Friday, August 10, 2012

The Best Story You’ve Never Heard


 Someone say free and you see me jump. Someone shout free and see how high I go.

Yeah, free is how I roll. And last night we had free tickets to a new film, Searching For Sugar Man.


My husband is on an e-mail list, possibly because he writes the most in-depth, thought-provoking reviews of anyone I’ve ever read. He would slit his own wrists if he borrowed a tag line or copped a phrase from a press release. No, no, no. He has to watch something a couple of times and then see two or three more films almost like it then write a review that maybe a couple people in the world recognize as extreme fantastic and then they link to it. Like orchids.

Last night’s movie was orchids sprouting in the weeds of Detroit—that good.

Mike Hertenstein will probably write his own review, but for now I’ll give you mine.

Imagine someone in the arts who works really hard and is objectively talented. A rare orchid. Now imagine that person actually gets recognition and lands A. record deal, B. publishing contract, C. is invited to have their own exhibition. Or fill in the blank. So things are coming along. It’s hard to sleep just thinking of the possibilities. Letterman! Opening for a famous rock band! Actually playing an arena! An arena full of paying adoring fans!!

Then nothing.

I’ve had a little experience with this. About ten years ago I had 2 books published in one year. And they were getting GREAT reviews. I was interviewed on NPR, on TV (an early Sunday morning show—but still!), I did readings all over Chicago, and, for some reason, I had a pocket of fans in Jamestown, New York and was invited there to give a reading. All expenses paid—so, yeah, I was jumping high.

Then nothing.

The book stopped charting, the calls stopped coming, and nobody took a second look at my next manuscript. Now I can’t sleep because I’m wondering what did I do wrong. Is there anyone out there who still gives a crap about my work? I google myself to see if I’m still here.

Sixto Rodriguez was born in Detroit to an immigrant family. He worked in one of the car factories, he was the sixth child—thus Sixto. He was a poet and a philosopher. He went to the beat of a different drummer. He wrote songs better than Bob Dylan, like how Bob Dylan wished he could write. He landed a record deal. He recorded two albums, one in London for Sussex Records, he toured, he captured the mind and imagination of a troubled generation living in troubled times, and then it all ended.

He slipped away.(see above clip)

Half a world away, he is famous. Everyone everywhere has his album or a bootleg of his album. Kids can recite his lyrics. More than that though, his words incite a revolution against systematic, military-enforced racism: the government of South Africa, where conservatives have not only clamped down on blacks, but have to keep the whites in order too. All media was heavily controlled in order to ensure a single message of Apartheid.

Yet somehow Rodriguez’s music got through. He was a sensation and gave hope to a generation of youth to rise up and resist. His lyrics drove other musicians to do the same. Suddenly young lions in Africa were coming alive.

Flash forward 40 years. A Swedish filmmaker is traveling the globe looking for stories to tell. He is visiting South Africa—post-Apartheid and he keeps hearing about a musician he has never heard of. He realizes he needs to tell the story of Rodriguez—the only problem is Rodriguez is dead.

This could be the end of the story—which I’m not going to tell because you need to see the movie for that. But let’s just say it is the perfect story for Detroit. A shrinking city. A city of ruins. A city where the light of glory has faded. Like Rodriguez, like most of us. We’ve slipped away.

It is a story of hope, that right when you think it’s the end, or see my previous post—when you think there is nothing you can do about anything because what’s bound to happen will happen anyway—there is a second act.

Oh, and by the way—check out Letterman on August 14th.

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