Besides the musical and political themes in the movie, Searching for Sugarman describes Rodriguez’s family life, and his way of upbringing his children with respect and understanding of the arts, taking them to places where only ‘the privileged’ went. It’s refreshing to see a guy with a degree in philosophy who still lives very modestly but has an unbending winner perspective on life. His three soft spoken, intelligent daughters are great fruit of his work.
With Searching for Sugarman, director Malik Bendjelloul sheds new light on the anti-apartheid events in South Africa, and the participation of the whites in the big changes that came as a result of the movement. This doc does play with fact, implying that Rodriguez did not do much in terms of his musical career after the label dropped him – one look at a Wikipedia article will disprove that. The stereotyping of the music business being a dog-eat-dog whirlpool full of sharks is somewhat exaggerated (but Clarence Avant, founder of Sussex Records, does a few ugly things on camera). The music industry didn’t rip Rodriguez off, and it is clear from his interviews that this man has made a choice to live a modest lifestyle, and has donated the money he made to friends and family. It’s a wonderful example of an extraordinary musician appearing on David Letterman making a personal choice to live the life as he wishes.
I am from Belarus, born in the USSR. The story of Rodriguez may seem fantastical to Americans, where musicians make money by selling records, but for me this is actually a regular story of a rocker whose songs are played in every household but who has to be a pauper and rely on the kindness of friends to get by. The American idea of royalties was not known in the Soviet Union where many musicians who were widely popular had to have a ‘day job’ to make ends meet. I am sure people from other countries can relate to that. It’s extremely interesting to watch Searching for Sugarman from this point of view, especially in the age of YouTube and The Pirate Bay, where both geographical and legal boundaries are gradually being erased.