Wild Young Minds: Searching for Sugar Man

Friday, December 13, 2013

Searching for Sugar Man

Met a false friend
On a lonely, dusty road
Lost my heart
When I found it
It had turned to dead, black coal''
Tom Waits once said he liked 'beautiful melodies telling him terrible things'. It would've been a perfect description of the songs sang by Sixto Rodriguez, wouldn't it be that he was lost for several decades. Lost in what way, you might think. Well, people actually thought that the American folk musician Sixto Rodriguez was dead, and even died on stage. A pretty striking death, you might think again. Yes, something that would definitely be all over the news in sensation-loving America. Anyway, no proof was given for his death and that's why two of his South-African fans went looking for him.

This quest led to a documentary, which was released at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and was called 'Searching for Sugar Man'. Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul followed the two fans' search, which came to a quite surprising end. It turned out Rodriguez was still alive and totally unaware of his fame in South-Africa. He had some success in his own country America in the seventies. He released two little-sold albums back then and did some tours in Australia. As his career didn't come off the ground, he decided to stay in Detroit, where he came from, to work in demolition. He lived a very poor life and never knew of his position in South-Africa.

Cause in South-Africa, he was extremely famous. His albums were sold like warm sandwiches (a Dutch expression I like to repeat in English) and he was compared to legendary artists as Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens. And indeed, his lyrics instantly reminded me of Dylan's. His music as well, of course, typically folk and also a bit politically and socially engaged. But his lyrics are a-ma-zing, they's almost poetry and they're so utterly dark yet not in a depressing way, since there's still a lovely melody on the background. Anyways, as I said, it turned out Rodriguez was very big in South-Africa. Even Steve Biko was fan and his songs were used as anti-Apartheid songs.

The title track of his album, which was released again after the documentary, is about Rodriguez' drugs dealer, who had the nickname 'Sugar Man' (might have found the link yourself here). The entire song is about his desire for a fix and the music on the background is quite mystical as well, it perfectly fits the atmosphere. Despite his lack of fame in America, this song was covered a few times and was also featured in the film 'Candy' with Heath Ledger.

After the documentary, Rodriguez' star rose again, he became wildly famous and now gives concerts all over the world. In the documentary, the issue of his money is also covered. He might have been cheated out of royalties by his former agency. The matter is still being investigated, yet Rodriguez claims he's doesn't care that much. It's not money, what it's about. A fine thought. And nowadays, he's probably making lots and lots of money anyway, cause his 'Searching for Sugar Man' record sells extremely good and he gives concerts everywhere. The 71-year old man presumably doesn't sound the way he once sounded and definitely doesn't look that way. His skin is completely ruined after all the drugs and 'sugar' he has used in his life.

'Searching for Sugar Man' is a marvelous documentary, one of the best I've seen this year. The leading role is for Rodriguez' music of course, which is played throughout the documentary. As I already said, his lyrics are amazing and his melodies are very good as well, so I have become quite addicted to listening to his songs.
But the documentary itself is of high quality as well. It doesn't become boring, not for a single moment and the shots are outstandingly beautiful. We get to see Michigan, we get to see New York, South Africa, that is, all the important places in the life of Rodriguez. Every time I saw another place, and listened to his folk music at the same time, God, every one of those times I wished I was there. Or in a train, on the road, anywhere from home, and that's one of the best achievements for an artist: bringing me wherever I want to be most ;) And the documentary played a great part in this, so my compliments for that.

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