Alice? Alice? …

©2013 Edward C. Lunnon

Sunday 27 January 2013: 6 years 4 months on …

Physical: Advantage CBD / Mental: Deuce

Most of my contemporaries (and older and younger) will be familiar with the words in the title of this blog. They would also be able to complete the title!

They may not know the group that sings the song. And even if they don’t know any of the other words, they will certainly know these few words and will shout them out heartily at any party where the song was played.

Another such song which dates from my school and university days (the seventies and eighties) is the song that contained the SEX word. In a very conservative apartheid South Africa, it was quite a challenge to belt out “I wonder … how many times you’ve had sex?”

Many would not know any of the other words of the song “I Wonder” or who the singer is. Up until now, that is … but all that has changed in the last few weeks.

Suddenly, after the release of the documentary “Searching for Sugar Man”, Rodriguez has become a household name and his music heard all over the country – even on the contemporary airwaves of today, a far cry from the banned status quo in the apartheid era!

Nominated for an Oscar Award in 2013, the documentary tells the most amazing story: how the Mexican American labourer and singer Sixto Jesus Rodriguez, unknown in his home United States, and unknown to him, became popular in apartheid South Africa, “died” and was resurrected to entertain South African audiences again and again (and again next month) in Cape Town and Johannesburg. 

rodriguez

Just last week I wrote about the World Wide Web and its impact on our daily lives.

Thanks largely to the WWW, a search (by two South African fans who said “I Wonder” about Rodriguez) uncovered the mystery of this man, allows him to follow his passion and has resulted in the documentary being made.

The marvels of modern-day technology made it possible for me to download the movie from DSTV Box Office. I watched it, sometimes through misty watery eyes (I must confess) on Friday evening and again with Phillip on Saturday and again on Sunday morning!

The documentary has taught me, at least, a few life lessons and a “Cold Fact” or two. The life of Rodriguez could be the “soundtrack to our lives”.

The futility of apartheid is recognized but thank God, NelsonMandela, FWde Klerk and many others, as the one poster in the movie demands, we have been able to experience “Freedom in our Lifetime”.

But we can not only experience freedom from an oppressive political system. We can also experience freedom from whatever life throws at us. Detroit, in the seventies and today, was a hard place. Rodriguez, through his music, rose above a city of decay.

“Sit dit af.” “There is a way out”.

Obstacles often serve as an inspiration. “If you find things easily they’re not inspiring!”

However, it also shows us that despite “all the circumstances being right” we don’t always necessarily make it big. A prophet is not always recognised in his own country.

But we need to accept our station in life and use it to make a difference in our lives, in the world we live in and in the lives of the people with whom we share this world.

Rodriguez’s three daughters tell us about a man who “never said anything about being disappointed in life”, who read a lot, got involved in politics and the community, attended protests and rallies and causes that he believed in and worked for the working class – for people who didn’t always have a voice or a chance to speak up for themselves.

In his lifestyle and music we can certainly see and hear a lone guitarist and a humble labourer – a boy of the street whose experience was in the street, but who continues to make a difference in the world.

And makes that difference without having regard for reward or for himself.

Truly, had Rodriquez wanted any reward of any kind, the story would have been very different from the start. Too often, today, it is the reward and not the cause that encourages people to get involved!

Rodriguez approached work from a different place. “His magical qualities elevated him above bullshit and mediocrity”. He knew there was something more in making a difference and most of all, “his spirit remained!”

For me, one of the pivotal scenes in the whole documentary is when his daughters tell the viewer that, despite having lived in 26 houses (“they weren’t homes, just places to live”), he took them to libraries, museums, art galleries and science centres.

“Just because people are poor, or have little, doesn’t mean they don’t have dreams, that their dreams aren’t big, their soul isn’t rich!”

“That’s where class and prejudice come from – the difference between them and us – you and me!”

But from someone who was seen to carry fridges on his back and who lived in a DetroitCity that told its inhabitants not to expect more, came the encouragement to his children to “dream big”.

Rodriguez took them to places where “elite” people went. He instilled in them the belief that they “could go to any place you want regardless of what your bank statement says”. He showed them the “top floors of places” and showed them that they were as good as the elite are.

Rodriguez majored in philosophy and exposed his daughters to the arts.

“That was our day care! He showed us a life outside the City that is in books and paintings.”

Rodriguez writes and sings about “people are the same” in his “Most Disgusting Song.”

When his break came in South Africa in 1998 (“South Africa made me feel like more than a Prince”) and he goes from “being the outcast” to “being what he really was – a musician on stage”, he had “arrived at a place he’d tried to find his whole life” – he was at a place of acceptance; he was home!

The limousines pulled up but Rodriguez refused to sleep in the queen-sized bed. His humility remained.

The time here in South Africa was “beautiful, it was a dream” but then he had to go back. “The carriage turned into a pumpkin.”

He continues to “live a modest life. No excess. He works hard to make ends meet. There is no glamour to his life.”

And then the line of the movie that we can all learn from:

“He is rich in a lot of things, but perhaps not material things.”

Rodriguez sings

“Maybe today I’ll slip away

Keep your symbols of success

I’ll pursue my own happiness”

His daughter Regan says “It’s a grandiose story. People in Detroit need to hear something good.”

Perhaps we all need to hear something good.

And in “Searching for Sugar Man”, we hear (and see) that good.

As Rodriguez’s work colleague says:

“It demonstrates that we have a choice. Take Life and transform it into something beautiful. Like a silkworm takes raw material and transforms it into something that was not there before, something transcendent, something eternal!”

“It shows us the human spirit of what’s possible.”

Rodriguez chose Sugar Man as his choice.

You and I have that choice.

Rian Malan, author, says in the documentary, “We all have dreams for ourself, higher forms of ourself, some day we’ll be recognized, talents will be visible to the world. Most of us die without coming anywhere close to that magic.”

“The days of miracles and wonder.”

Jesus said “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” (Mathew 5:5)