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Sixto Rodriguez: Detroit’s Sugar Man…

Fortunately, Cass Corridor’s own Sixto Rodriguez won’t awaken this April Fool’s Day to a faux surprise. He really is now recognized as all the talent that he imagined himself to be these past 50 years-or-so. Rolling Stone magazine just reported that he’s now “making $millions” on the road. We’ve all heard the “Cinderella Story“…(if one can imagine her at the Ball at 70)…

Sixto Rodriguez at 70 in Paris...

Sixto Rodriguez at 70 in Paris…

Watching the Academy Awards I was surprised that “Searching for Sugar Man” won. I assumed that it would go to the Israeli documentary, “The Gatekeepers,” or the Palestinian, “Five Broken Cameras.”

However–for Sixto as well as Detroit in these times–that selection was no less than a cosmic act of justice and synchronicity.

Although an acquaintance of his, I don’t recall ever seeing  Sixto actually perform. Not that he made any secret of it; in conversations he referred to his successes elsewhere (apparently little realizing just HOW successful). He never indicated to me any desire for local work.

As a political activist, often booking talent for benefits, I should have been more keen, we ALL should have been…  As co-denizens of Detroit’s Cass Corridor since the 1960s, I’m quite familiar with his ubiquitous presence. And we’re the same age, born in the Summer of ’42.

The Corridor is much like the Village in lower Manhattan—music, art, academic, drugs, political, poor, gentrified, et cetera—and they all overlap to one extent or another. It’s a small community… In fact, while not an organic part of that community, Cass Corridor was anchored on the south for a number of years by Barry Gordy’s Motown studios.

Joni in the Corridor '66...

Joni in the Corridor ’66…

In retrospect his music and lyrics are actually quite talented.  Sixto picked up early on what I would characterize as the post-folk scene. (But then, I’m no music aficionado…) I would guess a genre of Joni Mitchell (who lived for a hot minute at Cass and Ferry) and the street poetry of Bob Dylan, NYC.

Sixto had a unique Detroit working-class foundation to his music/poetry.  Probably why it so successfully struck a chord, literally, with the South African scene.

Perhaps the Fates saved him for his home Detroit in these timeswe damn sure need it

Detroit and its population has today been scoured, impoverished and finally placed under a corporatist dictatorship for sale to the highest bidder. In a very real sense, this is uniquely what Sixto addresses.

In addition to booking talent for political benefits, for several years in the ‘70s I worked on film editing and distribution (Director of Black Star Productions, the film division of the League of Revolutionary Black workers), and even represented some select talent as an agent.

Ironic: Sixto was right in front of me the whole time

However, there is no shortage of talent in the Corridor. Aside from the obvious media-success stories, among the more notable to my mind are Phil Marcus Esser, ‘Fredo Salazar, and a 15-yr-old (1970?) I tried my best to convince into a professional career, Sylvia Inwood. She sang like Nora Jones wished she could and as I imagine Jenny Lind may have (before recording was invented)…

Otherwise, believe me, the list of not-fully-recognized corridor talent is far too long for this article.

Hart Plaza, Detroit, circa 1986...

Hart Plaza, Detroit, circa 1986…

Sixto Rodriguez was never the “homeless, schizoid character” that some may have imagined given his occasional appearance and behavior. But he could give that impression…

The last time I saw Sixto was down at Hart Plaza, circa 1986. He was walking thru in a suit and carrying a guitar bag.  I now presume that he was on his way to play somewhere…at the time I simply noted his unusual dressed-up appearance.

I said hello and snapped a couple of photos, but he went off about taking a photo of him without his permission. Ah, back in character…

To mollify him, while I refused to “strip the film from my camera,” I did promise to destroy those particular negatives. Per my archival mentality, when the roll came back from the photo shop, I taped them to a page in my working file.

(Disclosure: Given certain underground activities, I ended up serving a 20+yr conviction in federal prisons between 1990 and 2010. So I was absent from the Corridor scene.)

Prior to the Academy Awards, 60 Minutes did a profile on Rodriguez and the film. It pretty much captured the Sixto we know in the Corridor as well as profiling the City and community to which he’s connected.

Given Detroit as the victim in the latest corporatist quest for total wealth, property, privilege and power in America, Inc., I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more from Sixto Rodriguez…not a minute too soon…

Dr. Publico  (Nick Medvecky, PsyD)

 

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