How to spell Rodriguez
Sixto Rodriguez created timeless songs - and disappeared. Craig Strydom and Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman went on a search. The authors have the astonishing results of their research in the book Sugar Man written down. We talked to them and show them exclusive photos.
An interview with Craig Strydom and Stephen Segerman
from the English by Daniele Raffaele Gambone
How did you and your partner Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman pass the time before you went looking for Sixto Rodriguez?
In order not to suffer from a shortage of bread and Prada clothes, I spent most of my time working as a copywriter in the advertising industry. Every day, Sugar dedicates himself to his cult record store Mabu Vinyl, which is also featured in the film Searching for Sugar Man you can see. He also runs the website sugarman.org, the first and only independent Rodriguez website in the world. We still do, and when we're not doing these things, Sugar and I are currently promoting the book and doing interviews like this one. The good news is that our book has meanwhile been translated into Swedish, Spanish and Italian in addition to German. It can also be found in UK and Canadian bookstores.
According to a quote from Malik Bendjelloul, Rodriguez is nowhere better known than on the day he first met him. So I was wondering if your impression of Rodriguez has changed over the years - and if so, how?
Rodriguez is an extremely private person. He's really very reclusive. As an artist, he is the type of silent observer. What he has to say about the world is expressed in his lyrics. Sugar Man describes, in the spirit of the quotation mentioned, the difficulties director Malik Bendjelloul faced while shooting the film. Rodriguez was open on the first day of shooting, but the closer we and the camera got to him, the more he withdrew and the less we got to know him.
This is a story that will probably never happen again
Your research began at a time when social media was barely developed.
This is a story that will probably never happen again. There are many reasons for that. When Sugar and I began our search, the Internet was still in its infancy. So in the beginning we searched music magazines, reference books and of course the lyrics for clues. Sugar Man: The Life, Death and Resurrection of Sixto Rodriguez tells the full story of our efforts to track down Rodriguez in the pre-internet age. The book is also dedicated to the kind of detail that could not be taken into account in the film.
The other factors that made this story possible stem from the fact that when we began our search - and for most of our lives - South Africa was an isolated society. Because of apartheid, there was a cultural boycott against the country, so that information was neither inwardly nor outwardly. In addition, South Africa was a kind of “police state” politically.
Would your research be easier these days and would it be just as fun?
Our research would definitely be easier, but less fun. Information is ubiquitous these days and available at the click of a mouse. Words like “googling” are now part of the vocabulary. The so-called millennials cannot remember a time when it was different. While we did the original research the traditional way, we were able to draw on the luxury of the internet in writing the book.
Rodriguez will always remain a mystery to us
Do you know if Rodriguez received royalties?
Rodriguez received no royalties on South African record sales for the 25 or so years before we found him alive. The book details how it became possible for them to vanish into thin air. Since the release of his albums Cold Fact and Coming from Reality Rodriguez received royalties from the Light in the Attic Records label in 2006. That goes for the income from the soundtrack too Searching for Sugar Man.
Have you been able to unravel the mystery of Rodriguez during your research?
Regardless of what we've put in our book about Rodriguez, his upbringing, his wives, his political aspirations, and his years of studying philosophy at university, he remains a mystery.
At what point did you become aware of the size of your undertaking: the year-long search for an icon, its rediscovery, the creation of a platform for exchange between fans and idols and the ongoing maintenance of the website?
It took a while for the full extent of what we were doing to become tangible. It gradually revealed itself. Finding Rodriguez was an initial reward. Finding him alive was an even greater reward. Seeing his music released in America, something ‘Sugar’ Segerman worked tirelessly on for years, was the icing on the cake. Little did we know anything about Malik Bendjelloul's groundbreaking documentary Searching for Sugar Man should take on completely different dimensions.
It took a while for the full extent of what we were doing to become tangible
What does the book do that the film does not?
The film only covers the period between 1996 and 1998, between the year we got serious about our search and the year Rodriguez gave his first concert in South Africa. You can only convey a limited number of things in the 86 minutes that the film lasts. In contrast, the book covers a period of 72 years. It is divided into four narrative sections: 1. “The riddle”, the search for Rodriguez; 2. “The man”, his life story; 3. “The Music”, a description of the struggle for the publication of his songs, and 4. “The Film”, an examination of the production of the documentary film.
Are you still looking for pop icons? What's next? Do you maybe even miss the "hunt"?
The detective's search for Rodriguez has taken us completely. So much so that there were times when we hoped this trip would never end. Fortunately, with the work on the book, the research - at least the nice part of it - started all over again.
→ more about the authors
Craig Bartolomew Strydom, freelance writer and copywriter, writes texts and reports for Rolling Stone, among other things. Stephen "Sugar" Segerman is a music journalist and owner of the legendary record store “Mabu Vinyl”. The two live in Cape Town, South Africa.
The official website of Sixto Rodriguez
"Sugar Man" on the pages of the Ullstein book publishers
Sixto Rodriguez on Facebook
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