Searching For Sugarman

If you are like me, you love the story of how and why artists create work almost as much as the work itself. Whenever I discover something new that I like, I tend to delve into biographical research to find out more about the person behind the art. I remember when I first discovered the crazy story of Gram Parsons and reading everything I could about him and his postmortem hijinks. Leave to the 1970′s to still be able to (almost literally) resurrect hero folk musicians with stories so good, they exemplify the expression ‘The Truth is Stranger Than Fiction.’ Take for instance, the story of first-generation Mexican artist from Detroit named Sixto Rodriguez. In the late 1960s, Rodriguez recorded an album that him and his producers believed was going to secure his reputation as one of the greatest recording artists of his generation. Instead, Cold Fact (1970) bombed, and despite the release of a second LP, entitled Coming From Reality (1971) produced by Steve Rowland, Rodriguez drifted into obscurity amid fantastic rumors of a dramatic onstage suicide.

In the meantime, a bootleg copy of Cold Fact somehow mysteriously ended up in apartheid-era South Africa, where protesters were enraptured by Rodriguez’s message of social and political upheaval. Quickly banned by the government, the album became a country-wide phenomenon over the next two decades, and the soundtrack to a resistance movement of liberal African youth. Back at home in Detroit, Rodriguez had no idea that he was South Africa’s version of Bob Dylan. Decades later, two South African fans set out to find out what really happened to their hero, reading deep into his lyrics for clues as to where Rodriguez might be, and eventually finding him working construction in Michigan. The resulting documentary, Searching For Sugarman has become a sleeper hit at film festivals, spurring on a renaissance of Rodriguez’s music in his home country with the record label Light in The Attic repressing his albums (which seem to be selling out) and our friend and Dossier contributor Jess Rotter who made a limited edition t-shirt of the cult figure. Fun fact: if the hook to Rodgriuez’s most famous song, Sugarman sounds familiar (as it did to me) it is because the rapper Nas sampled it in 2001. As for Rodriguez, he is currently 70 and enjoying his new found found fame by touring around the world. Rock on.

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