Life must have changed for Eva Rodriguez the morning she saw a U.S. Army recruitment team visiting her school. One can only guess how it was to grow up in the 1960’s Detroit City, where she was born; “As my dad’s daughter I was taught to love not kill. I was a hippie. But the opportunity came along and I realized, if I did not get out of Detroit I would probably end up being a mom on crack.” The truth is that, in a peculiar way, this decision would bring travelling, love, helicopters, Ben Affleck and an Academy Award to her life.
For years, her South African son must have had listened to all the stories from when she was a combat nurse in South Korea and her year in Germany before she turned into a Military helicopter pilot, or how she dodged all the close calls whilst fighting to save lives in Central America and the Persian Gulf War or what the drug raids in Colombia were like. Still, there would be a single question that could unravel it all: “How did you and dad actually meet?”
Maybe she quoted her father by saying “It started out so nice”. That would make sense, as it all started the day that Eva, after spending a year as a peacekeeper in Egypt, was surprised by the image on her computer screen. It was her father, as a young man, on a digital milk carton. His name is Sixto Rodriguez, a musician that without knowing it, had being outselling, with only two records under his sleeve, mythical rock idols like Elvis in the far lands of South Africa. The Internet was nothing like today.
To answer accurately, she would have to explain how after being discovered, grandpa lost his job “two weeks before Christmas” -just as his song Cause says- and shortly after, he gave up publishing any more music. So when Eva found out about her dad’s unlikely fame, her burning spirit for adventure was of use. Not only did she convince her retired father to go to South Africa and play, Eva and her sisters also helped to set up all the sold-out dates that Rodriguez played in Cape Town in 1998.
Would she mention how there were urban myths of his grandfather’s suicidal death on stage after playing his saddest song? Regardless, and to make it powerful, Eva must have had to explain to her son that grandpa wasn’t always famous.
Back in Detroit, even before Eva arrived into his life as the first baby of three, Sixto Rodriguez, of Mexican parents and born in Detroit, was working as a general contractor. But after work, he used to sing his original songs about sex, drugs and politics at dingy bars during snowy Detroit nights. And then, those timeless songs somehow made it to South Africa. People say that it was thanks to bootlegs from Australian editions of Cold Fact.
It’s still a mystery how his records were sold in millions but he never saw a penny. One day in 1997, Eva discovered a Rodriguez fan-made forum in a web site intended to gather information about her father. She replied to a post: “Rodriguez is my father…”
Since that moment, Sixto Rodriguez not only has been playing around South Africa, but also Australia, Sweden and even in big festivals like Glastonbury and Coachella.
On February 24, 2013 at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California, it was Ben Affleck’s turn to present the nominees for Best Documentary Film. It was almost 43 years after his first record was released. On that same night, Rodriguez was coming back home from South Africa and was very tired.
Searching for Sugar Man, a documentary about Rodriguez and his amazing story, was a nominee along with 4 other films. Millions around the world were watching and listening to brief snippets of his songs. If he didn’t win, he already managed to reach a totally unexpected level of exposure for his message.
Eva’s life had changed again. After 20 years of service, she retired as Chief Warrant Officer three, and moved to South Africa where her son Ethan was born. Currently, she is writing a book about her life in the military and another one that tells the story of his mythical father.
The night of the Oscars, as Ben Affleck opened the envelope and announced that Searching for Sugar Man had won the Oscar for best documentary, Sixto was asleep. It had been a long time since he gave up publishing music in order to help his community and support his family. He even ran for city council to have his voice heard. It took a long time, but his duty now appeared to be complete.
They woke him up by calling him on a cell phone that for a long time he was reluctant to use. “I was asleep when it won, but my daughter Sandra called to tell me. I don’t have TV service anyway.”