Searching for Sugar Man, I saw the second coming of Jesus in Brighton last night – and his name was Rodriguez

Sugar Man in Brighton last night

Jesus played in Brighton last night

“That was weird,” said my eternally-un-named friend as we came out of the Brighton Dome last night. “What did you think?”

“Weird,” I agreed. “What a weird experience. Weird. Weird. Weird.”

Earlier in the day, we had been at an optician’s in Brighton.

It turned out that the optician was a South African man so – obviously – he too was going to the concert at the Dome last night.

“Have you seen the film?” I asked him.

“No, he said, “but I grew up with him. Any place you went, everyone you knew had the album.”

A few months ago, I saw the documentary movie Searching For Sugar Man.

I used to review movies. I saw movies from 10.00am in the morning until sometimes mid evening. I went to the Edinburgh Film Festival for about ten years. There, I saw movies from midday to midnight. I have seen a lot of movies.

Now a Producers' Guild Award nominee

Now a US Producers’ Guild Award nominee…

Searching For Sugar Man – a documentary – is, without any doubt, one of the ten best films of any kind I have ever seen. I cried at the end.

A few weeks later, I went back to see Searching For Sugar Man for a second time.

I cried all the way through the movie this time because I knew what was going to happen at the end.

Afterwards, like one does, I got talking to a Japanese man in the gents toilets of the Prince Charles Cinema.

“This is the second time I’ve seen the film,” I told the Japanese man. “I’m going to see him at the Brighton Dome.”

“I have seen the film four times,” said the Japanese man. “I am seeing him at the Roundhouse. I tried to book for the Festival Hall,” but it was sold out.”

I was going to blog about Searching For Sugar Man after I saw it the first time, but thought I might give away some of the twists and turns in the story. It is extraordinarily well structured but then, again, the truth is so incredible. Literally almost incredible.

Last night, when I got home, there was an e-mail from an American publication saying that Searching For Sugar Man had been nominated for a US Producers’ Guild Award.

We are in the area of legend here.

Last night, when He came on the stage at the start of the concert, being helped to walk, the audience reaction was like they had seen Lazarus raised from the grave. There was a gigantic rising roar of whoops and hollers and awe.

It was like watching Lazarus perform at the Dome last night

It was like watching Lazarus perform at the Dome last night

Every song got rapturous applause. More than applause. Adoration. When the opening chords of each song were played, there was an excited ripple of anticipation you could almost feel in at least three-quarters if not 90% of the audience.

As for me, it was like being a villager from a remote Chinese village suddenly plonked down at the Beatles’ concert at Shea Stadium. The whole audience knew the most famous songs in the world but, mostly, I had never heard them before.

“Someone in the film,” I said to the optician yesterday afternoon, “asked if he was bigger than the Rolling Stones and the answer was Yes. He must have been bigger than the Stones and the Beatles in South Africa, was he?”

The optician looked at me and never bothered to even answer. Of course he was! his eyes said. Was I mad?

At the end of the concert last night, my eternally-un-named friend said to me: “The woman behind me in the queue for the toilets was from Bournemouth but she was a South African and she was saying it’s so strange. The music was everywhere when she was a student. But, of course, they didn’t realise he wasn’t that famous everywhere. They just assumed he was as famous everywhere in the world as he was in South Africa. It was inconceivable that he was totally unknown everywhere else”

My friend Lynn went to the gig last night too, but was sitting in a different part of the Dome.

Live on stage

Live on stage

“Were you in that bit in the balcony where there were about twenty people dancing?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “They were all from Johannesburg. They had flown over just to see him tonight.”

“I could see them all waving their hands in the air,” I said.

“And shouting out Jesus! Jesus!” Lynn said.

“I’d forgotten his name actually is Jesus,” I said.

“You couldn’t believe it unless you’d seen the film,” my eternally-un-named friend said. “The story is just so unlikely. The woman in the queue was saying it was so sad that he missed out on being a rock ‘n’ roll rich person. I think she was the woman who had been sitting next to us.”

“I thought that couple were English,” I said, “but they got up on their feet at the end. I think she was whooping. I think they were in their fifties.”

“The optician,” my eternally-un-named friend said, “told us every home had a copy of the album.”

“The film,” I said, “was saying every party you went to it was playing…”

“It was strange the optician had not seen the film,” my eternally-un-named friend said.

“Maybe South Africans over here didn’t twig from the title Searching For Sugar Man that it was about Rodriguez,” I suggested.

“I love his voice,” said my eternally-un-named friend.

“The audience gasped at the end of the film,” my friend Lynn said, “because no-one in this country knew anything about the story.”

“The woman in the toilet queue,” my eternally-un-named friend said, “didn’t know what had happened. She said she knew he had vanished, but didn’t know why.”

“Well,” I said, “they knew he had died but didn’t know how.”

“They had no idea exactly how he had died,” my eternally-un-named friend said, “because they were so cut-off in South Africa. They just knew he was dead.”

It has been said that, when Rodriguez’ album was released in the US in the 1970s, it sold six albums.

I can do no better than quote the blurb for the film:

In the late 1960s, a musician was discovered in a Detroit bar by two celebrated producers who were struck by his soulful melodies and prophetic lyrics. They recorded an album that they believed was going to secure his reputation as one of the greatest recording artists of his generation. 

Despite overwhelming critical acclaim, the album bombed and the singer disappeared into obscurity amid rumours of a gruesome on-stage suicide. But a bootleg recording found its way into apartheid South Africa and, over the next two decades, it became a phenomenon. 

Two South African fans then set out to find out what really happened to their hero. Their investigation led them to a story more extraordinary than any of the existing myths about the artist known as Rodriguez.

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