Monday, August 13, 2012

The "who knew?" Detroit artist

For all who call ourselves long time devotees of the Detroit music scene I guess we can collectively stop and let out a great big sigh, "Who knew?!?!" Such is the case with this outstanding film Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul) which just opened at the Main.....The film is about the highly obscure Detroit-based musician Rodriguez. Back circa early 1970s - the heyday of Detroit’s psychedilc rock and roll movement - southwestern Detroit’s Rodriguez played out-of-the-way Motor City bars and managed to record some albums, notably his best known (and that’s a relative term) Cold Fact. Perhaps there were people in Detroit’s underground counter cultural cognoscenti who knew of this performer with the clear-as-a-bell and angst-laden voice whose lyrics spoke of dispossession and striving against any power that would grind a human soul to dust,  a theme that could resonate in downriver Detroit as much as in South Africa. Well, Rodriguez didn’t  become known much at all in Motown - perhaps because of the amazing smorgasbord of other rock ‘n roll artists on the Detroit scene at that time (the MC5, Rationals, Mitch Rider, Grand Funk Railroad, Stooges, Alice Cooper, Bob Seger, SRC, Frost, Teagarden and Van Winkle – you get the picture). Maybe if Detroit was a less fecund music town, Rodriguez would have found more of an audience. But, yes, somehow he did find an audience, and it was half way around the world in South Africa, along with some equally removed corners like New Zealand and Australia.....This film by documentarist Bendjelloul (whose made films about other obscure but fascinating rock musicians and one about the urban legend of Paul McCartney’s death – largely started by Detroit DJ Russ Gibb, didn’t ya know?) brings Rodriguez out of obscurity and gives the artist (who still works in construction and lives in the home he's been in for 40 years) the credit he’s more than due.....The film’s images contrast bucolic South Africa with - what else? - dystopic Detroit. The hyper real photography is terrific. But the best of the film is non-visual: actually listening to Rodriguez’s incredibly - in the best way - piercing, plaintive voice. Rodriguez was a classic from the get go. Now the world – including people literally in his own backyard - can appreciate him.

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