By George Kovacik
Most of us musicians make albums that, for one reason or another, never seem to find their place in the world. They are filled with songs that we have spent years writing and thousands upon thousands of dollars recording. We think they are the next Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds and we have big dreams of money, girls and everything else that goes along with being a superstar. Back in 1970, Sixto Rodriguez was a singer-songwriter who had these same dreams. Then he made a record.
Rodriguez, as he was billed, put out his first album, Cold Fact, in March 1970 and a year later followed it up with, Coming from Reality. Both albums bombed in the United States, and Rodriguez quit music and worked manual labor jobs in Detroit where he lived at or below the poverty line. Unbeknownst to him, both albums caught fire in South Africa. His songs became hits with the anti-apartheid movement and he became a hero no one knew anything about. In fact, tall tales circulated about how he had died. One said he shot himself to death on stage, while another said he doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire.
In 1997, South African record store owner, Stephen “Sugar” Segerman, set out to find out what happened to the elusive Rodriguez and to see if he was still alive. This is where I’m going to leave you hanging. I encourage you to watch the excellent documentary, Searching for Sugar Man, for the rest of the story. However, I will tell you about the music that makes up the incredible soundtrack.
When you listen to Rodriguez, it’s hard to believe that he didn’t become a huge sensation. He’s a cross between Bob Dylan and Jim Croce. His songs were socially conscious with great melodies. They drew me in the first time I heard them. The catchy “I Wonder” should have been a huge hit. The sad “I Think of You” is a beautiful love song. The psychedelic “Sugar Man” showed his love for more than one kind of mind-altering substance, “Cause” is as brilliant and sad a song as you will ever hear, and his lyrical prowess is firmly on display on the Dylan-esque “This Is Not A Song, It’s An Outburst (Or, The Establishment Blues).”
The story of Sixto Rodriguez gives all of us musicians hope that there is some kid halfway across the world who cannot wait to get home from school to listen to his iPod and learn one of our guitar licks. I’m sure there is some other guy out there right now trying to find the balding guy on the back cover of the Orange Is In Another Lame Semi-Tragedy CD. I’m right here, buddy. Give me a call.
“I Think of You” – Rodriguez
“Cause” – Rodriguez
“Crucify Your Mind” – Rodriguez (Live on “Late Show with David Letterman)
“I Wonder” – Rodriguez (Live on KEXP)