Searching For Sugar Man: The Music of Rodriguez

Rodriguez (Graphite pencil, color pencil and oil pastel)

The story of Rodriguez, the folk musician from Detroit, Michigan, whose music in America laid dormant for 4 decades, continues to amaze me.  If you’re a music fan like me, you already know the story of how his albums released in the 1970’s sold poorly and he subsequently vanished into the unassuming life of a construction worker in the “Motor City.”  He earned a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, and while he was going about his life after music, unbeknownst to him, thousands of miles away in South Africa, his music was being celebrated.

His fans in South Africa reportedly sang his songs with the same fervor as any Elvis or Beatles enthusiast.  A persistent rumor circulated amongst his fans that Rodriguez had committed suicide.  But after a while his fans managed to track him down and disprove the rumor, and what happened next would seem like pure folklore if it wasn’t true.  The obscure American folk musician whose music was largely ignored in his own country became a living legend and his career was resurrected.

The documentary Searching For Sugar Man released in 2012 chronicles this modern day legend.  The movie was shown in select theaters around the country and I did not get a chance to see it.  However, I have plans to watch it on DVD very soon.  In the mean time, I’ve read several articles about it and caught the 60 Minutes broadcast in which Rodriguez was featured.  I also caught Rodriguez’s performance on the Later…With Jools Holland program.

Every time I watch video of Rodriguez walking around his inner-city Detroit neighborhood, I can’t help but envision him as some sort of musical superhero, merely wearing the disguise of an everyday Joe.  If Rodriguez walked by you, you wouldn’t think he was capable of superhuman feats, sort of like if Clark Kent or Bruce Banner happened to stroll by you on the sidewalk.  But instead of being able to fly or lift automobiles over his head with his bare hands, Rodriguez does the impossible with an acoustic guitar; he inspires the poor who are victims of economic injustice and gives a voice to the voiceless in the presence of deafening tyranny.

I purchased a copy of the soundtrack to the Searching For Sugar Man documentary, and I love how on the back of the CD it says: “Rodriguez receives royalties from the sale of this release.”  It feels good to see an artist of Rodriguez’s stature finally get his just due.

The CD includes 14 of Rodriguez’s songs, heavy anti oppression anthems rich with imagery and metaphors.  In the song titled Cause, Rodriguez sings,

Cause I lost my job two weeks before Christmas

And I talked to Jesus at the sewer

And the Pope said it was none of his God-damned business

While the rain drank champagne…

Rodriguez’s songs like this, the ones that call in to question everything I learned about religion, cause me to think about the world today.  It makes me think about Pope Benedict XVI retiring and the news about fresh scandals in the church.  It makes me think about unemployment and the millions of people who live in poverty in America – the wealthiest nation on earth.   It makes me wonder how these songs could have been written 4 decades ago and yet sound like they were inspired by today’s newspaper headlines.

It is thrilling to be a part of a generation in America that is just now getting acquainted with the music of Rodriguez.  A story like this doesn’t come along all that often.  We’re a little bit late on this as Americans, but as the old saying goes, better late than never.

Have you seen Searching For Sugar Man or listened to the soundtrack?  If so what did you think?

© 2013


Banning Internet Porn in Iceland


The buzz this week on the internet regarding the nation of Iceland proposing to ban online pornography caught my attention.  Apparently, pornography is already illegal in Iceland.  Nevertheless, there are members of the Iceland government who feel that by banning internet porn they would be taking a huge step toward protecting children who may be exposed to harmful images via their browser.  The proposal has started a debate over free speech, censorship, and promoting societal wellness.

I first experienced pornography by accident as kid.  I must have been around ten years old when one day in the basement of my suburban, middle class home, while digging around with a remote control in the vast sinkhole of cable television,  I struck erotic oil; scrambled porn was being broadcast on channel 99.  Through the wavy discolored images jumbled up in a ubiquitous stream of signals, I could make out distinct body parts for seconds on hand; a woman’s bouncing breast, a man’s pulsating penis, gazing eyes, grasping hands, gasping mouths and dangling extremities.  The orgasmic groaning, sometimes with or without musical accompaniment, helped to compensate for the distorted images on my television screen.  Regardless of the fact that I could not see what was going on clearly made no difference to me.  The simple fact was, from that day forward, I was officially hooked on pornography.

I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a child today and have the universe at your beckoning call with the simple tap of a finger.  As addictive as scrambled porn was to me as a ten year old, how can something as outdated as a blocked Playboy channel compare to a Google search for porn.  Such a search will return images and video of alluring women, commanding men, and bedroom rendezvous loaded with ecstasy. But they also may return sexually violent content that can ultimately shock, harm or endanger children incapable of properly processing such type of exhibition for years to come.  And to think that parents can successfully safeguard their children from this type of danger with the type of technology at our disposal in the 21st century is nothing short of naive.

What to do?  Although I am a proponent for free speech and do not like the idea of censorship, I wouldn’t mind seeing a ban on internet porn that is not provided by an authorized source.  In other words, make everyone pay for the porn they watch online.  By purchasing porn from authorized sources, you minimize the risk of acquiring viruses when you download it, as well as see the risk of inadvertently viewing content that is illegal, i.e. child pornography, diminish.  If you regulate internet porn, you make progress in shutting down providers of illegal content who hide in the shadows of unregulated internet space, and also help to prevent the victimization of people who are forced to work in the sex industry against their will, whether they be immigrants or below the legal age limit.  This is also why I believe prostitution should be legalized.  Sex workers and businesses exist, so why pretend that they do not when you can regulate it, tax it, and prevent the inhumane abuses that go on everyday in the world when a pimp takes advantage of a woman or a child.

The simple fact is that sex has been around forever and it isn’t going away anytime soon.  Neither porn, on or offline, nor prostitution, on or offline, are going out of business.  I firmly believe that a society that embraces sex rather than shuns it is paced for ensuring its citizens live sexually healthy lives as opposed to degenerating into an existence of denial where abnormal sexual traits manifest in the most unlikely and unwanted places, like churches and schools.  I’m sure there are many people who place pornography in a deviant status with regard to its role in society.  I used to be one of them, due mainly to my strict religious upbringing.  But no matter how many times I “prayed the porn away,” I always found myself enjoying it.

Frankly, I don’t find pornography offensive or obscene.  I made the choice to start purchasing porn in addition to viewing it online, sparingly however, for the reasons I listed above (not to mention viewing internet porn can be as time consuming as a full time job, with less benefits and a sharp cut in pay).  Buying my porn outright helps me to enjoy it in moderation, like everything should be enjoyed.  I don’t pay by the hour, I pay by the unit.  And why not pay for it.  I watch it and get satisfaction from it, like the music I buy and the movies I pay a ticket to go see.  Are porn-stars and adult film studios somehow less worthy of having their careers and businesses spared the ever-present threat of bootlegging?

What do you think?


© 2013