Joys Of The Sugar Man

Pop and rock music may be associated with many wasted lives, drugs, deceit and all other aspects of the dark side. However, there are some genuinely heartwarming stories -Brian Wilson’s comeback in recent years may be one of them, but close to the top of the list must be the story chronicled in the documentary, Searching For Sugar Man.

With a large part of the film set in my own city, the story has personal resonance- Rodriguez, the musician that we all thought in South Africa was on a par with Elvis and Dylan in fame, was in fact a Detroit artist who released two albums that sunk in his home country with a trace.  Yet somehow, the songs resonated in the quasi-fascist South Africa of the 1970s to the extent that his records were as ubiquitous in South African record collections as Abbey Road and Bridge Over Troubled Water.

The power of false rumor in the pre-twitter age is shown as everyone assumes that Rodriguez had killed himself on stage, and the two South African journalists at the heart of the story make it their quest to find out exactly what happened to him. The heartwarming bit is that Rodriguez is very much alive, has gone to been a demolition worker and has no idea of his popularity in South Africa. The amazing scenes of his triumphant tour to South Africa in 1998 should bring a tear to everyone’s eyes.

The power of the story to me is that someone who has been true to himself has, unknowingly, impacted on thousands of lives in a far away country-sometimes you may never realise what a difference the good that one does can make.  Indeed, for many white South Africans, Rodriguez message of social justice and challenging the status quo may have been one of the seeds that eventually convinced a generation that apartheid was a complete dead end.

There are probably few true-life stories that have a genuinely joyful end. This is one of them. As Brian Wilson says -“it’s a strange world” -but sometimes it can be such a beautiful one.

Leave a Reply