Sixto Díaz Rodríguez, aka, “Rodriguez,” is a 70-year-old American singer/songwriter living in Detroit, Michigan. His life, with its curious twists and turns, is the subject of a movie called Searching for Sugar Man. It details his strange roller coaster ride up from obscurity to fame and back to obscurity, only to find fame again in his sixties.
His early career was short lived, with two poorly-selling albums (Cold Fact and Coming from Reality) in the early 1970s. He totally failed to make an impact in North America. Unbeknownst to him, however, his albums were popular in South Africa, the music serving as anthems in the fight against apartheid. He outsold Elvis and the Beatles. And this is where the story gets strange: never having been seen in person by his South African fans, he was rumored to be dead. Some thought Rodriguez had died from a heroin overdose, others that he had immolated himself onstage during a concert, or that he had been committed to a mental hospital. Whatever the story was, his fans in South Africa thought he was dead, as dead as iconic rock stars Jimmi Hendrix or Jim Morrison.
Meanwhile, a disappointed Rodríguez toiled in obscurity in Detroit, working in construction, and at whatever other work he could pick up, including some musical gigs at local dives. His daughters can remember him carrying a refrigerator on his back up some stairs. He had no idea that his music was wildly popular in South Africa. By a series of unlikely occurrences, including a South African businessman searching for him and then finding his phone number, it was belatedly realized that Rodriguez was alive, not dead. He was whisked to South Africa, where he played six sold-out concerts, and has gone on to play concerts all over the world.
Of course the questions arises, if he were that good, if he wrote lyrics as good as those of Bob Dylan, wrote songs with unforgettable melodic hooks (one, called “I Wonder,” is mercilessly circling around in my mind as I write this), why didn’t he become famous? In some ways, the question is answered by Searching for Sugar Man. We see a good-humored man with an almost Buddha-like equanimity. He didn’t–or couldn’t–play the fame game, and honestly didn’t care about money. (The royalties he gets now all go to his family, and he continues to live in Detroit.)
Something tells me that the incredible story of Rodriguez has not ended just yet.