Star Tonight, Monday 9th March 1998
by Sally Scott
Contrary to popular myth,'70s protest
singer and guitarist Rodriguez is alive, if not exactly kicking, and living
in Detroit. SALLY SCOTT spoke to Rodriguez, who plays in Jo'burg tonight
Ask almost any 30- to 40- something South African
what they know about Rodriguez and you'll probably get pretty much the
same answer. "Yeah, I remember him, I grew up with him, I've got Cold
Fact. He's dead, he killed himself". So I must admit I was somewhat
surprised to be offered an interview, ostensibly from beyond the grave.
Would this be via a medium and a ouija board? As it happened, the voice
of Sixto Rodriguez came over a plain everyday telephone, straight from
Detroit, Michigan, USA. Rodriguez had just rolled in, at around 8am, after
"a night out". Where and with whom he wasn't saying but, to put
it politely, he sounded as though he hadn't slept for 24 years, around
the time he dropped out of sight.
So what have you been doing all these years?
"Er, well, yeah, er, I like mend roofs, build walls, I worked in a
gas station, er..."
So like you're, er, a handyman? I'm picking up the lingo here.
How does he explain the change from cult pop star to, er, handyman.
"Well, like, I was never a big star, you know, but I have run for
mayor and the council a couple of times here. Never got in. Yeah, I'm a
So how about all those rumours? There you are, alive and, er, well. Over
here many people think you're dead.
"Well, like, I'm not."
So how did those rumours get started?
"Dunno, maybe just because I dropped out of sight for so long".
There's silence for a minute or three and, while Rodriguez is pondering
the meaning of life, I'm pondering over the man who was something of a
mystery from the start. There was that one chart-topping nation-wide seller
Cold Fact and one follow-up, Coming from Reality , which went as swiftly
as it came. As for the singer himself, nobody knew where he came from,
but we could all warble, "I wonder, how many times you've had sex,
and I wonder, do you know who'll be next."
But we were alone. As his press release cheerily announces, Cold Fact stopped
Southern Africa dead in it's tracks, but was a "monumental flop"
elsewhere. Then Rodriguez was back on the line again and speaking about
"The pride of my life, in fact, my life revolves around them".
Like, hey man, he was actually becoming quite animated.
"I've got Regan, she's 18 and Eva."
So, anyway, why have you decided to came out of, er, retirement and do
these concerts? "Well, it wasn't really my decision. Seb," (actually "Zev") a name he mutters inaudibly, "he
said he thought it might be a good idea to do some concerts in South Africa.
He discovered that great band Midnight Oil, shared the stage with them
a couple of times during my two Australian tours and he booked U2".
Finally, someone, admittedly nameless, who sounds as though he knows a
thing or two. Maybe this concert will shape up.
"So the booking agent is what made this thing happen, his enthusiasm
got things going". Talking of enthusiasm, our man is, by now, almost
awake. Admitting that he is really "thrilled" but "nervous"
about the concerts in South Africa, he goes on to say, rather disarmingly,
"I just hope I get my vocals right." Getting into his stride
now, he admits to being "just your average guy with average talent"
and adds. "l'm just hoping to lighten things up a little and have
a good time, I know I'm no great shakes. Er, I just hope some people come
to see me and have a good time".
And, before he nods off again all those drug related lyrics?
"I tell kids today to take care of whatever they put in their bodies.
When you think of alcohol, you realise how dangerous it is. Weed is pretty
tame in comparison. But I'm not for drugs, I never advocated drug taking."
"Well, I'm working on a new album. It's unusual,
people will be surprised. When I come to South Africa ... I just want to
meet the people, see the country and have a good time. I sure don't want
to see the inside of four hotels".
And so, there you have it. Rodriguez, alive, almost kicking and, just one
last question. Hello, hello? Rodriguez has left the building.
Rodriguez and support act Big Sky perform tonight
at the Standard Bank Arena in Johannesburg and in Durban on March 13 and
14 at the Village Green. All concerts are seated.