Thursday, 8 November 2012

Searching for Sugar Man: a Musicologist Detective Story ...


I came across this ‘story’ in July as a recommended film to see – which bewitched me ... and I had to make sure I saw it before they took it off the big screen ... I’d asked our film society if the cinema would be showing it down here – I was admonished ... it’s not our sort of thing – yet now three months on, I wonder if they will change their minds ...


IMDb Film Poster
Here’s another way of telling a story – apparently a non-existent story at that – a story across continents, with a tie in to London, across four decades ... superlative comparisons to Dylan and those of his ilk ... what went wrong ...


(You could click this link and listen to some of his words and music as you read this - repeated at end of post)


Searching for Sugar Man – is really an unbelievable story – I eventually got to see the film and if it had been on again at the next showing I’d have stayed in my seat .... I have never in my life been completely mesmerised ... so I went back to London to see it once again: same reaction – mesmerised, still am!


Chapman's Peak Drive on a clear day!
I have to tell you about it – you’ve gathered that haven’t you!


Someone who is described as a better musician and lyricist than Dylan ... a man who is also described as one of the best in their stable ... others include Marvin Gaye, Woody Guthrie, but where is he, who is he ...


The story starts with a fuzzy implied 1970s film sequence of a trip along Chapman’s Peak Drive in an open top car pondering who is Rodriguez ...  where is he ...


Back in the early 70s an American girl visited South Africa bringing with her a copy of an album titled ‘Cold Facts’ ... it became the rage and everyone wanted a copy – Rodriguez became a cult singer selling masses of his two albums (‘Coming from Reality’ being the other one) – hundreds of thousands – but no-one knew anything about him.
Montage of Cape Town


South Africa was a closed society in the 1970s ... the rest of the world might have been pillorying the South African (apartheid) government ... the white liberal South Africans had no idea – all media was shut out, everything was censored.


Yet Sixto Rodgriguez’s lyrics had an immense impact in South Africa ... his eloquent attacks on prejudice, injustice and suppression appealed to young white liberals who saw themes inspired by the troubles of traumas of the American 1960s that were applicable to their own defiance of apartheid.


So Rodriguez was selling lots of copies – he was bigger than the Stones or Elvis, his records outsold Abbey Road - but there was no information – zilch!  Once apartheid had been broken (1992)... the search was on.  But where to start?  Authors of detective stories ... where to start?!


What evidence was around to look at ... the back of the 1970s albums where the lyrics appeared mentioned various cities and towns (Detroit, London, New York, Amsterdam) – all drew blanks: there just wasn’t any information ...

Stephen 'Sugar' Segerman: Cape Town record shop
Two South Africans an ex jeweller, now record shop manager Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman and the music journalist Craig Bartholomew -Strydom had been fascinated by this Detroit-based-folk rock singer ... who’d disappeared.


We are taken back 40 years ... this time to the rust belt of Detroit ... where through interviews with music colleagues from those early days, (including their acknowledgement that he was on their list as one of the top five artists), Dearborn run-down waterside bar tenders, co-labourers working on building sites ...


Cover of Cold Fact album
... then the very early internet opened up the world ... another look at the album – the name of ‘Dearborn’ suddenly stood out – via an early forum one of Rogriguez’s daughters replied ... saying he’s my Dad!


We learn that he’s alive ... and has spent his time singing in bars, but ensuring his daughters’ education by working as a manual labourer ... we are given some more background (he has a philosophy degree) and present history ...


The two South African “investigators” are eventually rewarded ... now we fast forward a little to 1998 ... Rodriguez is persuaded to go to South Africa, where he’s a hero, and play to enormous adoring crowds.


Malik Bendjelloul, a documentarist making films on rock musicians for Swedish television met the South African questors in Cape Town and was determined to make a film of their obsessive pursuit.


Bendjelloul considered it offered unique insights into the history of popular music, the vagaries of the rock scene and the nature of celebrity in our time.


What makes the story particularly intriguing is that the end is happy without being truimphalist ... this modest, very talented man didn’t become a star and, despite the recent developments, shuns the trappings of luxury that come with being a rock star.


Rodriguez in Detroit Institute of Art
Here lies a rousing documentary turned into a detective story ... which is painstakingly created adding layer upon layer of intrigue ... pulling all the pieces together – accompanied by this wonderful music ... until his return in 1998 to South Africa – where the awestruck South Africans welcome Rodriguez back ...


