Lessons from Sugar Man

The documentary Searching for Sugar Man came up in conversation with friends last night. If you haven’t seen this Oscar-winning gem, go immediately to your preferred film source and get it. (Immediately after you finish reading this!)

Photo by David Ingram

Photo by David Ingram, via Flickr Creative Commons

I won’t give too much away, because the joy of this film is experiencing the discovery. In brief: Rodriguez, a Detroit musician whose lyrics and style rivaled Dylan’s, made two records in the early 70s. Both flopped. End of story—as far as anyone knew in the U.S.

But in sequestered South Africa, where apartheid had a stranglehold, his anti-establishment message galvanized a generation. There Rodriguez became a superstar—and a mystery. Rumors circulated about a dramatic onstage suicide, involving self-immolation or a gun. Because South Africa was cut off from the rest of the world, in those pre-Internet days, there was little to go on. Who was he, and how did he die?

The story unfolds from there.

In our case, the film sparked a discussion about the impossibility of ever knowing the impact of your deeds.

Clayton said he recently talked with his young son about what it means to be a good person, and how important it is to get off your duff and do something. “You can’t just sit around your house and say you’re a good person. You have to get out and make a positive effort.”

And it doesn’t matter if you fail, because the simple fact of your trying may inspire someone else, Clayton believes.

To my mind, “positive effort” could be as simple as a kind word or smile. We don’t know how these little things might bolster someone facing an inward darkness, or outward danger.

I seem to write about this often: that acts we think of as small actually have great power. Most of us, living our lives in defined spaces, consider our influence very small. Our lives seem circumscribed by smallness; we go to and fro, following our routines, taking care of the details that make up a life.

We may feel that we are too insignificant to make a difference in the fate of our planet and our race.

Yet everyone can do small things with great love, and who can know the ripple effect? Especially if we work in tandem with others.

Photo by Lisuebie, via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Lisuebie, via Flickr Creative Commons

The row we plant might be just the encouragement our elderly neighbor needs to start seeds on a windowsill. Which might nudge her granddaughter to visit a farmers market and buy a farmer’s tomatoes, and one of those funny-looking squashes while she’s at it. Maybe she’ll come back in ensuing weeks and bring her children and a friend, buying more locally grown food. Which shows the farmer that his produce is desired, and keeps him from throwing in the towel after a tough summer.

Think about it.

(And seriously, see the film. Then watch the “making of” extra. If you’ve ever been so discouraged that you nearly gave up a dream, you’ll connect to the story behind the film.)

10 thoughts on “Lessons from Sugar Man

  1. Great words! I had the chance of watching the film in a music class I was taking this past spring semester and I fell in love with it. His songs are great and the documentary on Rodriguez was well put together.

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