Maybe today, I'll slip away... February 20 2019 41 Comments
If these words resonate with you, this story is for you. It’s not a story about jewelry or what’s in vogue. It’s about what’s inside; about not losing who you really are.
This story is about Rodriguez. That’s all we knew about him when we started watching the Oscar winning documentary ‘Searching for Sugar Man’. A child born of Mexican immigrant parents, who immigrated in the 1920s, Rodriguez experienced intense alienation and marginalization growing up in the poor inner city areas. He started writing and composing music about who he really was and released his first single in 1967, followed by the albums ‘Cold Fact’ in 1970 and ‘Coming from Reality’ in 1971. Although his music and songwriting were often compared to greats like Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens, he sold very few copies in the US. And eventually, he slipped away…
Cut to the apartheid ridden, 1970s South Africa. Rodriguez’s records made their way to this land through an American tourist and an Australian record label. His lyrics became an anthem to the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. As Steve Segerman, a record store owner in Cape Town, says, “To many of us South Africans he was the soundtrack to our lives. If you walked into a random white, liberal, middle-class household that had a turntable and a pile of pop records and you would always see 'Cold Fact' by Rodriguez. To us, it was one of the most famous records of all time.” Rodriguez was more popular then The Beatles and Elvis in South Africa. Steve Segerman adds, “We didn't know what the word anti-establishment was until it cropped up on a Rodriguez song. And then we found out it's OK to protest against your society, to be angry with your society. South Africans were buying half a million of his records and were astonished to learn that no one else in the world had ever heard of him. He was the ultimate enigma. Then we found out that he had committed suicide. He set himself alight on stage and burnt to death in front of the audience. It was probably the most grotesque suicide in rock history.”
Had he slipped away?
But there was no proof. So record store owner Segerman and his friends started investigating. They didn’t even know his first name. Twenty-five years after hearing those records, they spotted the word Dearborn in one of his songs. Dearborn is near Detroit. And as the film shows, that's where they found Rodriguez's house. And, there he was very much alive. His neighbors knew him as an odd character who walked around with a guitar. He'd lived in this house with a wood burning stove for 40 years. And all this time, he had been working as a day laborer; demolition, roofing, heavy construction. He also managed to get a degree in philosophy.
Rodriguez didn't know his records had been selling like wildfire in South Africa. He'd never seen a penny. In 1998, his fans invited him to South Africa. He walked on stage, to a cover band accompanying him and 5000 roaring fans, who were singing every song, every word, every note. He had been resurrected.
He was a hero to millions. He inspired an entire revolution against apartheid. And he didn’t know it for a good 40 years. Just a simple man, working as a day laborer and fending for his daughters, he was a hero. Not just to his daughters, but to an entire revolution.
You are a hero to someone. You may not know it today. You may not know it ever. You inspire people around you everyday, even if it’s tiny revolutions in their minds.
“And you can keep your symbols of success
Then I’ll pursue my own happiness
And you can keep your clocks and routines
Then I’ll go mend all my shattered dreams”
(Borrowed heavily from CBS)