If you are the type to make life your teacher, then there is valuable instruction in the true story of a folk musician you’ve probably never heard of.
His name is Sixto Rodriguez. Apparently, during the “15 minutes” of limited fame he enjoyed in the late 1960s and early ’70s, his down-to-earth style was compared to Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens and the quality of his music and growing fan base persuaded a record company to sign him up.
The records didn’t sell especially well, so he resorted to playing local clubs in his native Detroit and his music also seemed to strike a chord in Australia, where he toured often.
Nevertheless, he’s lived a relatively low-profile existence in Detroit these many decades, little noted by American music fans.
But there’s an interesting twist to this story. Somehow some of his recordings found their way to South Africa—way back in the ’70s, during the apartheid era. His music spread in popularity, particularly among youth disaffected with the white minority regime. His music gave voice to the feelings of South Africans that they could somehow overcome a tyrannical system that seemed entrenched.
Because South Africa was a closed society, whose airwaves were heavily regulated, the rising popularity of Rodriguez’ music went unknown outside the country’s borders. But inside, he was more popular than Elvis Presley. Everyone knew his music, and garage bands covered his tunes far and wide. People wondered who Sixto Rodriguez was, but a legend grew that he committed suicide on stage.