You’ve heard every story there is to tell? How about this one? A Swedish guy makes a documentary in 2012 about a 70s folkster from Detroit who returns from obscurity after discovering that he has a large, devoted audience in South Africa. The film culminates in a cathartic 1998 concert marking the musician’s first significant performance in 27 years to an audience who thought that he had died! The film is critically acclaimed and makes big waves in the US and the UK but, and here’s the rub, nobody in South Africa knows that it exists!
The real magic of the Rodriguez “story” (which belongs to different a dimension to the content of his two albums, which I’ll cunningly abbreviate as Fact and Reality) is that it continues to deliver delicious ironies. As such, perhaps its fitting that the dramatisation of this story should see its SA “preview/première” in the margins of the Durban Film Festival after taking the rest of the world by storm. Nevertheless, that the story is being well received abroad is cause for celebration in South Africa insomuch as we are paying dues for 30-years-of-Cold Fact-sales-that-didn’t-include-Roriguez-in-the-value-chain by playing a role in launching a music career that slid below the US stardom radar in the 70s.
Truth be told, Rodriguez is currently on his third resurrection. The “Rodriguez Alive” tour in Australia (yes, they also thought he was dead) marked his first circa 1979-81. The second began with the first appearance of Cold Fact on CD in South African in 1991, taking in the release of Coming from Reality (mistakenly identified as his lost debut) in 1996 and ending with his “Dead Man” tour in 1998. The trilogy concludes with the first CD release of Cold Fact in the US in 2008 and features the world première of Searching for Sugar Man at Sundance in January 2012, where it was quickly snapped up by Sony Pictures Classics. In short, there’s room for a prequel and a sequel! Any [more] musicologist detective [filmmakers] out there?
Oh, and by the way, the story of the other “honorary” South African album, Paul Simon’s Graceland, also premièred at Sundance this year in the form of Under African Skies. As Cape Town vinyl expert Steven Segerman surmises, Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970), which appeared about a month before Cold Fact and went on to become the world’s best-selling album for the next two years, was responsible for stealing the thunder from everything that folk-rock dropped in its wake. Yet, 40-odd years down the line, Simon and Rodriguez share their stories on the same film festival platform with both Graceland and the Searching for Sugar Man Original Soundtrack rubbing elbows in the Sony Legacy Recordings catalogue. “Days of miracles and wonder” indeed, to quote the closing words of the Searching for Sugar Man trailer, which inadvertently quotes Paul Simon’s “Boy in the Bubble” from Graceland. Just a weird song title randomly inspired by a trip to 80s South Africa? Take another look at the cover of Cold Fact. Curiouser and curiouser!
Image Source: www.sugarman.org