I saw a movie that touched all of my emotions today. It was a documentary called Searching for Sugar Man and it won both a Special Jury Prize and an Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival this year. Deservedly so. I had never heard of Sixto Rodriguez. My guess you haven’t either. He was a singer who recorded two records in 1970-71, one called Cold Fact, the other Coming from Reality. His producer thought his lyrics were deep, and he was being compared to Bob Dylan. But being Mexican at a time when there were no Mexican singer-songwriters of note in the world of rock, or folk, or blues, he didn’t take off. His records bombed and Rodriguez disappeared. At least, so he and everyone in the States thought. But someone brought a copy of Cold Fact to South Africa when South Africa was under the harsh racism of apartheid. It was a brutal time there and somehow Rodriguez’s lyrics hit a chord among the liberal whites, who began bootlegging his album until a cult following became a national following. He became more popular than Elvis. He was revered. But no one told Sixto about it. He had no idea. Eventually, in the ‘90s, a music writer tried to find out what really happened to him. The legend had it that he had killed himself on stage. But that wasn’t what happened. Sixto Rodriguez was alive and living in Detroit. He worked in construction. He had daughters. He never sang or recorded songs. And then, out of the blue, he got a call from this South African writer and the next thing he knew he was being invited to come to South Africa to perform. So he went, with his guitar and some of his daughters. The press was there to greet him. His concerts were sold out, even though most who bought tickets didn’t really believe it was him. It’s a remarkable story of the human spirit, of a country that “discovered” him, and of a man who remained true to himself in spite of the instant fame. The man we see on screen is like a Buddha. He accepts the cheers and the applause, and then he returns to his downtrodden apartment where he lived for 40 years and looks out the dirty window at the street below. He walks the streets of the city he knows. He doesn’t let the fame in South Africa affect his life in Detroit. You watch this documentary and you can’t help but shed tears, both of joy and of sadness. I haven’t seen a better movie this year, or last. Check it out.
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