I’ve said it a million times “It’s all about the story”. If you don’t have a good story to tell – and tell it – you’ve got nothing.
Last night I watched the documentary “Searching for Sugar Man” and all I can say is WOW – it is probably the most incredible story I have ever heard in my life. It’s the kind of story that’s almost to good to be true and yet it is.
It’s a story about Sixto Rodriguez, a Detroit folksinger who in the early 1970’s recorded a couple of records that were brilliant and “well received” but – they didn’t sell. Rodriguez went on to live a simple life as a laborer, spending his time demolishing abandoned buildings in a city wracked by ruin and hard times. Little did he know that on the other side of the world, in South Africa, he was a legendary music icon and an inspiration for generations who grew up with Apartheid.
Back in the early ‘70’s, a young American woman went to South Africa to visit a friend and took with her one of Rodriguez’s records. At that time, in South Africa, you could be put in jail for just listening to records like Rodriguez’s. It was a heavily censored society and ripe for rebellion. He became a cult hero, bigger than Elvis. Rumors grew up around this legend where it was said he committed suicide in front of his audience, at the end of a concert. No one could find any information about him at all, because nothing had been written about him, unlike many of the popular rock musicians of his day.
Meanwhile, back in Detroit, Rodriguez had no idea his music had touched millions. It wasn’t until the 1990’s, that a few die-hard fans tracked him down using cryptic clues from his lyrics and the Internet. They finally found Rodriguez alive and well in the city of Detroit and brought him to South Africa. What transpired was a series of concerts to sold out stadiums for this folksinger who had lost sight of his musical dreams.
It’s one of the most powerful inspiring stories I have ever heard. Almost like parallel universes colliding to complete dreams across the divide. Of course it took another 10 years for a filmmaker to bring awareness of this story in this incredible film.
When I was at the Traverse City Film Festival, I saw and met Rodriguez at the opening night outdoor party. I couldn’t get into the screening because it was sold out and I had to wait until it was available on DVD. It was worth the wait and it’s a film that you shouldn’t miss.
If you want to know what Rodriguez is doing now – well you’ll have to watch the movie.
PS I just bought his CD that was released in ’71. You couldn’t find in America before this film was released. Like Orson Welles said “If you want a happy ending that it depends on where you stop the story”.