When the crowd in the arena rose, whistling, cheering and applauding at the appearance of this legend of our youths, it seemed like an historic moment in the making. Barely able to see, Sixto Rodriguez was lead onto the stage by his daughter and an assistant, put on a top hat and began to sing in a remarkably young, robust voice.
This voice of our youth, might have needed a little help getting there but contrary to the rumors was not frail at all. He played the songs we love, Sugarman,I Wonder, Inner City Blues, Crucify Your Mind and we all thank him for that. But the moments were more mystery than history: if you came to understand the magic of Rodriguez and recapture the strange mixture of dread and rebellion that his music stood for South Africans during apartheid – you didn’t get it there.
On the other hand, if you read on, you just might get it here.
It turns out that Rodriguez is a very sweet natured man – think Paarl Perlé on a breezy night – and while he played his obligatory hits from his first albums and acknowledged the many South Africans in the audience, this was no South African show. He never discussed the songs, there was no commentary, no lingering with choruses or any attempt to engage the audience. We didn’t get to revisit the strange rebelliousness he represented for white South Africans in the 70’s and 80’s – the world they comfortably hated and knew to be wrong but whose alternative was just too hard to confront.
He just sang them so he could gt them out of the way to sing what he really wanted. It turns out, the old prophet of destruction yearned to be a classic, early sixties blues rock crooner and his greatest joy was playing songs like Lucille and A Whole Lotta Shaking Going On. His younger back up band reveled in those standards and despite needed to huddle between songs, played those old rock licks like they grew up with them. This could be the top group at any State Fair. As Sixto said in his wisecracking patter, he didn’t want to be a great legend, “just an ordinary legend.”