A career that might have been – On searching for sugar man

I’m probably very late to this party, but I finally watched Searching for Sugar Man over the weekend. Netflix has been insistently recommending it to me for the last year and I’ve been ignoring it while watching various flavours of trash. But, eventually I succumbed to the algorithm and it was well worth it.

Searching for the Sugar Man tells the story of the long lost 1970s rock star Sixto Rodriguez. He produced two brilliant, but commercially unsuccessful albums in the early 1970s and then disappeared from view. Unbeknownst to Sixto or anyone else, his albums were enormously popular in South Africa where they rivalled The Beatles and Elvis.

If, like me, you’d never heard Rodriguez before, take the time to listen. Here is one of the last songs he recorded, which has a somewhat careersy theme.

This is the story of a career that might have been. It is also the story of record company exploitation and straight out theft. And, although this is only hinted at in the film, of racism and classism and the neglect of a working-class Mexican-American artist who failed to fit the mould. On the other hand, it is the story of how the impact of our lives is not always obvious or immediate and of how thing that we do may resonate in far away places and beyond our view. Finally it is also the story of how to live with regret and disappointment with dignity.

The film does a lot of myth making and some of the facts are bent a little to make a good story. But it is a very good story indeed. There is lots in it for people who think about career to reflect on. And it will introduce you to some new (old) music that you probably have never heard before.

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