Like most people who have had the pleasure of watching Searching For Sugar Man, the Oscar-winning documentary about American folk/protest musician Sixto Rodriguez, I was left in awe of his astonishing life story. Although he found some brief success in Australia in the mid-70’s, he ultimately left behind a career in music after failing to sell records in his home country; humbly resorting instead to a life of construction work in downtown Detroit to provide for his young family.
Decades later he made the fateful discovery that a few of his records had been smuggled into South Africa during the course of the apartheid government, eventually leading him to not only become a household name throughout the country, but a superstar. His defiant, poetic lyrics on the trials and tribulations of life resonated so well with South Africans that he is often described as the soundtrack to the lives of an entire generation. In terms of popularity, he’s regularly compared with the all-time great musical acts such as Bob Dylan, Elvis and the Rolling Stones.
Trouble was, all through the 70’s and 80’s his South African fans had presumed he was dead, and Rodriguez himself had no knowledge whatsoever of his superstardom taking place on the other side of the world. The true magic of the Sugar Man story shines through once the connections finally come together in the post-apartheid 1990’s and the man who had all but given up hope in the music industry comes to the realisation that his music helped shape a nation.
I felt truly inspired and uplifted witnessing the narrative of this humble artist unfold throughout the documentary. I’ve since become a huge fan of his music and I hope for the chance to one day see him perform live. Thankfully the film generated so much media interest that mainstream success finally embraced him in his home country and throughout the rest of the world – I can’t think of many other musicians deserving of such recognition at long last.
Woke up this morning with an ache in my head,
– “This Is Not a Song, It’s an Outburst: Or, the Establishment Blues”, from the album Cold Fact (1970)
My account of the Rodriguez story leads me to yesterday, where I spent 16 hours working at a North Sydney polling booth for the 2013 Australian Federal Election. I must state that I’m not very politically active and I’d been left fed up with the backstabbing negativity that saturated our TV screens and newspapers during the election campaign, however I was still very interested to be part of the election process and learn about how it all came together. It turned out to be a genuinely fascinating day getting to meet and hand out ballot papers to people from all over the district, followed by the excitement of sorting, tallying and phoning in the votes.
The most memorable moment of the day came after the polls had closed, about half an hour into sorting through the 1,600 or so House of Representative ballot papers. For those who may not know, these are small green sheets that contain the names of each candidate hoping to win a seat in parliament and represent their electorate; the voting public elect their member by numbering the candidates in order of preference. Six people ran for the North Sydney seat, including Raheam Khan, Joe Hockey, Alison Haines, Angus McCaffrey, Peter Hayes and Maureen Guthrie.
As the team sorted through the papers we made light of some of the informal votes where people had satirically nominated an entirely different candidate of choice. Somebody suggested “Judge Judy” as their #1 preference for North Sydney; another thought “Tom Petty” might be up for the job. Someone else wittily proposed “The Pub”.
Amid my pile of green papers I spotted one with a handwritten note at the bottom of the pre-printed list of candidates that looked a little bit like this:
To whoever filled this House of Representatives ballot form: you made me smile and I salute you for offering your (albeit informal) vote to this worthy candidate.
Rodriguez for Prime Minister!