The Mysteries of the Music World
South Africa 1998
Searching For Sugar Man
Without the music business we probably would never have known of a noteworthy singer/songwriter from Detroit who became a minor sensation, disappeared, then re-emerged years later as an international figure. Hardly anyone has anything to do with the entertainment moguls who make and break careers, but if they are not courted, half-heartedly, or in jest as the case might often be, then there is nothing. Did something go wrong? Maybe, maybe not. Should Rodriguez have been a hall-of-famer rather than an esoteric footnote for album collectors or ASCAP fact-finders? Who knows? All the same, Rodriguez is certainly impressive, some forty years later, especially to those who realize, none too happily, how much the music scene has changed. I am glad that I picked up the blu-ray on his story in Best Buy. Documentaries interest me, despite their general lack of popularity. This one, however, won an Oscar. After seeing it, I downloaded the soundtrack. All good. But what about other mysteries that command the attention of music lovers from time to time? There are actually quite a few. It is basically a matter of time and taste as to how far one wants to ponder the fate of those who died too young and still others who abandoned the craft entirely to pursue more stable careers in computer technology or appliances.
To Play Music or Get Real.
Anti-Apartheid: Rodriguez Scores
The Seventies were in part a graveyard for a great deal of activity begun in the Sixties. Many of the protest songs died out as well as the protesters. It was in the early seventies that Rodriguez cut his albums. He was well-liked in the home town, Detroit. His songs are superb. Soloists from the folk genre were marketable back in the day, though Rodriguez never rose to a level commensurate with either Dylan or Ochs. Despite everything, he faded from view. Rumors took over. It was thought that he had committed suicide. Then, in the midst of an international groundswell against Apartheid, he appeared in Cape Town, both as a musician and living symbol. He looks a lot older now, as do everybody from the Sixties and Seventies. So much the worse in an era that is fanatical about superficiality. But to give the artist a listen is to confront the truth of the issue. Music still favors the ear, though there are many successful entrepreneurs who would have it otherwise.
Whatever Happened To?. . .
For the sake of comparison/contrast.
I guess this isn't funny. But did you ever wonder about record producers? As part of the folk scene in NYC, I became acquainted with many singer/songwriters who came out with material on an almost weekly basis. It was there for the taking. Nobody was so high and mighty as to be in a position to turn down an offer, if interest could be summoned forth. Not all, but some of the original songs I heard had potential. In youth, the dream of being able to live a superior, artistic-minded life is a serious temptation. Usually, the age of thirty serves as an indiscriminate executioner. The blade of an ax is at one's neck. The whisper, "make money or die," is always in the wind. My time was in the eighties, after the folk craze had passed. In the Sixties, big money was on the hunt for the next Pete Seeger, Peter Paul and Mary, or Kingston Trio. So why would an executive seek out Manson's Family, live with them, and then market Charles Manson himself as a singer/songwriter? Well, this was the late Sixties, and by then, believe it or not, Manson had already become something of a cult figure. I suppose no one could say then with absolute certainty what the future held for somebody who had wild ideas and attracted both the wealthy and the educated. Just food for thought. . . .
Woody Guthrie -- Setting a Standard
The Eternal Music Scene
I imagine a rather dingily built tenement structure with so many inhabitants that it is just about ready to tip over and take everybody with. This is not reality as such, only a feeling of what the music scene in general sometimes feels like. The nightmarish vision comes from having been a part of something so huge it never quite comes into focus. The music scene today is incredibly diverse and populated. America at large is extremely musical. I could easily break this observation down into several components, from genres and sub-genres to how music is employed, such as to direct an audience in a scene, drum up support for an action, or sell a snack bar. My point is that despite its many employees, most of whom work for nothing, there is, as I once heard, always room for one more. Real talent and true genius will somehow out. Still today, as yesterday, a single voice and a lone guitar can penetrate the most impregnable heart and soul. What I wonder about in the case of Sixto Rodriguez is the ability of an exceptional musical writer and performer to carry on after a long hiatus and maybe exceed all expectations doing so. As it is, Rodriguez is not dead. He lives, he sings, he strums. He can be seen and heard. Nevertheless, the life span of the various practitioners of what I consider the highest art is normally not long. Old-timers are constantly bucking the trend, I will admit. But by and large, age is a handicap. The movie seems to offer the promise of a return that will somehow compensate for an abrupt end to a budding career. It has opened a door, no doubt, for both entertainer and audience. This will have to do. The possibilities for what might have been in a number of fields, especially in the performing arts, will always remain a source of wonder. Some develop into mysteries. "Sugar Man" is one of them.