Searching For Sugar Man: Uplifting Tale of Sixto Rodriguez

Searching for Sugar Man
Search over.

This 2012 uplifting documentary follows the unusual story of Sixto Rodriguez, the ’70s rock God who never was.

His music wasn’t a hit, so he disappeared into obscurity. However, unbeknownst to him his albums became a big hit in South Africa where they became something of an anthem against apartheid.

And in the late 1990s, two fans from Cape Town attempted to find out what happened to Rodriguez and see if he was still alive. This is the story!

Searching For Sugar Man

Directed by Malik Bendjelloul, the documentary opens with an exploration of Sixto Rodriguez’s early career.

In some ways there are similarities to Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project. An obscure figure from the 1970s, finally brought to the centre stage after a lifetime of hiding from the limelight.

So let us begin! Rodriguez was born in Detroit in 1942 (he’s now 79) and grew up in a working class family.

By 1967 his various efforts as a solo artist gained him attention, to the point of releasing his first album Cold Fact in 1970.

Picking up a record contract soon after, there were high hopes for him and the belief he’d be another Boy Dylan type of guy.

Here’s a sample of his music from the era, a very unusual (but striking) blend of folk rock, psychedelic folk, and psychedelic rock.

He followed that up with Coming From Reality in 1971. However, both albums were a massive commercial flop.

The result was he was dropped by his record label. Rodriguez promptly quit his music career in 1976 and abandoned his third album.

He subsequently began a career in demolition and production, working for a low income and leading a minimalistic lifestyle.

However, abroad his albums had been taking off in Australia, Botswana, New Zealand, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

Particularly in South Africa, where his records were viewed as the voice behind a social revoltion.

Searching For Sugar Man then follows the actions of two fans in Cape Town: Stephen “Sugar” Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom.

These two dudes loved the albums, but had come to believe (due to urban legends) that Rodriguez had died in the 1970s.

The rumour mill had created the idea he’d set himself on fire onstage.

Wanting to explore the truth behind this in a pre-internet era, they had few facts to go off on the albums.

Using the few details available, the pair were able to track down Rodriguez’s daughter. And after many years of waiting, they were finally able to speak to the man who is their hero.

This all took place around 1998, which launched Rodriguez back into the limelight (at least in South Africa) as he had a full rock star appearance performing live for his fans.

The 2012 documentary also brought back light onto the man, although the money he’s since made he’s handed over to his children.

He doesn’t seem overly concerned with money, the limelight, or anything else. And he leaves a pretty lowkey existence.

Lessons in humility! That’s one of the many highlights in this excellent and uplifting documentary.

It tells a positive story and does so with charm and verve, relaying the excitement of the fans alongside Rodriguez’s enigmatic nature.

The film is an Oscar winner, too, and he recommend (as it approaches it 10 year anniversary) to give it a watch. And remember the happy side to existence in doing so.

Tribute to Malik Bendjelloul

Just to close on a tribute note here, as Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul unfortunately suddenly died in mid-May 2014 at the age of 36. Bendjelloul had struggled with severe depression.

His next project, The Elephant Whisperer, was unfinished at the time of his death.

So it’s a tragedy the man responsible for such an uplifting documentary that helped thousands out of depressive slumps (even if momentarily) should succumb to this issue.

Searching For Sugarman won an Oscar for Best Documentary and it’s a fine piece of work.

Documentary filmmaking is an arduous and difficult task that takes a lot of creativity. Bendjelloul’s skill in crafting such an intricate and thoughtful story has to be commended.

And we think the film will remain an inspiring tribute to him for decades to come.

12 comments

  1. I was born in Detroit and have lived in the city or surrounding area for most of my life. My husband is a huge Dylan and folk music fan. We’d never heard of Rodriguez until now. This will be the next film we watch. Thanks for the review!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah great, well I hope you enjoy! The songs are excellent and it’s a bit of a disaster that he wasn’t a big success in the ‘70s. Life is pants sometimes. Although the film has gone a long way to correct that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Just watched. What a story! Shocking really. It’s left me somewhat speechless. Rodriguez is such a unique character, like someone from a fantasy novel.

        Even people that met him in South Africa or who had worked with him in Detroit for years had difficulty believing his story.

        I wonder if anyone will ever be able to dig further and reveal more about his life that might provide insight into his character. I’m happy that he’s been able to play several concerts at this point. (I had to look him up on Wikipedia which says he bought the house he lives in for $50–in a government auction).

        I’m also glad that he has three daughters that all seem to care deeply for him. That will serve him well. Even if he fails to care for himself, they will hopefully ensure he doesn’t come to a tragic end.

        So, glad I saw your post. I’ll be telling my friends about it. I’m wondering if any of the local artists/musicians that I know have heard of him.

        Anyway, sorry to ramble. Thanks again.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Rodriguez does have an otherworldly quality to him, for sure, it’s like he’s drifted through life with some greater purpose to most of us.

          But I think he’s just not particularly interested in money, the cash he’s made from recent events he’s just handed to his kids. So he continues to live in a bit of a shack, rather than a mansion. What matters really is if he’s happy with that.

          Glad you enjoyed the film!

          Liked by 1 person

          • I absolutely agree with you and he does seem pretty happy.

            Yesterday, my sister and brother-in-law, Jim, were visiting and we talked about the movie. Jim had a short stint as a copy boy for the Detroit News when he was in college. He said he met Rodriguez one day when R came into the office to talk to a reporter about one of his political campaigns. Jim had seen him play at a couple of bars and so struck up a brief conversation with him. It seems like everyone else, Rodriguez had completely faded from Jim’s memory until the film came out.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Some people just have a haunting, subtle quality to them. Very memorable personalities, just introverted and lacking an in-your-face attitude to dig in deep. I guess. That’s my theory of it, I’m quite similar in temperament and just like to keep a low profile. So the extroverts tend to hog the limelight, which isn’t often the best thing ever.

              Like

      • A couple more thoughts. Rodriguez is the kind of man that I could see attracting a cult of religious followers. He truly behaves like some sort of selfless prophet. Thankfully, he’d never exploit that kind of fanaticism, like David Koresh or Jim Jones, or countless others.

        I think the comparison with Dylan is apt on many levels. The songwriting and singing style are similar to Dylan’s, but so are Rodriguez’s interview responses. Ever seen Dylan interviewed? He’s impossible to pin down. He doesn’t feel compelled to provide an answer simply because someone has asked him a question.

        He’s not being evasive. He just doesn’t proffer up B S for the sake of filling the air with the sound of his voice. You get the sense that he sees himself as having few answers. All is grey and obscure and hard to accurately put into words.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I agree with you there. And, well, he kind of has. The South Africans really worshipped him and that’s before they even realised he was still alive and well.

          But yes, Rodriguez comes across as a very great and kindly soul so he’s not going to be reordering society anytime soon.

          There was a film in 2007 about Bob Dylan called I’m Not There, with six different actors playing Dylan (including Cate Blanchett) and his public personas. It’s quite a good one to watch!

          Liked by 1 person

Have some gibberish to dispense with?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.