Then coincidentally I watched a very good film over the weekend called Searching for Sugar Man. It’s a documentary about the life & times of Sixto Rodriguez, the ‘nearly man’ of 70’s music in America. The essence of the film is the question, ‘why did an artist who was so talented, never become a sales success in the US?’ (and conversely, why was he so wildly successful in South Africa…)
In any case, I thoroughly recommend the documentary, which explains the full story (I won’t spoil it here). It won at the BAFTAs and an Oscar too, by the way. But some interesting points to note from this:
1. Sometimes an absence of information or air of mystery can create something unique – a movement, a following, a brand – I am interested in this day and age of ‘information saturation’ to think about how ‘mystery’ can be used in brand building…creating something unique, WITH MEANING and letting people come to you rather than vice versa. It takes confidence and a philosophy to do this, but branding & marketing must come to stand for more than simply selling people more stuff.
2. The essence of the film is that Rodriguez failed to make an impact in the US because his name – that of a Mexican immigrant – was not the kind of person that early 70’s US wanted to be listening to, when set alongside Elvis, The Rolling Stones etc. How many other great artists have been overlooked in this way? Was this a failure of branding on behalf of the record label? What if they had changed his name (like so many other artists)? At what point do decide to change public opinion or simply bow to the common currents?
3. Does mass sales success equal success? I suppose it depends on your criteria. Of course it does in the marketing world. But the whole story of Searching for Sugar Man, is that the success he achieved, outside the US, and the humility of the man, are almost greater achievements.
And just to end, because we like great copy here, with some lyrics from Rodriguez himself. A wonderful, brief, Dylan-esque song full of metaphor:
Crucify Your Mind
Was it a huntsman or a player
That made you pay the cost
That now assumes relaxed positions
And prostitutes your loss?
Were you tortured by your own thirst
In those pleasures that you seek
That made you Tom the curious
That makes you James the weak?
And you claim you got something going
Something you call unique
But I’ve seen your self-pity showing
As the tears rolled down your cheeks
Soon you know I’ll leave you
And I’ll never look behind
‘Cos I was born for the purpose
That crucifies your mind
So con, convince your mirror
As you’ve always done before
Giving substance to shadows
Giving substance ever more
And you assume you got something to offer
Secrets shiny and new
But how much of you is repetition
That you didn’t whisper to him too