There are more twists and turns to the movie and subsequent developments ... but if you’d like to glance briefly at the social history of apartheid South Africa, see run down Detroit as it was, hear about rock history shenanigans ...


... this makes a wonderful feel-good film ... with a cast including Rodriguez, Segerman, Bartholomew-Strydom, Dennis Coffey (guitarist from Detroit, publishing under the Motown, Sussex and Westbound labels), Mike Theodore (producer engineer working with Coffey) et al ....


The Roundhouse Venue - an old engine house
... the AllinLondon website has this synopsis:  “Searching for Sugar Man tells the true story of the greatest 70s US rock icon who never was, how he was rediscovered in a far off land and finally became the legend he always deserved to be.  It is a story of hope, inspiration and the power of music” ...


... The Guardian states that ‘Not all whites were philistine racists: many were trapped by history and fate and the apartheid laws they detested.  Rodridguez’s music gave them a voice – and indirectly helped to change things.  This movie might itself make a modest contribution to rewriting the history of white South Africa.”


It was the opening film at the Sundance Film Festival this year (winning the Special Jury Prize and the audience Award for best international documentary) ... it holds a 96% “Certified Fresh” rating on the review aggregator of Rotten Tomatoes ...


... while Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a glowing four-star review, writing “I hope you’re able to see this film ... and yes, it exists because we need it to .... “


Join me in discovering some rock history – relax and watch a story unfold, while listening to some amazing music, with enlightening lyrics ... still appropriate for today ...


Here are some links:

The Guardian - Searching for Sugar Man: the world exclusive trailer .. I love this intro (2.27)

You Tube: Must have album(s) Rodriguez - Cold Fact   (12.37 - but you'll be hooked right from the start!!)
... track 3: Crucify Your Mind
... track 4: This is Not a Song, It’s an Outburst: Or, The Establishment Blues
... track 8: I wonder

“Sugar Man” track 1 – can be found here  (3.48)


Rodriguez has finally been recognised in the States – he’s been interviewed, done some shows, and next week is here in the UK at The Roundhouse, London; Royal Festival Hall London; Liverpool; Gateshead; Edinburgh; Belfast; Brighton; Bristol and Manchester ...


Searching for Sugar Man takes me along my journey of life ... a social history of life in South Africa in the 70s ... a growing understanding of the genres of music (rock, folk, soul, funk etc) ... some highlights of the Detroit music industry ... a relook at the world as it is now – correlations are to be found to this day ...


Some quotes:

·        Bob Dylan ... was mild compared to this guy ...
·        .. a wandering spirit around the city ...
·        Every revolution needs an anthem ... soundtrack to our lives ...
·        Like a wise man, a prophet – way beyond his musical qualities ..
·        Representative of the human spirit .. of what is possible ..
·        Powerful, uplifting and unforgettable ... 


Enjoy!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories



57 comments:

Old Kitty said...

I read a feature in the Guardian a few months back about this film and Rodriguez! Sounds utterly amazing and almost unbelievable! LOL!!

Thanks for the review - will look out for it on dvd!

Take care
x

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Old Kitty - great that you read the Guardian review .. it is amazing ..

.. and I'd forgot to mention the DVD, CD etc are available on Amazon ..

You too - take care .. cheers Hilary

Sherry Ellis said...

I read about Sugar Man somewhere else. What a great story! It's definitely a film I'd like to see!

Heather Murphy said...

I've never heard of this before but it sounds right up my alley! Thanks for posting. I will have to check out the links

Elise Fallson said...

What a fantastic story Hilary! I have to share your post with a few friends of mine that would love this. Certainly a movie I wouldn't mind checking out. (:

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Sherry - it is a fabulous film - I'm sure you'll love it ...

@ Heather - I'm sure the links will entice you to see the film - it's fascinating ..

@ Elise - please do .. the more the merrier who are able to see this story - I know I'll be telling lots of people about it .. especially with my SA connections ..

It's so wonderful to come on to a long post and find early commenters are enthusiastic .. makes me so happy!!

Cheers - I'm away for 24 hours .. seeing some friends who live half time in SA and half time here .. see you tomorrow - Hilary

Tina said...

Great story! I'm going to watch for this movie! Thanks for sharing all about it. The music must be amazing as I love that era of rock-n-roll!
Tina @ Life is Good
http://kmdlifeisgood.blogspot.com/

Susan Roebuck said...

