I Think Of You: Sixto Rodriguez

By N Mark Castro

He’s been hailed as:

The Greatest Rock Icon That Never Was

REJECTED CAREER

Sixto Rodriguez produced two widely-praised albums with low sales, Cold Fact in 1970, and Coming from Reality in 1971, but he was dropped shortly after.

Rumor had it that he had dramatically killed himself thereafter onstage, until a bootleg copy of Cold Fact made its way to South Africa where it became not only a must-have record, but the unofficial soundtrack to youth protests against apartheid. Soon his albums were starting to gain airplay in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and in New Zealand and Australia, reaching platinum sales unbeknownst to him.

But it was not until two Rodriguez super-fans, Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman and Craig Bartholemew, turned detective in the mid-1990s that they discovered their musical hero was alive and well and living in Detroit, having returned to a life of obscurity and construction work, which had become the basis for the award-winning documentary “Searching for Sugar Man.”

INSPIRING A GENERATION

While Rodriguez was rejected in North America, he was fast becoming an iconic god in another part of the world, where apartheid reigned supreme. According to documentary:

The first group that spoke and fought against apartheid, they were inspired by Rodriguez.

The multi-awarded and Oscar-nominated documentary chronicled the search for the mysterious disappearance of Sixto Rodriguez, who had by then become a rock star icon in the same level of The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. Documentaries are normally boring films

Film director Malik Bendjelloul, who has worked with Prince, Madonna and Kraftwerk, said that:

“It is the best story I have ever heard in my life, and I think I ever will hear,” he said, explaining why he spent around five years on the project, instead of his usual four weeks.

“I realised this is never going to happen again in the history of the world,” he continued. “It’s a true Cinderella story. It’s better than Cinderella because Cinderella didn’t have as good a soundtrack.”

SUGARMAN

To say that the song SugarMan is haunting is an understatement, but it’s enough to move an entire generation of young people that wanted change.

Here’s an excerpt of the song Sugar Man

Sugar man, won’t you hurry
‘Cos I’m tired of these scenes
For a blue coin won’t you bring back
All those colors to my dreams

Silver magic ships you carry
Jumpers, coke, sweet Mary Jane

Sugar man met a false friend
On a lonely dusty road
Lost my heart when I found it
It had turned to dead black coal

THE MISSING  YEARS

Since Rodriguez disappeared from the music scene altogether, decades passed without any interruptions in his life: living in a meager home with his three daughters and devoted himself to his construction work while gaining a degree in philosophy.

But during those years, in another corner of the world, he was bigger than Elvis. His records had made it to South Africa, where Cold Fact became a sensation, selling hundreds of thousands of copies and joining the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones in the music collections of every musically literate Cape Town resident. The man on the album, with his sunglasses, hat and cross-legged pose, was a cipher.

Nobody in South Africa knew who he was.

Until the documentary came out and he was brought to South Africa to perform to an unbelievably large number of audience he never knew he had: men, women, and children.

BELATED GLORY

Despite his current global success that is juxtaposed against his earlier career failure, Rodriguez philosophically said:

“I was ready for the world, but I don’t think the world was ready for me.”

New York Times piece on Rodriguez and the documentary film moves you to watch it, and why after 40 years, the story of a simple musician named Rodriguez is relevant.

I THINK OF YOU

Unlike other music aficionados, I have no collection of obscure records from amazing yet unknown artists. Wait, let me rephrase that, I have no LARGE collection of obscure records from amazing yet unknown artists … but I do have some.

And growing up in the 70s and 80s and being forced to listen to my 3 older brothers’ music, I remember coming across this song ages ago, without realizing that it’s him.

If you are to count one of the most poignant songs ever, this one has got to be up there.

Just a song we shared, I’ll hear
Brings memories back when you were here
Of your smiles, your easy laughter
Of your kiss, those moments after

I think of you
And think of you
And think of you

Of the dreams we dreamt together
Of the love we vowed would never
Melt like snowflakes in the sun
My days now end as they begun:

With thoughts of you
And I think of you
And think of you

Down the streets I walked with you
Seeing others doing things we do

Now these thoughts are haunting me
Of how complete I used to be
And in these times that we’re apart
I’ll hear this song that breaks my heart

And think of you
And I think of you
And think of you
And think of you
And I do

And years later, just last November, here is Rodriguez, carrying the same voice at the age 70.

How can you not be amazed by that?

About Asmartrock

N. Mark Castro is the chief political communications strategist for PT AsiaLeads, a political and communications policy-making body based in Jakarta, Indonesia. He is also the Executive Director at the Southeast Asia Consulting Group, an investment advisory company assisting clients roll out their presence for the ASEAN Economic Integration in partnership with government. The views posted here are his own and do not in any way reflect the views of the companies he represents.

Posted on January 15, 2013, in General, Music and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Bravo!! Great job Mr. Castro! I am like millions outhere who have recently discovered Rodriguez music. Such a great artist!

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