Rodriguez has no idea his album has been a big hit in South Africa

Rodriguez has no idea his album has been a big hit in South Africa

Once in a while, you see stories about some undiscovered talents on the news. They touch your heart because there is the element of sympathy: you are sympathetic because it seems that the world has missed out on something for a long time, and you try to comprehend the reason of the world’s indifference; and more importantly, you are sympathetic because you realise, in no time, you are standing in the shoes of the subject in the news – you are, coincidentally and obviously, the victim of another brutal talent un-discovery. You find a sense of consolation reading those stories, or, to put it more bluntly, a sense of relief – for knowing that your talent may be discovered someday.

Searching for the Sugar Man is not one of those stories. This story not only touches your heart or exploits your sympathy, but it also inspires.

The story started with the quest of a Rodriguez’s fan to track down his idol’s whereabouts. “Every obstacle during the search has been an inspiration,” he declared. It took him years and, I assume, a dozens of inspiration for him to finally locate the most popular yet mysteriously American singer in South Africa. To his surprise, Rodriguez knew nothing about his popularity nor his obscure role in ending the Apartheid in South Africa.

To say Rodriguez is a man of modest means would be an outrageous understatement to his humility. He did not seem to be excited, or even interested, when he learnt about his bigger-than-elvis identity in South Africa. When asked about whether he regretted not knowing about that identity earlier by the Director, Mr. Rodriguez found no words for the answer. He didn’t seem to have thought about this very idea or the word “regret” at all. His lack of response renders the rationale (“well, you could have been a superstar”) behind the Director’s question out of place, and, almost offensive.

If life is a story, the story always has a narrative demanding us to be talented, ambitious or famous. To Rodriguez, that narrative did not matter. He didn’t seem to have thought about himself being talented when he wrote those songs, nor thought about being ambitious when he did those hard-labour construction jobs, nor thought about being famous when he ran for city council. To Rodriguez, what matters is: he loves what he is doing.

The newspaper declares Rodriguez a hero (and a zero).

The newspaper declares Rodriguez a hero (and a zero).

When we love what we do and we do it only because we love it, we could achieve a state of serenity, very much like the state Rodriguez was in as he took stage for the first time in South Africa, and probably first time ever. When you do something only out of love, these things usually don’t come into your mind: fame , shame, success, failure, glory… well, you get the idea. That’s how you don’t get butterflies in your stomach when you got thousands of fans cheering at your debut concert.

So, can I also escape the usual narrative of life and do the things I love? Maybe. In the world we live in today, it takes courage to take a stance against or ignore (in Rodriguez’s case) and do the things we love. But I guess the takeaway from Rodriguez’s story is that, if we can be authentic and persistent about the things we love, someday, you’ll be home – the place where you feel most comfortable about.

There is a long way to go.

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