Have you heard of the musician Rodriguez?
I’m a little slow when it comes to popular and rock music. I blame this on the fact that even though I was a child of the 60s, I missed the whole decade. My mom thought pretty much everything going on in the secular world that decade was a sin, so I missed it. Rock ‘n Roll topped the list.
Of course my music taste has changed and grown voraciously since then, but I still am slow on the uptake, and I need to work in quiet instead of with the radio or stereo (or iTunes or iPod) going. So I still miss a lot.
That’s my only excuse for not knowing about Rodriquez until this fall. Have you heard of him?
He’s a Detroit musician whom I would liken to a cross among Jim Croce, Bob Dylan, and James Taylor. That’s just me. He writes as brilliantly as Dylan, but his voice resonates like Taylor’s. His stuff is amazing, and as revolutionary as the Beatles’. Rodriquez’ work received brilliant reviews, but he never made it big in the U.S. His producers/agents knew he was the “Real Thing” and should be bigger than Elvis, but he never grew bigger than who he was, and he worked labor jobs his whole life.
Except for South Africa.
His songs inspire dissidence under oppressive regimes; his lyrics demand people do some thinking for themselves and don’t accept authority in an unjust society. His vinyl albums made their way in to Apartheid South Africa, and caught on like wildfire. His songs were banned in that restrictive society for obvious reasons, but pirated copies spread until he was “bigger than Elvis” in South Africa. And Rodriguez had no idea. And South Africans had no idea about who the man behind the music really was.
Everybody had heard about his death: rumors that he set himself on fire on stage, that he died of a drug overdose…and the South African search was on. “In 1997, Stephen “Sugar” Segerman set up a website, called ‘The Great Rodriguez Hunt’, with the intention of finding any information about the mysterious US musician of ‘Cold Fact’ fame. (SugarMan.org) Originally, he wanted to find out the truth about how Rodriguez died. The search uncovered far more than “Sugar” expected.
When apartheid ended, Rodriguez finally played to sell-out crowds in the ampitheaters of South Africa. And still nobody in the U.S. knew who he was.
You have to watch the documentary, “Searching for Sugarman.” That tells the entire amazing story. I watched the thing twice. I could hardly absorb it enough. And no matter your taste, I think you’ll like his music.