I recently watched the 2013 Academy Award winning documentary, “Searching For Sugar Man”, about an amazing musician named Rodriguez, that was discovered in the late sixties in Detroit and released a couple of albums in the early seventies. His music is played throughout the movie and I found it to be beautiful and gritty. Both of his albums were flops. He was released from his record label after the second album and faded away into obscurity.
In the mean time though, somehow the country of South Africa, its people suppressed by its government and isolated by the world’s embargo protesting apartheid, became Rodriguez’s biggest fans. Someone brought his album over from America and it spread like wildfire. He was as big as The Beatles and bigger than Elvis and he had no idea for thirty years.
Because of their isolation from the world, the South African people had no idea that no one else on earth knew who Rodriguez was. They considered him to be as famous and as important as John Lennon. Generation after generation listened to his two albums, memorizing every word. The South African government banned his songs because they were an inspiration to anti-apartheid movements. His albums were smuggled in. He sold millions of copies over the years, but no one knew anything else about him other than his name. There was a rumor that he had killed himself on stage. Most people thought that he was dead until two journalists tracked him down and found him to be alive and working as a construction worker in Detroit, the father of three grown daughters. I won’t give away everything but he finally found out that he was as famous as The Beatles and South Africa found out that no one else on earth had ever heard of him.
As an artist I loved this movie because most of your life is spent wondering if your work matters, wondering if anyone cares or if it makes a difference. And in the modern social media world that we live in, if you don’t have 200,000 followers do you even exist? Do you even have any value at all? The truth is, obviously, that you do exist and your work does matter to someone somewhere, whether you know it or not. And that’s kind of the beauty of it, making art that matters to you and releasing it out into the world with a shrug and a meh, letting the seeds land wherever. Having no idea where or how those seeds were planted and what they grew into in other people’s hearts and minds is the power of art.