Brian Wilson with special guest Rodriguez
Nikon at Jones Beach Theater
June 30, 2015
Brian Wilson and Rodriguez are both survivors. Wilson's story is well-known by almost everyone. Rodriguez' story is slightly more murky.
Tortured genius, the primary architect of the California sound and the creative force behind the Beach Boys, Wilson is widely considered to be one of the moist influential songwriters of this or any era. Wilson is the visionary behind The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds
album (Capitol Records, 1966), an album that many believe is the greatest album of all time. Pet Sounds'
was cancelled and didn't see an official release until 2004 when Wilson released it as a solo CD on Nonesuch Records. Following the cancellation of the original Smile
project, Wilson's mental health deteriorated. He eventually recuperated and began recording and performing as a solo artist. He also occasionally returned to perform and record with the Beach Boys (most notably for the group's 50th anniversary celebration and the That's Why God Made the Radio
CD released on Capitol Records in 2012).
Over the course of his legendary career, Wilson has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (in 1988) and has won numerous Grammy Awards. Earlier in 2015, a biopic of his life (in which he was portrayed by both Paul Dano and John Cusack), Love & Mercy
, was released. The film, directed by Bill Pohlad, received critical acclaim, and as of this writing is still playing in theaters. Wilson, himself, has stated that the film is a factual representation of his life.
Rodriguez, was born Sixto Diaz Rodriguez in Detroit, MI on July 10, 1942. He is also known as Jesus Rodriguez. After recording two critically acclaimed, but generally publicly ignored albums in the early 1970s under the name Rodriguez, he faded from view. Though he had a loyal following in Australia, Rodriguez quit his music career and lived in Detroit while working in demolition and on production lines.
For years, Rodriguez was a relatively unknown in the U.S., yet he managed to gain significant airplay in Australia, Botswana, New Zealand, South Africa and Zimbabwe. He became a very influential and beloved artist in those countries. Rodriguez was so successful in Australia that he was brought there twice (in 1979 and in 1981) to perform sold-out concert tours across the country. Though he had performed in Australia, and wasn't a mystery on that continent, South Africa was a different story. In South Africa, the details of his life were unknown. Many fans believed that that he had killed himself on stage in the 1970s. Rodriguez was unaware of his fame outside of Australia until 1997. It wasn't until his daughter came across a South Africa-based website dedicated to him, that the singer learned of his popularity. Eventually his South African fans found and contacted Rodriguez. His career was revived. The story of his rediscovery and rescue from obscurity was told in the documentary Searching for Sugar Man
which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 85th Academy Awards in February 2013.
The last day of June 2015 was a muggy Tuesday. On this night at the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater Rodriguez manned the opening slot. He was escorted onto the stage by his daughters and got right down to it. Though he appeared to be in somewhat frail health, he was in fantastic voice. Dressed in dark clothes, sunglasses and a white fedora that sported a black ribbon, the almost 73-year-old singer ran through a robust politically-charged set accompanied by only his 6-string guitar. The set included: "Inner City Blues," "Crucify Your Mind," the Nina Simone Cover "Love Me or Leave Me," "This Is Not a Song, It's An Outburst Or The Establishment Blues," "I Wonder," "You'd Like To Admit It," "Sugar Man," a stunning version of the Jefferson Airplane classic "Somebody to Love," Vic Damone's "On The Street Where You Live" and the Little Willie John tune "Fever."
The strong performance was punctuated with pearls of wisdom. His feelings regarding those who hate was Zen-like ("Hate is too heavy an emotion to waste on someone you don't like. Many of us come in to this life with a clenched fist, but we all leave with an open hand."). He explained that, "If women entered politics, they'd fix it." He also explained the mystery of life ("The secret to life is to keep breathing in and out. The mystery of life is you never know when it's gonna end."). He was also self-deprecating in his humility. When audience members called out their love, Rodriguez responded almost immediately with a humble, "I know it's the drinks, but I love you too." When his set concluded, the crowd rose to its feet and gave the formerly forgotten folk singer a well-deserved standing ovation.