I doubt it'll ever come to Portugal, but "Bob Dylan was mild compared to this guy", Wow! I'll check on Amazon to see if I can get it on DVD. It looks fabulous, thank you.

~Sia McKye~ said...

I have heard about it but not quite as in depth as you mention here. There are people impelled to tell a story or share their thoughts through words or music. Not for the glory but because those words and thoughts just have to be let loose. Rodriguez sounds like one of those people.

I'll be looking for it. :-)

prufrocksdilemma said...

Thanks for noting this, Hilary. I've saved it to my Netflix queue. Reminds me of a documentary I saw not long ago, Bill Cunningham New York. He was, of all things, a fashion photographer--actually still is (he's 80+ years old now). Now fashion photography is hardly anything that interests me, but this was fascinating. He rides his bicycle around New York City, among other things, in unfashionable clothes, and gets these incredible "on the street" shots. Anyway, in thanks for your movie-recommendation gift, here's one back!

Suze said...

Hil, I like the phrase 'the rust belt of Detroit' and had never heard it before. Is it original with you?

I have had two people whose minds I greatly respect recommend this film -- now, I have three.

Thanks for this.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

The title is a real eye-catcher. I'd check it out on that alone. His story sounds fascinating. His voice is wonderful. I remember his songs. Wow, that was a long long time ago, a lifetime ago. Thanks so much, Hilary, for reminding me of a part of my youth I'd forgotten. We used to sing along to his songs.

Patsy said...

I've not seen this film - you've made me want to.

rosaria williams said...

Sixty Minutes did a story on him a few months ago. I shall look for the film, Hilary, and thank you so much for this write-up.

nutschell said...

wow, never heard of this story, but I'm completely intrigued now! would have to get a hold of a movie copy.
Nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

MorningAJ said...

Fascinating stuff. I'm not sure I'd have the determination to search out the film the way you did!

Karen Lange said...

Wow, I did not know any of this. Thanks for sharing the story. Once again, you've educated me. What would we do without you? :)

Hope you have a wonderful weekend,
Karen

klahanie said...

Hi Hilary,

You have certainly enlightened me with this posting, Hilary. To think I had never even heard of Sixto Rodgriguez. Yet, with the links and such info, I'm completely fascinated. With the recognition, I would hope his British tour is a resounding and provocative success.

Thank you, Hilary.

Gary

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Hilary
This is so moving. As a writer I can feel what Rodriguez must have felt at finally being discovered. Great post.

Tomorrow, approximately five hours from this comment time I am giving you a couple blog awards because I really appreciate your faithfulness this last year.
Nancy

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I've never heard of him either. Imagine what other talent we could find with some detective work.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Tina - you'll definitely enjoy it then - it's on DVD and well worth getting ..

@ Susan - it's on DVD and I see you're checking - that's great .. you'll love it!

@ Sia - it's difficult to ascertain whether it's like you suggest, or the Detroit rock industry and he just didn't get on, or he just was very serious and concerned about educating his daughters and doing his thing ...

Great that you'll be looking out for it ..

@ Susan - excellent news - I must get myself organised somewhat - so the movies are lined up to watch.

Bill Cunningham New York - sounds fascinating and one I'll add to my list ... sleeping on his filing cabinet of negatives - a passionate man ...

Thanks - added to my movie list ... and it's good to reference it here ..

@ Suze - no it's not original .. but it's a phrase I'm aware of - I think they mention it in the film too ...

Excellent to hear others have recommended "Searching for Sugarman" - and thanks so much for that inclusion. Enjoy it when you get to watch it ...!!

@ Joylene - I'm sure there'll be a book out now ... because it's a fantastic story - I just love how it unfolds in the film.

Do you remember his songs - amazing .. so he wasn't quite so unknown in North America ... I'd happily have his albums on all the time - in fact I will be having them on, when I get to put the order in!!

@ Patsy - great ... the two of you will enjoy the movie ..

@ Rosaria - yes, I'd read he'd be interviewed quite a lot after the film came out .. so great you recognised him here - and delighted you'll be getting the film to watch.

@ Nutschell - one I'm sure you and your friends will enjoy ..

@ Anne - it was the SA connection and the article in the Independent and the rock music - I just thought I want to see that! So I did!! It's wonderful ... so uplifting.

