A crooning, haunting voice emerges from the darkness of a winter in Detroit. “Sugar man/Won't ya hurry/Coz I'm tired of these scenes/For a blue coin/Won't ya bring back/All those colours to my dreams.” Thus sings Rodriguez, the enigmatic early ‘70s singer who vanished from the public eye after a failed music career. It sounds like a simple story, one seen so frequently in the entertainment industry that hardly anyone bats an eye anymore. With Rodriguez though, that simple story runs much, much deeper.
In fact, Searching For Sugar Man, the musical detective documentary about the singer/song-writer, is the ultimate example that the truth really is stranger than fiction. While songs like “Crucify Your Mind” “This Is Not a Song, It’s an Outburst: Or, The Establishment Blues”, and “Hate Street Dialogue” were quickly fading from U.S. radio stations, somehow a bootleg copy of his first album, Cold Fact, made its way overseas to Apartheid South Africa.
Rodriguez, whose attitude, style, and lyrics have been likened to Bob Dylan, represented just the antiestablishment message that South Africans were aching for. Musicians growing up in that era were inspired by his sound, the government sought to scratch out his records to keep him off the airwaves, and the album itself went platinum.
Urban legends of an on-stage suicide permeated what the liberal South Africans believed had happened to Rodriguez, a superstar cloaked in mystery. By the mid-1990s, a record storeowner and journalist from South Africa joined forces to find out what really happened to their hero. Their exploration of the man’s life took them to his managers, the record label, and the few folks around Detroit who remembered when a painfully shy, folk musician whose songs made political commentary and addressed inner city living.
At first a tragic tale, Searching For Sugar Man has a wry sense of humor from writer/director Mallik Bendjelloul and the rare fortune of a truly uplifting story. With each detail uncovered and each song that is played, you are left to wonder how it is Rodriguez slipped under the cracks to begin with. Every single person who came into contact with the artist known as Rodriguez called him a wise man, a prophet, a gift to music. What the documentary seeks to uncover is not only what happened to him, but also who he was amidst unintentional anonymity.
For Fans Of: Man in the Sand, Don’t Look Back, The Devil and Daniel Johnston
Why We Like It: Extraordinary story, brilliant soundtrack, inspiring documentary