‘Sugar Man’ story dramatic, revealing
In the late 1960s, Mike Theodore, a record producer who discovered Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, visited The Sewer, a club in Detroit. He went to watch a singer, who stood at the corner of the stage with his back turned to the audience. The singer looked like a beggar, but his voice was fresh and new.
The musician was Mexican-American Sixto Rodriguez, who has released two albums, including “Cold Fact” in 1970. His poetic lyrics and soulful melodies were about the grim reality of life in Detroit. “?’Cause I lost my job two weeks before Christmas/ And I talked to Jesus at the sewer/ And the Pope said it was none of his God-damned business/ While the rain drank champagne,” he sang in the song.
In the 1970s, Rodriguez’s music made it to South Africa, a country of extreme racial discrimination and authoritarian control. Although the government banned his songs, Rodriguez’s music became the sound of resistance, sung in almost all demonstrations. Although millions of his albums were sold, his fans knew little about him.
In the 1990s, after the South African apartheid finally ended, two of his fans began a journey to find the singer. They expected Rodriguez to be a superstar in the United States, but no one seemed to know of his music. Yet, the South Africans did not give up. They looked for clues in his lyrics and posted advertisements on the Internet. When they learned Rodriguez was alive, they shouted for joy.
In 1998, Rodriguez, then 56, stood on a stage in South Africa, overwhelmed with emotion as tens of thousands of people sang his song and chanted his name. “Thanks for keeping me alive,” he told them.
Rodriguez’s story was the subject of the newly released film, “Searching for Sugar Man” directed by Malik Bendjelloul. It was shown at the Sundance Film Festival last year and won the Special Jury Prize and Audience Award for best international documentary. The film went on to win awards at other festivals and eventually made its way to Korea, where it was seen by more than 10,000 people.
Since then, Rodriguez has had about 40 concerts in South Africa. He shared all the profits with needy neighbors and still lives as a poor laborer in his home in Detroit. One of his laborer friends said he does not know Rodriguez’s music well, but he is sure he is a wise man.
“Searching for Sugar Man” shows reality is more dramatic than any fictional dramas. It documents the miracles music can create through the path of one man. And yet, there are only eight cinemas in Seoul where this miracle is shared, screened alternately with other shows.
* The author is a deputy editor of culture and sports of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yang Sunny