The Rediscovered Folk Rock Legend Finally Brings His Music Home
If you haven’t seen last summer’s Oscar-winning hit documentary Searching for Sugar Man, you should. In an incredibly satisfying case of truth-is-stranger-than-fiction (and the fiction that had arisen around Rodríguez was pretty strange), the film tells the story of tracking down the Detroit musician whose music, all but forgotten in his home country, became massively popular (and subversive) in apartheid-stricken South Africa. Frequently compared with influential musicians such as Bob Dylan, Rodríguez was unaware of his fame and popularity abroad until 1998, when the power of the internet led his daughter to a website dedicated to him, and his career was relaunched.
The success of Searching for Sugar Man has at last given Rodríguez the exposure at home he has long deserved. His songs feature prominently in the documentary, and it is easy to understand their influence abroad (and disappointing to think that it’s taken this long for them to be heard here). His two original albums, 1970’s Cold Fact and 1971’s Coming from Reality, consist of simple, heartfelt, and haunting songs that seem to stream from the soul of all mankind:
Were you tortured by your own thirst
In those pleasures that you seek
That made you Tom the curious
That makes you James the weak?
he asks in “Crucify Your Mind,” disappointed in the lack of substance he sees in others. In “I Wonder,” he ponders, with judgment-free curiosity,
I wonder how many times you’ve been had
And I wonder how many plans have gone bad
I wonder how many times you had sex
I wonder do you know who’ll be next.
With his hypnotic voice and earnest lyrics, it’s no wonder demand for Rodríguez has skyrocketed in the U.S. now that he’s resurfaced. Since Searching for Sugar Man‘s release, he has made numerous television appearances, from performances on Jay Leno and David Letterman to a feature on 60 Minutes. Fortunately, a delayed rise to fame hasn’t abated Rodríguez’s willingness or ability to perform, and this year he has several concerts scheduled, including a spot at Coachella in California and a show at New York City’s Beacon Theater. Still incredibly moving and inspiring in his 70’s, Rodríguez is a must-see for anyone seeking stirring, enduring music and a glimpse of one of music’s most intriguing success stories.
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