Sugar man

Sometimes it is your children who tell you stories. As happened the other day, when Pedro told me a story he was clearly impressed with.

“Mom” he asked “have you ever heard of a singer called Rodriguez?”.

At first I thought he was joking with me “Rodriguez? Just that? No…”. But he went on: “Mom, it’s an amazing story”. And I sat down to listen.

Rodriguez (later I learned his full name is Sixto Rodriguez) was born in Detroit, Michigan, of Mexican parents, in the forties; from a very young age he experienced the hardship of immigrant life. He loved composing and singing, releasing his first record in 1967 and going on to record a few more. However, he had little success and went on living a fairly humble and simple life, with a job in demolition works and living in an old, modest house; he was also engaged in some political activity – he was an activist. Most of his songs told about a rotten society, revolt, rage and violence in the streets.

Without his knowledge, someone had taken a tape with his songs to South Africa and incredibly they became huge hits over there. In a non globalized and Internet- free world he became famous there, without knowing it, and at a certain time the rumour was spread that he had committed suicide. In South Africa, where his songs’ lyrics inspired many South Africans in their fight against apartheid, he was sort of idolized for his music, but he also became famous in Australia and New Zealand.

As my son told me, one day some of his South African fans discovered him and suddenly he found himself famous and widely admired for the same songs which had been mostly ignored in America.

In the years following his discovery he finally enjoyed the taste of his long overdue success. He became known as “Sugar man” (the title of one of his songs), but his amazing story only became known worldwide thanks to the 2012 documentary “Searching for Sugar man” that tells the story of how two of his South African fans decided to search for him and try to discover if he was really dead, only to find he was very much alive and living a modest life in the US.

The incredible fact is that, even if he acknowledged success and went on to become famous, he never moved house nor changed the simple lifestyle he had become accustomed to. Where he still lives today, in his seventies.

I could see Pedro was impressed with this story, and I was too. He put on some of Rodriguez’s songs for me to hear and I found them incredible. I particularly love a very romantic song called “I think of you“. It’s so beautiful, so heartfelt…how was it possible to ignore such beautiful songs in the USA, with only the South Africans to discover them in the first place? Pedro and I agree that this is the stuff of fairy tale stories, and miracles do happen.

As I listen to the last notes of “Sugar man” I think to myself, what a story. Unbelievable, if it weren’t true. And so inspiring, as it certainly has been for my son Pedro, who wanted to share it with me as he knew I would love it. The story of Rodriguez, a true bard, who was famous for his music but didn’t have a clue about it. And who has now added two more fans to his already extensive list; this time in Portugal.








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