• October 2012

Sugar Man Rises

By Hope and Michael Gibbs
Be Inkandescent magazine
Photo of Rodriquez by www.MichaelGibbs.

Sixto Rodriguez, 70, is a reborn pop-star whose back story is as charming as his Bob Dylan-like lyrics. Although he never gained notoriety in the United States after recording his album, Cold Fact, his recordings were beloved from Australia to South Africa.

In the late 1970s, Rodriguez turned away from music—to do construction work, have a family, and get a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. And for decades, he was unaware that the soulful charm of his records had made him a superstar to young disaffected whites in apartheid South Africa.

All of this is well-documented in the 2012 Sony Pictures Classics film, Searching for Sugar Man. It’s the heartwarming saga of two South Africans who set out to discover what happened to their unlikely musical hero, the mysterious 1970s rock ‘n’ roller.

Living the Dream

Originally discovered in a Detroit bar in the late ’60s, Rodriguez’ journey began when two celebrated producers were struck by his soulful melodies and prophetic lyrics.

They recorded an album, which they believed would secure his reputation as the greatest recording artist of his generation. In fact, the album bombed and the singer disappeared into obscurity—amid rumors of a gruesome on-stage suicide.

But a bootleg recording found its way into apartheid South Africa and, over the next two decades, he became a phenomenon there.

The South African fans who set out to find out what really happened to their hero is only slightly more touching than Rodriguez’ rise to fame in the months since the movie captured audience’s attention.

The Phoenix Rises

When he appeared on August 31 at DC’s Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, it was a privilege to see the man in concert. Clad in a black coat, jeans, a fedora, and dark sunglasses, he charmed the crowd that packed the auditorium.

Rodriguez shared some of his wisdom on life and love, including these morsels:

  • The secret to life: “All you got to do is breathe in and breathe out.”
  • The secret to marriage: “Don’t be a silent partner.”
  • The secret to survival: Why can’t you trust women? Because you can’t trust men. Trust no one.”

He sprinkled these philosophies throughout the hour-long show, in which he played complicated riffs from songs from his era, including “Crucify Your Mind,” “Like Janis,” and “Blue Suede Shoes.”

But most poignant was his iconic ballad—the one that made him the hit he became in South Africa, “I Wonder.”

I Wonder
By Sixto Rodriguez

I wonder how many times you’ve been had
And I wonder how many plans have gone bad
I wonder how many times you had sex
And I wonder do you know who’ll be next
I wonder I wonder wonder I do

I wonder about the love you can’t find
And I wonder about the loneliness that’s mine
I wonder how much going have you got
And I wonder about your friends that are not
I wonder I wonder wonder I do

I wonder about the tears in children’s eyes
And I wonder about the soldier that dies
I wonder will this hatred ever end
I wonder and worry my friend
I wonder I wonder wonder don’t you?

I wonder how many times you been had
And I wonder how many dreams have gone bad
I wonder how many times you had sex
And I wonder do you know who’ll be next
I wonder I wonder wonder I do

Click here to listen to the MP3.