1970s Mexican-American singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez (who looks like an older version of Edward James Olmos crossed with Lou Diamond Philips) released two records on the Sussex Record Label: — Cold Fact in 1970, and Coming from Reality in 1971. Two weeks before Christmas one year, the record label released him and he had to find work outside music — in construction — while still living in Detroit. He never looked back.
Meanwhile, in South Africa he achieved cult status. His records were passed around, copied, and songs became anthems for listeners sympathetic to the anti-apartheid movement. The government even banned his music — scratching specific songs on the vinyl records so they couldn’t ever be played. Meanwhile thousands of fans memorized his songs.
But whatever happened to Sixto Rodriguez? Rumors of his death were greatly exaggerated. Did he burn himself to death in front of a live audience… or put a gun to his own head and shoot his brains out during a concert?
Spurred by fans, Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman and Craig Bartholemew, a website was created and a question was posed in liner notes – does anyone know what happened to Sixto Rodriguez? A funny thing happened — Rodriguez’s daughter saw the website and posted a response – “He’s my father” and included her phone number.
New fans of his music asked if it was available in the United States — I’m happy to report that it is. You can buy it on iTunes or through the Light in the Attic website which has rereleased his albums.
I enjoyed this film (and so did the rest of the audience — it received a standing ovation — as did Rodriguez when he surprised everyone at the Q&A). The music was haunting and beautiful (and I don’t consider myself a Dylan fan, whom he is often compared) and he appears to be a quiet man who appreciates his newfound appreciation by audiences. After he was found to be alive, there was a concert in South Africa in 1998 — he donated all the money from this and other concerts.
This was the first film purchased at Sundance 2012. It was picked up by Sony Pictures — I’m interested in seeing the marketing campaign. I’d love for it to find an audience and for his music to find new fans.
*Side note: this is the second documentary set in Detroit -> the other was Detropia which will be reviewed soon.