Sixto Rodriguez – A 40-year Overnight Success.

Sixto Rodriguez

Sixto Rodriguez

Searching for Suger Man – The Life and Times of Sixto Rodriguez
By R. Richards,
Mountain Spirit Institute Founder
It’s been said that happiness and sorrow are different sides of the same coin, and that presence is the razor’s edge one walks to weather life’s ups and downs in peace. This comes to mind when I think of Sixto Rodriguez‘s life story, told in the Oscar winning documentary, Searching for Sugar Man directed by Sweden’s Malik Bendjelloul.

Director and Subjects of Searching for Sugar Man

Director and Subjects of Searching for Sugar Man

For those unfamiliar with this documentary, it’s the story of a folk singer/songwriter with a powerful gift of prose and music who never “made it” in the U.S. when he released two albums in the early ’70’s. When the releases never took off, he just went back to work in his home town of Detroit, doing construction and remodels.  He and his promotional agents couldn’t believe his albums never became popular.

But they did become popular, in South Africa, unbeknownst to Mr. Rodriguez, or anyone else in the U.S. for that matter.  “He was bigger than Elvis”, and could “write better than Dylan”, were some of the comments in the documentary. Not until two South African fans were finally able track down the musician in Detroit, did the story come full circle, and Rodriguez learned of his fame in South Africa.

I won’t give away the ending. I will say that what makes this man endearing, is his humility in an age of rage and ego-centrism. He’s the epitome of centeredness, although he’d not want that to be written about him.

Maybe, on some level, his life had to take the twists and turns in this fairy tale of rags to riches, so  he could show the rest of us what grace looks like, in both the hard life of a Detroit worker and the red carpet of stardom. (He played to five sold our concerts of 5000 each when we was first invited to South Africa). Oh did I forget the punch line? Most South Africans, due to a rumor, thought the artist had died a fiery death by setting himself alight on stage, or had pulled a gun on himself and pulled the trigger in front of an audience. As the movie clearly shows, Mr. Rodriguez has been alive and well all this time, now in his ’70’s.

Searching for Sugar Man

Searching for Sugar Man

As you can see in the film, Sixto Rodriguez is as calm in front of 5000 people as he is walking the streets of Detroit. He appeared to be a bit uncomfortable in the first interview for the documentary. However in more recent Youtube videos, he seems quite at ease in front of the reporter’s cameras.

My wife is South African, and when we first heard of the movie’s release, and planned on seeing it, I asked “Who is Rodriguez?” and she looked at me in disbelief. Because of South Africa’s censorship of the press, including music, (not  dissimilar  to what we have on the U.S. media front today with a controlled press),  everyone in South Africa just assumed Rodriguez was a world-wide star, not just in South Africa. So in the last few months, I’ve been reading about Rodriquez and listening to his music. As an American, I’m catching up on the music my wife grew up with.  but we never knew of this .
In closing, I think this quiet Native American/Mexican musician from Detroit is a man for our times. He appears to be much more than a musician. If it had happened any other way, he might not have the credentials from the school of hard knocks, to have come from working class to world class with a heart of gold needed in today’s world. He’s another example of the flowering of human consciousness. Thanks Sixto Rodriguez for being who you are.

As a side note – We’ve been fortunate to get tickets here in Auckland, New Zealand to see Rodriguez perform in a couple of weeks.  I’ll be sure to post how it went.

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