greetings valued rider,

Here at the Chicago Transit Authority we're always striving to provide dependable, on-time public transportation options to serve the entire city (except the far south and far west sides because....eww). We're failing spectacularly but at least we're not Detroit am I right?!

We're always experimenting with new ideas for how to make your experience more enjoyable and it is our pleasure to introduce our new In-Transit Games that are being installed on all trains. Here's just a few of the exciting options that you might find to help you pass the time on your commute home from your low-paying drone work.

"Step On Your Fellow Human Beings Neck to Get a Seat on the Train"

This is probably the game with the simplest objective. You stand at the station any loop bound or northbound train between 7-9 am or 4-7 pm and jockey for the best position. Each train car will have one open seat, placed at random, and your objective is to sit in it at any costs. Along with your other riders, pregnant women and elderly people will be randomly placed to challenge your sense of decency.

"How Long Before I Pass Out From Heat Exhaustion"

This is part of our summer games block. In this event, the air conditioning on random trains will be shut off I the temperature gets above 80 degrees. It is your objective to push past all hallucinations and remain upright while in a train packed with other people giving off an absurd amount of heat. It's a scorcher!

"Name That Tune: The Guy With Terrible Taste and His Headphones Way Too Loud Edition"

Better brush up on your Skrillex and Kenny Chesney if you want to succeed in this challenging game. Randomly placed throughout train cars will be people with no concept of other people's existence and therefore had their music turned up to 11. Your objective is to figure out what terrible dubstep or country song they are listening to. Should you guess correctly , they'll assume you're a fan and try to dance with you! You are a loser either way! Isn't that fun?!

"Is That Guy Really Shitting on the Train?!"

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Pro-tip, he is...always.

"Guess the Bodily Fluid"

Occasionally riders will notice an open seat in an otherwise packed train car. It's not luck, it's our most exciting game. In this game, you'll look at the fresh stain that is on the seat no one is sitting on and try to guess which bodily fluid it is. In fact, let's try a round right now?

I don't need to ask what you guessed. You know in your heart you're right. Sadly. 

We hope these games will add a little enjoyment to your commute and if it doesn't....oh well. Because at the CTA, we don't care....and it shows.