Sixto Rodriguez has lived one of the most remarkably odd lives in the history of rock and roll. As a Latino who has lived in Detroit his entire life, he initially emerged onto the world’s musical stage at precisely the wrong time: amid the height of the Motown era, when African-American artists were all the rage and the music industry didn’t care much about embracing Hispanic artists.
Yet the two albums he initially released under the moniker of Rodriguez — 1970’s “Cold Fact” and 1971’s “Coming From Reality” — bombed horribly, even as they inspired a major critic to consider him greater than Bob Dylan. A defeated Rodriguez slunk off into a backbreaking career working in demolition, but learned years later that he had become a legendary superstar in Australia and South Africa, where his politically charged yet beautiful orchestral pop had become anthems for the anti-apartheid resistance.
He had missed out on his incredible successes because rumors had spread that he had committed suicide onstage on two different occasions — once by setting himself on fire onstage, another saying that he shot himself in the head during a show. Rodriguez thankfully has been making major money touring South Africa since 1998, but America and the rest of the world learned he was still alive thanks to the Oscar-winning 2012 documentary “Searching for Sugarman.”
The 75-year-old has been touring the planet ever since, and this Saturday he makes a stop at Cal State LA’s Luckman Performing Arts Center for a show that should not be missed.
In a phone interview from the Detroit home he’s lived in for 40 years (but has nicely upgraded with success), the politically charged progressive shared his thoughts on his story and the current political scene. In fact, he turns every answer into a political rant.
“I’m a very political animal, and ran for city council in Detroit and thought about running for mayor since ‘Sugarman,’” says Rodriguez. “In my platform, I say all power to the people, instead of power to the people. My platform is called O.R., or Oppression Will Result in Revolution. It happened in South Africa with apartheid, in France with storming the Bastille, and in Mexico where they threw out the French.
“We have a war going on now, and in my family, I have five soldiers while my best friend has six soldiers in hers,” he continues. “When the draft dodger in chief says the truth doesn’t matter, what does that say to other heads of state, and to the press who have to follow it? I think that the penalty for treason is hanging. Or am I just hopeful? And overall, are things better, worse or about the same? Now we’re in the 21st century, but does it feel any different than the 20th century? Aren’t we worrying about oil prices again? “
Even when asked about the expanse of his career and the effect of his comeback, the self-effacing Rodriguez poured his intense verbal energy into rants about President Trump, the media, the still-ongoing court battles with record companies, the nation’s addiction epidemic and the endless wave of mass shootings in America. All of these can be heard on the linked podcast, yet he remains an unceasing optimist and forever appreciative of the fact that he finally got his shot.
“The situation has changed,” Rodriguez notes. “Socrates was asked if he was a citizen of Greece and he said he’s a citizen of the world. In my case, I’m a student of the world. I’ll come to any town and share my experiences with others and broaden their experiences.
“The internet has changed the game, and we’re a global situation now,” he concludes. “ If you have one good idea, song, or story, it’s global. I’m ready to speak. Before, I wanted to be heard. Now I must be heard. “
Rodriguez performs at 8 p.m. Saturday at Cal State LA’s Luckman Fine Arts Complex, 5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles. Tickets are $60 to $80. Call (323) 343-6600. Visit ticketmaster.com. To hear the entire interview on the podcast “Oh Man, That’s Awful,” visit http://ohmanthatsawful.libsyn.com/songwriteractivist-rodriguez.