When Sixto Rodriguez came out on stage at the Pascua Yaqui tribe's Casino del Sol Amphitheater in Tucson last week, the ironies rang all around. His long straight black hair, dark face, pronounced musculature and small build could pass for a Southwestern indigene. He looked apache. My own roots to the Yaquis added to that irony.
Then the 70-year-old physically assisted by a young Chicana made his way to the mic area some which he would hardly wander during the performance. Glaucoma is the official explanation for this. So I asked, can he see well enough to pluck the string and hold the chords?
A floppy gray fedora, lots of dark leather, boots. He stands there. And all of us realize we are in a Presence. I know that because without moving very far during his entire play, his stance looked tougher than any chuco on a street corner. His stoop sent a message that I interpreted as the dark, withheld emotions of a life so unfair, as was done to him.
I'm not saying he looked, acted, moved like an oppressed, deprived minority. In one sense, he reminded me of a slave who'd been beaten, simmered within, yet possessed a superior fortitude and soul no whip could break. It lingered under the fedora that hid eyes and face, rippled in the muscles covered by the dark clothes.
Even maybe shrouded anger, but along with personal belief in himself. Something that could explode at any minute. And if you were the slave owner, the music aficionado even partly responsible for harming him, you prayed that what lay underneath never exploded. Forget about sleeping giants. This was Power. Of creative spirit. And more than a mere man.
My wife and I didn't know what to expect, as few concerts as we go to. First, we were disappointed. Most of the audience appeared older than our over-60 friends, like going to the concert of any has-been rock band. Why were there not more young people? Like under 59?
I'm not one of the few Americans of any nationality who followed and loved Sixto Rodriguez from back in the 60s. Like most of us, I learned of him from the documentary Searching for Sugarman. That story of course is about him, but it's about all of us, back then.
Racism, prejudice, Anglo-corporate musicdom deprived the majority of us from ever knowing or enjoying Sixto's music until now. And it took a European filmmaker and fans from Australia and South Africa to bring him to us. If Sixto had performed at Woodstock or the Monterey Bay Pop Festival, maybe we would have known about him. Woodstock got Santana pass the racism. And Richie Havens, who at 72 died this past week. More irony.
Here's what Sixto looked like when he should have been discovered. Other photos here show how much time passed for our country to make it up to him. But really, it's something that can never be made up for.
In that sense, the injustice done to Sixto was the same injustice done to all young Chicanos who were never encouraged to go to college, never got in, were bypassed for promotion, never received a scholarship or were asked to audition or show their art or dance or creativity. His country and their country lost out.
When he started playing on stage, everything was forgotten, if not forgiven. The tunes, the singing, the sounds were live, alive, and rhythm and blues and folk. And strong. The hombre musician who performed in Tucson
didn't miss a beat
moved his fingers through chords, across strings like a twenty-year-old
had a voice with none of the raspiness of a smoker or old man
had the style that any young performer would die to possess.
Sixto played many of the best songs from his albums. The audience wasn't disappointed there. He also performed three other classics like Lucille and I Only Have Eyes for You. He did each in his style and connected to the audience with appropriate emotion. What you could only get from someone who lived back when those classics were first performed.
When Sixto pulled off his light coat, down to a sleeveless black leather vest, his biceps shown like one of the baddest vatos on the block. It's crazy that an old guy could be so fit. Individual muscles on his forearms throbbed as he plucked and strummed, nothing like an old man should be able to do, much less look so fine doing it.
Even after so many worldwide performances, Sixto didn't seem totally comfortable being there. His words were sparse and sometimes reflected this.
|Acoustic backup - incredible.|
People like to comment how great it is that Sixto finally got rediscovered. How good he must feel that his patience was rewarded. That good things eventually come to those who wait. I think that's total bullshit. Even if Sixto says any of that is true, there's much more lying under the dark fedora than that. And I commiserate with him that some of it is not . . . forgiveness.
In Tucson, Sixto came across as incredibly charming, or charmingly funny:
"Don't rush me; I want to be treated like an ordinary legend."
Some pure wisdom: "About your love: don't be a silent partner."
Appropriately, he ended the show with a song from Dylan, who he's been compared to so often. He wasn't Dylan when he sang this; he was Sixto and worth hearing.
Then at the end he sent us home with:
"Go gentle with your anger." - which seemed more about him than us.
I call him Sixto because I can't think of him as Rodriguez, something attached to the whitewashing he was branded with when producers wanted him to be Rod Riguez. Similar to Ritchie Valens who couldn't be Valenzuela that sounded too ethnic. That's why to me he's Sixto.
Yes, you should see and hear Sixto perform. But before that, I recommend doing more than that. Read his lyrics to learn the passion there. To realize the level of his self-education. To remember the radical thinking of the 60s. To feel the melody of his poetry.
And when you do attend a concert, forget everything written here. Just try to absorb the Presence, feel Sixto's history, ours, and try to understand what it's like to be Sixto. I think it's something unique, maybe never fathomable.
I've tried to get the only Chicano interview of Sixto. Not surprisingly, his staff hasn't responded. Maybe never will. But, that doesn't disappoint me because I can't imagine that in one hour I'd be able to learn enough about this legend. And maybe all that I learned wouldn't want to share. What's above is what I know and think.
Es todo, hoy,