@ Karen - really appreciate the thought .. I hope you get to watch the film .. it's fun.

@ Gary - it'd be great for you right now - you could lose yourself for a while ... I did think about you when I was writing this up - it has other connotations too ...

I'm sure his tour will be successful - he's not too well .. but is obviously keen to get his words out while he can ...

@ Nancy - many thanks .. he keeps his thoughts and feelings to himself ..

They seem so down to earth as a family - Sixto obviously gave his daughters much care and love endowing them with an excellent attitude and outlook at life ..

Thanks for the two awards ..well you were going through a tough time - I'm just glad I could help ..

@ Diane - first we need to know who is lost .. but you're right - thankfully all the hoops fell into place so his story could be told in film ...

Lovely to see you all - and it's wonderful to read many of you will watching the film sometime .. enjoy .. cheers Hilary

Munir said...

This is touching. I will see if it is available in the red box. I have stopped buying DVDs. I want to have as little clutter as possible.
How are you doing? Please take care of yourself.Cheers!

juliet said...

Coincidentally, I've just had this movie recommended to me by 2 people - and now here is your post, which I've read while listening to this fabulous music. I will definitely go and see this movie. Thanks Hilary.
(PS no longer receiving notifications of your posts, but I'm clicking on your comments and going to find out for myself - glad I did!)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Munir - thanks for coming by and commenting .. enjoy the film when you get to watch it .. I can understand the clutter aspect!

@ Juliet - someone else said that too - so like me your friends were mesmerised too .. it's a great story - it's on DVD ... I suppose it might be showing in Auckland ..

Sorry about the Reader, Blogger dashboard .. connection problems .. no idea why. Always good to see you ..

Cheers to you both - have good weekends .. Hilary

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Hilary, it was a wonderful post. It is a moving story. You did a great job of retelling it. I shouted out this post on my blog. May it bring you many new visitors!

D.G. Hudson said...

I'm just an ongoing visitor, Hilary. Thoroughly enjoyed this story. The man who says his piece, then disappears, not looking for the riches. Love people like this.

I saw the link on Roland's blog, it's too good a story to miss.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Roland - that so kind of you .. I'll be over to look - and I do get new visitors somewhere somehow! - love them ..

Cheers - it's so thoughtful of you .. Hilary

juliet said...

Hilary, it's on in Auckland right now and I tried to go today, but the cinema was booked out! My appetite is well and truly whetted.

Talli Roland said...

I remember reading the Guardian article way back when, and being amazed! Can't wait to go see it.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

How is it even possible that I never heard of Rodriguez before??? I mean, I loved all the other musicians you mentioned, and I was a folk-singing guitar-picker in those days. Amazing story. Thanks so much for telling us about it. Oh, and I listened to his music... terrific!

Paula R C Readman said...

What amazing story, Hilary. I hope they show the film on the TV or even loaclly I shall keep my eye open for it.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Juliet - that's great .. I hope you'll be able to get in soon - my London one was practically empty ... but perhaps now his tour is on - it'll take off again.

@ Talli - that's great .. it'll be a great video to watch with Master TR! soothing ..

@ Susan - I've no idea .. that's what so amazing about the story - and we'd never have known if these two South Africans and the internet hadn't come to the rescue ..

It's brilliant music isn't it .. delighted you enjoyed the listen ..

@ Paula - it's on the net and on DVD .. I'm sure in due time it'll come to the tv ..

It's such fun to see you all react so positively to the story and the music .. fantastic - enjoy it ..

Cheers Hilary

Jo said...

A great story. Amazing that he outsold so many well known artists.

Not really my kind of music, but the story is fascinating.

Theresa Milstein said...

I didn't know about any of this. Thanks for enlightening me!

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

I never heard of this singer or the movie. Your glowing review has piqued my curiosity.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Jo .. yes not everyone's appeal - but the story is good.

@ Theresa - it's a fun film .. the detail about South Africa is interesting to see ..

@ Susan - if you enjoy that sort of music .. you'll enjoy it and the storytelling

Cheers Hilary

Empty Nest Insider said...

This was wonderful to read Hilary! I have a dear friend from South Africa who grew up listening to Rodriguez, and the movie brought back so many happy childhood memories for her and her sisters. Shortly after, I saw him being interviewed on 60 Minutes, and he really does seem like such a good person. Glad you enjoyed the movie, and thanks for such a fabulous review! Julie

Lynn said...

