What does an artist expect from life? To make a living, get rich or simply make art and do a day job. It is a personal choice. What about the artist who struggles valiantly, but never seems to break out of obscurity? For this artist each sale is a lifeline and the waters are treacherous indeed. It seems likely that bitterness and regret may dog this artist's path forever. In this case there is perhaps no better example than the musician Rodriguez.
Sixto Rodriguez - the mysterious musician from Detroit. Seventies singing icon in South Africa and a symbol of counter-culture for our white youth for at least three decades. Timeless folk songs that are as poetic and powerful today as they were in the seventies. Rodriguez's story made headlines in 2013 with the Oscar winning documentary feature, Searching for Sugarman. If you have not seen the movie then please do so. No matter what your taste in music the human story is so compelling and moving that it will leave a lasting impression.
Here is a highly talented artist. His music in the early seventies is as good as Bob Dylan's, but nobody takes notice. Rodriguez lives in humble circumstances working as a labourer. His dream to become a recognised musician falls flat in the USA. Perhaps the truth is that Rodriguez never dreamed of fame and fortune at all. However in Australia and especially South Africa his music became massively popular in the seventies and continued unabated.
However the legend carried on from word to mouth was that Rodriguez was dead. Suicide. That is until he is discovered by a couple of South African fans in the late 90's. Rodriguez is alive and still living in Detroit. Humble home. No car. Basic wage. Despite royalty checks being sent to his record label Rodriguez has not received any money or recognition for his music. He was unaware of his fame in South Africa.
This changed when Rodriguez was persuaded to come to South Africa and perform in a series of concerts in 1998. All the concerts were sold out. Yet despite this success Rodriguez was happy to go back to his humble home. Despite netting six figure earnings from the concerts he gave most of it away to friends and those more needy than him. If he was bemused by his success back then he should have been stunned by the worldwide fame to come when Searching for Sugarman won the Oscar for best documentary in 2013. Suddenly Rodriguez was in demand everywhere - even in the USA.
Yet Rodriguez did not use the money for personal wealth. He still gave it away. He stays in the same house. Still no car and still lives with the basics. To this artist it is all about performing his art. As Rodriguez says about fame and fortune - all you need is food, clothing and shelter. Everything else is icing.
For those artists chasing wealth Rodriguez may seem crazy. Perhaps some are appalled at his lifestyle. But why? Rodriguez seems to appreciate that people do not own things. Things own people. By attaching ourselves to outcomes and material goals we are always going to be uneasy with life. Attachment leads to fear and suffering. Loss of freedom. The only thing Rodriguez has is his life and his ability to create art. He loves to share this art with the world, not for reward, but because it is his calling.
Let the rewards come and go. Change is the only constant.
The next time you feel like complaining, get frustrated or bemoan your situation think of Rodriguez. Be humble and grateful for life and the opportunity to make art. Love what you do and give freely. That is all that is required of us.
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