RODRIGUEZ: Man or Myth?

Updated: Mar 30, 2021

SOME STORIES are never believable, seeming closer to a myth than actual fact. The legend of Sitxo Rodriguez is one of those crazy stories that sounds more and more fake each time I hear it. At home, he was just some guy on the streets of Detroit; even many of his friends and coworkers didn’t know he was a musician. But abroad, he was a cultural and, depending on who you ask, a political icon. Makes no sense to me and I know it made no sense to him either.

In the early 70s, Rodriguez dropped two very strong albums - Cold Fact and Coming to Reality - that led people in the industry to compare him to artists like Bob Dylan. The public though? Had absolutely no clue who the dude was. The guy’s sales were nonexistent so after only a few years recording and a couple short tours in Australia, enough was enough. He left as quietly as he came, which he was apparently cool with, and planned on that being that. Except it wasn’t.

In the late 90s, over 25 years after the release of his two albums, two concerningly huge fans from Cape Town followed the trail of his rumored death and eventually tracked down a very much alive Rodriguez. Searching for Sugarman, named after his biggest hit and a film I highly recommend, followed and has since won a number of awards, including the 85th Academy Award for Best Documentary. See in South Africa, Rodriguez wasn’t some guy and he wasn’t just some musician, he was up there with The Beatles. Every teen in the country knew his name and his songs but, like at home, was oblivious to the man behind the music. He was the invisible star - someone everyone knew of but knew nothing about. All people had to go on were his words and a picture of a guy wearing some funky pants and a big ass hat (see left).

I said earlier that for some, Rodriguez was a political icon. In a number of his songs, Rodriguez dives into anti-government themes which resonated very strongly with South Africans in the 70s, some of his songs becoming anti-Aparthaid anthems as a result. Since he was one of the first artists taking about the matter in the country, Rodriguez became an inspiration for many white anti-Apartheid movements and had a very strong influence on many politically charged South African bands of the time. His music reached all corners of the movement with even leading activist Steve Biko being a fan. Without knowing, Rodriguez helped to change an entire society.

David Johnson for TIME

With all of his success abroad, it still makes no sense he went so unnoticed at home in America. Musically and lyrically, everything was there. The songs are extremely relatable; a working man talking about real issues in his life, his community, and his country. He’s got fun songs - like I Wonder - for lovers and he’s got heartbreak songs - see Cause - for the rock bottomers. But for whatever reason, he never hit.

For who enjoy breaking away for a little bit, his music is the perfect escape. I constantly find myself being lost in his soft guitar and soothing voice. There’s pain in both and yet so much comfort that somehow, everything will be alright. Some people have a knack for always knowing what to say at exactly the right time. Rodriguez is that guy. His songs never said too much or too little and I always walk away feeling better that I’ve experienced the journey he takes you on.

PERSONAL FAVORITES: Cause, Halfway Up the Stairs, Crucify Your Mind, Hate Street Dialogue, Rich Folks Hoax, Jane S. Piddy

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