Rodriguez - The Myths and The Mystery

"...Rodriguez has left the building..."

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The Star Tonight, Monday 9th March 1998

Wondering Again
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 and tomorrow.

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.
"Er, yeah."
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 seven-time loser.
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 his daughters.
"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."

The future?

"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.

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