The documentary, Searching For Sugar Man, is more than just a film; it’s a tale of redemption and resurrection; it’s a Chiron story, the phoenix rising, and the ultimate hero’s journey. Rodriguez was a twenty-eight year old singer-song writer in Detroit playing in a seedy nightclub called the Sewer. It was in the late 60’s and his Dylan-esque voice and haunting lyrics impressed local producers with ties to Motown. He got a record deal and in 1970 he recorded his first album, Cold Fact. It sold six copies. He should have been a star; he should have had his moment. Instead, his career was over. He returned to working at demolition and renovation and he continued for almost 30 years. The story might have ended there but it wasn’t the end; it was only the beginning.
One of those six copies found its way to South Africa. His lyrics, filled with references to sexual and social mores, political, racial, and economic inequities, resonated with the youth and his music became an anthem for anti-apartheid protests. He was bigger than Elvis, the Rolling Stones and The Beatles. But no one told Rodriguez. He never knew about his fame; he never received royalties. There was a rumor in South Africa that he had committed suicide. His music continued to spread; his legend grew but no one knew anything about him.
Two fans spent years trying to track him down; one was the owner of a record store in Capetown; the other a journalist. Finally, in 1998 they created a website; one of Rodriguez’s daughter’s saw it and contacted them. Rodriguez was still in Detroit, making ends meet doing manual labor. That year they brought him to South Africa and he played six sold-out concerts. He was 56 years old. He has since returned to South Africa three times and continues to tour. The documentary was made by Malik Bendjellou and released this past July. It has gotten great reviews; it is a beautiful film and deeply moving. As a result, Rodriguez’s music is finding a whole new audience. And now he receives royalties. Interestingly, the documentary came out 42 years after his first album; in a person’s life that is the peak of midlife, a time of enormous change. Events, too, have a chart and a life of their own.
What amazes me is this: First of all he comes across as a gentle soul who is extremely private and humble. No bitterness or regrets; no animosity towards the music business. He did back-breaking work and yet, his daughter says in the movie, he did it with great pride and dignity. You can’t linger too much on your decisions, so yes, I chose to face reality. I’m a family person, and you make your choices. he said in an interview.
The other thing is his journey; what a strange and extraordinary karma; it was as if he was deliberately kept out of the music business. So many music producers believed in him; he was talented, charismatic, and yet nothing happened; a dead end. Yet it was all happening, just on another level, on another continent. But even that was kept from him. Until a particular moment in time. Was his dream so big that he needed to grow into it; become the person who could embody it? Or perhaps he wasn’t meant to be another rock star; touring the world, living large. In many ways his essence, his goodness and humility was preserved, which makes this story even more powerful. And his success, now at 70 more meaningful. Even without the money there have been rewards just from the opportunity to do all this. I guess we all want to get there right away, but I believe it’s never too early, never too late.
See this movie; listen to his music. And remember: you are never too late; you are never too late; you are never too late!