Cult star seeks to resolve lost SAfrican royalties
This undated publicity photo released by courtesy Sony Pictures Classics shows Rodriguez in a scene from the documentary film, "Searching for Sugar Man." (AP Photo/Sony Pictures Classics, Malik Bendjelloul)
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The story of Sixto Rodriguez, the greatest protest singer and songwriter that most people never heard of, is a real-life fairytale with a Hollywood finale.
In his latest incarnation, the guitarist has unwittingly become a champion for the rights of wronged musicians.
The Detroit construction worker whose albums flopped in the United States in the 1970s wants to know what happened to royalties in South Africa, where he unknowingly was elevated to rock star status.
While Rodriguez toiled in the Motor City, white liberals thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean burdened by the horrors of the apartheid regime were inspired by his songs protesting the Vietnam War, racial inequality, abuse of women and social mores.
Songs composed half a century ago that some equate to "inner-city poetry" still are relevant today: Like his poke at the pope's stance on birth control, and his plaints about corrupt politicians and bored housewives.
In South Africa, they were massive and enduring hits that still sell today, considered standards like Paul Simon's "Bridge over Troubled Waters," according to Stephen "Sugar" Segerman, a Cape Town record store owner whose nickname comes from the Rodriguez song "Sugarman."
"He's more popular than Elvis" in South Africa, Segerman said in an interview.
For decades, Rodriguez remained in the dark. Now the heartwarming documentary "Searching for Sugar Man," which tells of two South Africans' mission to seek out the fate of their musical hero, has been nominated for an Oscar.
The film by Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul and the story behind it have proved transformative for several people, not least Rodriguez, who is on a worldwide tour that has included New York's Carnegie Hall and London's Royal Albert Hall.
FILE - This undated publicity photo released by courtesy Sony Pictures Classics shows Rodriguez in a scene from the documentary film, "Searching for Sugar Man." (AP Photo/Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics, Hal Wilson, File)
Even after the extent of his fame was brought home to him when he first toured South Africa to sold-out concerts 15 years ago, Rodriguez had said he had no interest in pursuing the money, holding true to his lyrics "And you can keep your symbols of success, Then I'll pursue my own happiness."