The story of Sixto Rodriguez has been well-documented ever since his reemergence from obscurity and back to prominence following the Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man. But how he met the lady opening up for him tonight at Barclays Center in Brooklyn could be even more compelling.
See, back when Susan Cowsill was 16 and making her way through the music business as a solo artist after getting her start as part of her family band, The Cowsills, she recorded a song called “I Think of You,” by one Sixto Rodriguez.
But it wasn’t until years later, when her sister-in-law Vicki Peterson (of Bangles fame) saw the Rodriguez documentary that they put two and two together. A meeting at a Rodriguez gig in New Orleans followed in May of this year, and later, she got a call to kick off the show in Brooklyn.
Hard to top that, but Cowsill will try, even though she admits to being a little “scared” about playing such a big venue. It’s hard to believe, given her lifetime of performing, but I guess we should clarify and call it a good scared.
“It’s more than nice,” she said. “It’s a gigantic gift from the universe and a nod from my creator that I’m doing the right thing by sticking by what I do. It tells me I’m on the right path.”
One listen to her most recent solo album, 2010’s Lighthouse, will verify that statement, capturing the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and its effect of Cowsill, her family, friends, and neighbors in brutally honest and raw terms. It was so good, it makes you wonder what it will take to move on from there for her next record, which she says she is currently writing for a possible 2014 unveiling.
“Katrina was such a huge part of life and somehow events like that take on a big proportion of it,” she said. “I had never been in one until I was, so it can be all encompassing. And to step outside of it, you’ve got to really be vigilant about getting present and putting it where it belongs and trying to keep it where it belongs. All the while, it’s part of the fabric of your quilt. But I’m definitely wanting to get current with what’s going on now with my writing and the things I see around me as well. It’s almost like a chore and a challenge to let all that go, because I write from a core of heart and soul, and if that’s where I go, that’s what starts coming out again. It’s like, all right, enough already. But I’m hyper aware of wanting to do something aside from that epic moment.”
To stay this relevant as an artist after a lifetime in the business is rare. To not get burned out at the same time is even rarer. But Cowsill has achieved both goals, still delivering top-notch work while not losing her love for making music. And when asked if she ever felt forced into the family business, she says, “I was all in from the beginning, and I enlisted. In fact, I beat down doors. (Laughs) I was born into this family of music, and my DNA said that I was born into the right family of music. Sure, I wanted to be a vet and I wanted to be a Kindergarten teacher, and there were definitely times coming up where I just went, maybe life would have been so much easier if I had just been a normal person who got a regular education, who had a vocation, who had a job career and a 401k and a retirement plan, and knew where my money and my rent were coming from once a month. That always plays in, but I never felt burdened by my birthright in music and family. The Cowsills was always a choice for all of us.”
She hasn’t strayed since. In addition to her gigs on the road and writing her new solo record, Cowsill also has her project with Peterson, The Psycho Sisters, currently being mixed for a late-2013, early 2014-release. And if she’s worried about topping the brilliance of Lighthouse, she’s not letting it get to her.
“I think it enters all writers’ minds: how do I beat that, if you’re proud of it and feel it was good, or if it was really responded to well,” she said. “It’s almost been a blessing that I haven’t had a “hit record” because then I don’t have to have a “follow up hit,” and be as fabulous as I was the time before. But my personal experience and my personal audience has always been incredibly favorable, and I can honestly say I’ve never really had a bad review yet – either that or my publicist doesn’t show them to me. (Laughs) But more so than thinking ‘how can I top that, I did such a dandy job?’ it’s really more, do I have more left to say that is worthwhile?”
Here’s guessing she does. Her track record proves it.
Susan Cowsill opens for Rodriguez tonight, October 9, at Barclays Center. For tickets, click here.