Have you ever felt lonely?
Like you "paid your dues" but you felt like you "overpaid them"?
What if there was a distant country where you were admired, even revered, for your creativity, your inspiration, your essence, your Soul?
A land far away, where, unbeknownst to you, your music touched a generation and your words sparked a revolution?
What would you call such a place?
"Searching For Sugar Man" is an amazing new documentary that explores these and other deep mysteries of life in telling the story of Sixto Rodriguez, a singer/songwriter from Detroit, whose two albums of original songs from the innermost city of the Motor City in the early '70's came and went without a trace in America, but found fertile ground and ears half-a-world away during the darkest days of apartheid-era South Africa.
Describing any more of the astonishing story "Sugar Man" has to tell is too fraught with spoilers, but sharing a bit of Sixto's verse from my favorite song "Cause" from his second album "Coming To Reality" is my pleasure.
Cause my heart's become a crooked hotel
full of rumors
but it is I who pays the rent
for these finger-faced out-of-tuners
And I make sixteen solid half-hour friendships
Cause your Queen of Hearts whose half a stone and likes to laugh alone
is alway threatening you with leaving
--- "Cause" by Sixto Rodriguez
The mean streets of Detroit hold a lot of childhood memories for me. My mother's family is from there, and growing up we drove the 1-94 from Chicago most years to have Thanksgiving at my Grandmother's house. After the riots of 1968 she moved out in the white flight that contributed to the death spiral of that once mighty city. I was too young to have visited The Sewer, the waterfront bar where Rodriguez was discovered and signed up to record his first album "Cold Fact". And as a jazz fan, the only Sugar Man I knew back then was Stanley Turrentine!
But there was a deja vu quality to watching this film for me, just as there is a deja vu theme running through Rodriguez's entire life story. In his words and deeds and dignity he is one of the more inspiring characters I've come across (again) in some time.
Run don't walk to see "Sugar Man" when it opens at a theatre near you. Then come home and listen to these two hypnotic, addictive albums of working man's music, so mysterious yet so familiar.