You take us on the most wonderful journeys. I'm putting that film in my Netflix queue.

Amy L. Sonnichsen said...

What a fascinating story! I'm listening to the Youtube track right now! :)

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

What an interesting post. All those years I lived in S.A and I have never heard of him!! Thanks for all this info. Take care and have a good week Diane

Tara Tyler said...

wow! that is such an impressive story! thanks for taking the time to talk about it!

Friko said...

You’ve done some serious homework here. An excellent introduction to this artist, of whom I had not heard.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Julie - so pleased your great friend knows about Rodriguez .. isn't that wonderful. I'd have loved to see the 60 minute interview .. but I did love the film - hope you get to see it ..

@ Lynn - excellent .. I know you'll enjoy it ..

@ Amy - it is a great story and that soundtrack is just brilliant isn't it ..

@ Diane - exactly like me .. I'd never heard of him - hope sometime you'll get a chance to watch it ..

@ Tara - it is fun isn't it ..

@ Friko - thanks so much .. compared to the one Roland wrote - this one is wordy!! But still I had fun .. and so love the film ..

Cheers to you all - Hilary

Julie said...

Wow, I can't think of a better endorsement than saying you would have stayed in your seat and watched the film again if possible. Must be a wonderful movie, thanks for sharing, Hilary!

walk2write said...

I had never heard of him before. It's amazing that he remained secluded for so long. The really great ones are great for a reason: talent woven with humility and strength of character. The movie sounds like one I'd like to see. Thanks, Ms. Hilary, for giving us a heads-up.

Clarissa Draper said...

What an amazing story! I will be searching out this movie.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Julie - it is just an amazing story and film .. and really I'd have stayed in my seat the 2nd time I'd seen it .. if I could!

@ Walk2Write - the way the film has been constructed is as you describe - giving Rodriguez a chance to show that talent woven with humility and strength of character ..

@ Clarissa - that's great .. it's so brilliant ...


This is what Juliet says ... having seen the film in Auckland, New Zealand:

I've just got to Searching for Sugarman and was very moved by it. I can understand your special interest, given how well loved he was in South Africa. I felt my heart would burst when I saw the clips of him performing there.

It's a fantastic story and your blog was the tipping point that got me there. Thank you again!


That was from Juliet .. so it looks many of you will enjoy the film ..

Cheers for now - Hilary

Deniz Bevan said...

Wow, Hilary, I had no idea! Amazing how many people/stories/songs there are in the world.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Deniz .. hope you can get to see the film at some stage .. well worth it. Thanks for commenting - Hilary

Davina said...

Hi Hilary.

Thank you for sharing this. I watched the movie preview and it looks great. I like the mystery and intrigue surrounding this story.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Davina .. it's such fun .. enjoy it when you get to see it .. cheers Hilary

sue said...

Sounds great Hilary, I'll write the title on a sticky note and put it on the frig so I don't forget ;-)
cheers
Sue

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue .. it's such a wonderful film .. I loved it - cheers Hilary

Coral Wild said...

I got to see the movie, at long last, last Friday. What a wonderful and inspiring story, and told so well in the film itself.
Having been raised in Southern Africa the name "Rodriguez" was always vaguely familiar, and once I heard some of the tracks on the film I recognized them straight away from my early teen years....
Rodriguez is playing 2 concerts again here in South Africa early 2013 and the tickets sold out in less than 24 hrs.
I'm going to have to settle to buying the CD's sadly and hope to hear him live next time he comes out......
Thanks for your posting, you certainly added a lot of impetus to me getting to see the film....

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

H Coral - I'm so pleased you got to see the film and 'Rodriguez' had rung a bell for you ... so interesting to know you recognised his songs.

Glad you like the story telling in the film ... I so enjoyed it - and wished I could see him here - but Brighton is sold out too ..

I'll be getting the CDs or downloading them ... but just love his music and the film - such a wonderful way to make a film.

What a great comment - thanks so much ... cheers Hilary

Patricia said...

I will have to watch for this movie on my movie club - but this is a fascinating post and information sharing...Now I am going to listen to the links
Thank you Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Patricia ... the movie is excellent, as long as you like this sort of music - I do ... but it's well worth seeing, there's so much content, which we probably would never learn about ... I hope you enjoy it.

Thanks for coming over to comment - cheers Hilary