Rodriguez

I went to watch an excellent documentary on Rodriguez last weekend.  If you’ve never heard of him:

Sixto Diaz Rodriguez (also known as Rodriguez or as Jesus Rodriguez; born July 10, 1942) is an American folk musician, born in Detroit, Michigan.  In most of his songs he takes a political stance on the cruelties facing the inner city poor.  After failing to make an impact in North America [in the 1970’s], he gave up his career as a musician. However, although he was relatively unknown in his home country, by the mid-’70s his albums were starting to gain airplay in South Africa, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Australia.  In 1991, both his albums were released on CD in South Africa for the first time.  His fame in South Africa was completely unknown to him, until 1998 when his eldest daughter came across a website dedicated to him.   In 1998, he played his first South African tour, playing six concerts in front of thousands of fans.  Later he played in Sweden before returning to South Africa in 2001 and 2005.

When I was a teenager, EVERYBODY had a Rodriguez CD.  We all knew ALL the lyrics to his songs.  And we had no idea who he was.  There were rumours that he had committed suicide on stage, some saying he immolated himself, others that he shot himself in the head, that simply added fuel to the fascination.  If ever there was a voice of a generation in South Africa, it was Rodriguez.

So if you haven’t heard of him, I’m gonna guess you’re younger than 30.  I’ve noticed over the last week that when I ask people whether they know who Rodriguez is, those born before 1982 invariably say yes, while the younger ones tend to look at me like I’m crazy (this may have something to do with the fact that I’ve become somewhat obsessed with this and have been popping the question randomly into conversations).  This is a fascinating phenomenon that I wish I could study properly.  I can only speculate that as soon as he came to tour South Africa in 1998, when those born after 1982 would have been 16 and under, he lost the mystery and cult appeal that made him an absolute household name to my generation, instead becoming just another musician of a somewhat out-of-fashion genre, and young people just stopped listening to him overnight.  And that, I suppose, is as it should be.

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