Oscar Pistorius and Rodriguez: A Tale of Two Heroes

2013-02-21 07:14

I sit waiting for the Big Concert to start, listening to recordings of The Doors, Leonard Cohen, Cat Stevens singing you’re still young, that’s your fault, there’s so much you have to go through, find a girl, settle down, if you want you can marry her.... 

As Oscar sobs for what he has done and for the life he has taken, and as Reeva Steenkamp’s family mourn her death, amidst the grief, amidst the disbelief of a Nation, life goes on.

Sitting in the Grand West auditorium, waiting for Rodriguez to come on stage, I’m aware of how unpredictable life is. Indeed, as a Chinese saying goes, ‘the morning knows not what the afternoon will bring’.

If a fortune-teller had looked into her crystal ball and forecast that Oscar Pistorius - Olympic star, role model, marketers’ dream, the poster boy for Inspiration - would be in police custody at the age of twenty-six after shooting his girlfriend dead, the fortune-teller would have been branded a quack. Not our iconic Oscar, our blade-runner, no one would have believed such a fall from grace possible. Oscar reduced in one fell swoop to perceived miscreant with contracts lost, his image stripped from billboards.

And if the fortune-teller had forecast that Sixto Rodriguez would perform on a Cape Town stage, soaking up applause and adulation after some thirty years out of the music game, no one would have believed it either. The standing ovation happens even before the music begins.

I still remember asking my father to bring me a Rodriguez album from the USA. I wrote down the name on a slip of paper, in CAPS, RODRIGUEZ, so he wouldn’t get it wrong. The album he brought home was certainly a Rodriguez album, one of many to choose from my father shrugged, but it wasn’t the Rodriguez album. It was some Mexican guitarist doing folk songs. I had no clue that Americans didn’t know who Rodriguez was. I just shrugged it off as my fuddy-daddy Pa being out of the loop when it came to great music.

How bizarre to think that Rodriguez worked as a labourer for those thirty years after he was dropped by his record label, only to be resurrected after Searching for Sugarman. At Grand West, this might be the most animated I’ve seen a Cape Town crowd, arms swaying, people hug each other, calls of ‘I love you, Rodriguez!’ ring out between songs. ‘I want to marry you! I wanna have your babies!’

Having just about done ten packed-out concerts in Joburg and Cape Town, I can see he’s taking the strain. Hot under the lights, he sips water between songs, strips down to a black vest, gathers his energy to go on. Rodriguez says, ‘I’m a solid seventy, you know...’

‘Yeah, but you’re a hot seventy,’ calls a star-struck fan.

He has a labourer's arms, I’m thinking as I stare at the giant screen, muscular, tanned, I stare at guitarist’s fingers, he strokes Sugarman and the crowd goes bedonnered.

After the applause dies down he says, ‘It’s a descriptive song, not a prescriptive song. Stay smart, don’t start. The secret to life, keep breathing, in and out. The mystery of life, you don’t know when you’ll die. About love, don’t be a silent partner. And be gentle with your anger,’ he says.

‘Rodriguez for President!’

‘I love yooooo Rodriguez!’

Rodriguez calls back, ‘It’s the drink talking! But I love you back!’

He’s a philosopher and a poet, his demeanour is gentle. He struggles a little, being on stage, facing his audience. He thanks us for our patience. He has learned hard lessons in life, one would imagine. Perhaps he has learned to take thing as they come.

When it comes to Oscar, everyone is guessing what could have gone wrong, and how. Speculation is rife. Will it be shown in court that he wasn’t ready to take on the responsibility that comes with being elevated like the Gods to Mount Olympus? Like Hansie Cronjé, will he prove to be a hero who couldn’t handle the pressures that comes with too much fame and fortune too soon? His intent when he fired his gun will be argued and decided in court.

At one point Rodriguez comments on violence to women. He says the sentences should be the stiffest for violence against women. I sense a fleeting melancholy in the audience, a sudden undertow as a reminder that as we celebrate this honorary South African and hero, another is in prison for shooting dead his lover. For shooting dead a sister, a daughter, and for ripping a hole in the fabric of family, community, and society.

Rodriguez sings Mama Papa, stop, treasure what you’ve got ‘cos soon you may be caught without it... 

If the fortune-teller had forecast that lovely Reeva would be shot by an idolised and iconic  gold-medallist the week before her very TV debut, no one would have believed it. Though truth is stranger than fiction, the mere idea would have seemed absurd.

It’s my favourite stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, who says nothing should surprise us. Human beings are capable of anything, anything is possible. ‘The art of living,’ he writes, ‘is more like wrestling than dancing.’

It is our expectation of a smooth ride, an easy and eventful life that we should reassess. To believe that any of us will live out our three-score and ten without deviation from an expected path, without surprise, without drama and trauma, is self-delusional. To believe that heroes don’t suffer the same foibles as the rest of us, to believe that they aren’t as flawed and ultimately ordinary as the rest of us, is delusional. To elevate anyone to status of hero, or star, is also to lose sight of their humanity, their vulnerability. We take it hard when the Gods let us down.

Perhaps Cape Town was a little too demanding on the night of 20 Feb, insisting on an encore, stomping and whooping and raising the roof to bring Rodriguez back on stage. This is what being a star is all about. There are demands.

Sometimes it all backfires.

I wonder how many dreams have gone bad, goes Rodriguez, I wonder... wonder I do. 

Reeva is gone. Oscar is in a holding cell.  Rodriguez leaves the stage. The dream is done. I wonder anew, as I set sail in teardrop,  how crazy unpredictable life is.

I'm on twitter @JoanneHichens

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