A Detroit Musician Brought Back To Life By Two Loving Fans
Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando
It's safe to say that movies showcasing the talent that the city of Detroit has to offer are few and far between. It's a city I'm associated with as a result of my Michigan location and is often the butt of every joke. Every now and then, however, Detroit is recognized as a place where many true originals came from, a point exemplified in the terrific documentary, Searching For Sugar Man.
A Detroit musician named Sixto Rodriguez recorded two albums (Cold Fact in 1970 and Coming From Reality in 1971) that did absolutely no business in the U.S. His voice was reminiscent of Bob Dylan, his music had a very Led Zeppelin feel to it, and his lyrics were truly original. What's astounding is that while these albums failed here, Rodriguez was more famous than Elvis in South Africa due his anti-establishment lyrics during the Apartheid - and he never knew about it.
After the failure of his two albums in the U.S., no one knew what became of him, which eventually resulted in two of his biggest fans from Cape Town, Stephen Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom, trying to find out the rest of Rodriguez's story. Searching For Sugar Man unfolds almost like a detective story, drawing you in with every new detail as the film progresses, and is absolutely brilliant as a result. The efforts of these two men, combined with other music journalists and old record producers, is truly fascinating to watch; a lesson in the merits of great research combined with outstanding storytelling technique.
This documentary, like Rodriguez himself, is a hidden gem among the many great films 2012 has offered so far. It's an amazing look inside the world of the 1970's music industry, as we see the producers who championed Rodriguez as an original artist, and some who didn't really care what became of him because of the popularity of other bands at that time. It is also a commentary about the realities of living in Detroit by showing the detail of urban decay throughout areas of the city and, in particular, the stories family members tell about Rodriguez's life in Motown.
More than anything this is a documentary about hope, redemption and rebirth as it pertains to one man's omission from music history and the recognition he eventually received as the result of two fans who were inspired by the lyrics he wrote. At the time, Rodriguez was a symbol of hope for the African nation divided by prejudice and censorship. Rodriguez himself was cast aside for similar reasons in a way, somehow viewed as less than other talents of the time, even though, as you'll no doubt learn seeing this film, he's more original than all of them.
Rodriguez's story is very much the story of Detroit itself. A city forgotten and looked down upon by others, yet capable of producing original talent. I'm glad Rodriguez finally got the fame he always deserved but never expected, nor wanted. One day, Detroit may be as lucky as Rodriguez.