On Friday I had lunch with a friend who collects cameras. He has just had a video released about his passion. “The Collector.” You should watch it. He closes by saying “if I die it doesn’t matter, I did something that I love.”
So did Rodriguez, I thought.
My friend asked what I was doing in Cape Town. “ A conference?”
“Oh, no. I came to see a concert.” I paused; “Rodriguez” I said, looking for a hint of recognition from the other seventy-year-old dreamer.
I flew down to Cape Town on Thursday for the concert by Sixto Rodriguez. I am not a concert junkie, but this was one I had to attend.
I had heard reports that his previous concerts were awesome. But I did not know what to expect. I did not know how he would respond to the audience; when he recorded “Cold Fact” he used to play in bars with his back to the audience. I did not know how much he would talk. No one had said anything about that detail. After all, he was our poet, and we needed to hear words from him.
The curtain dropped after the supporting act by Newton’s Second Law and revealed Rodriguez in the centre of the stage, floppy black hat covering a lined faced hidden behind tinted black-rimmed glasses. A worn black jacket hung loosely off his shoulders and a blurred black and white scarf hung in front, covering his black vest. He held an acoustic guitar and starting strumming immediately. He launched into his first song. It was the last concert of his South African tour. Three days after the close of his concert the film gods will be meeting in Hollywood to decide if the film about him, “Searching for Sugarman” warrants an Oscar for the brilliant documentary about a story of hope and dreams. About passion and love for music.
He did speak during the concert. He drank lots of water, and something special from a white hotel teacup. After sipping from the cup he would pause away from the microphone, wait for the audience, and then move forward for some more talk or a song.
Girls were shouting “I want to have your baby” and “marry me”; he just smiled.
The audience shouted out wish lists of songs. “Thank you for your time”. He drank some water, then from his white cup, moved forward and thanked the audience for their time. And he meant it.
After he sang “The Establishment Blues” he spoke at length. South Africa was wilting under the hell fire of the death of a young rape victim and a week later the arrest of their darling sports hero, the Blade Runner. Rodriguez said:
“I am a musico-politico. We need to address violence against women. We need more women in power.” He paused to drink. He was pensive. “Come to think of it, you know, we need a lady Pope!” The audience cheered and laughed.
It was an audience of white middle class dreamers. Most of them now had jobs, a house, three kids at university and a wife. A man in front of me stood jiving to some songs with his wife. They may have even had their first dance at their wedding thirty-five years ago to “I think of you”. They were still in love. I could see that.
We were all in love with Rodriguez. He represented our life under Apartheid and now sweetens the dream that has become a reality for us. In this New Age of self-discovery he has affirmed that we should never lose our passion for the things we love. Especially if the world seems to want us to lose that faith. He gives hope to the middle aged that they still have time to reach the pinnacle of self-discovery. After all, here he was playing to an audience that loved him when he was in his own words “a sound seventy”.
Out of the nowhere some strange but familiar cords were played, and he burst into song with “Blue Suede Shoes”. He looked so happy. Afterwards he needed a few sips from his cup and a second bottle of water. He spoke.
“I love playing the classics. You know, we love playing music. We do it for the chicks. We do it for the money. We do it to be acknowledged. Most of all we do it because it’s fun.”
After he played “Sugarman”, while he was drinking water, the audience started up and sang the whole song back to him; he stood back in awe of the love they showered upon him. He just smiled. Later he told a Mickey Mouse joke.
At the end of the concert he said thank you. “The last time I felt so young was when I was in Cape Town.”
He was helped off the stage but came back for an encore. He played three songs to a continuous standing ovation.
Back to lunch with my friend “The Collector” the next day:
“Hmm, I still have his L.P.. The once with him in the bubble.” My friend got up and walked into another room. “I’ll give it to you.”
He walked out of that room with the album cover that held the vinyl, a dream from decades ago that has been washed clean by the modern age. The dream’s beauty has finally been revealed.
Serendipity: that I went to a concert by Rodriguez and am came home with a forty two year old piece of history.
Thank you Rodriguez, The Collector and Pawel for the ticket. Oh, and thank you serendipity!