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Penguin SA

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Unearthing the Mystery of Rodriguez – Craig Bartholomew Strydom and Stephen Segerman Launch Sugar Man

Craig Bartholomew Strydom and Stephen Segerman

The popular La Parada was humming last Monday when a crowd of Sugar Man fans arrived to celebrate the launch of Sugar Man: The Life, Death and Resurrection of Sixto Rodriguez by Craig Bartholomew Strydom and Stephen “Sugar” Segerman.

One of the many fans in attendance was ‎Steve Connolly, managing director of Penguin Random House South Africa. He could barely contain his delight as he introduced the two authors to the audience and spoke enthusiastically about the decision to turn the movie into a book, an inversion of the usual process which sees the book written first and later turned into a movie.

Marianne Thamme, Craig Bartholomew Strydom and Stephen SegermanSugar Man“There was so much in the story behind that the story of finding Sugar Man that was left out of the movie, by virtue of the time restrictions of the medium. You can fit so much more into a book,” Connolly said, adding that he found it a powerful reading experience.

Connolly praised the authorial duo’s teamwork and handling of the narrative, describing the book as skilfully crafted and beautifully constructed. He recalled a recent two-hour flight and expressed his gratitude for the window that afforded him a modicum of privacy; as he read about the suicide of the 36-year-old Swedish filmmaker, Malik Bendjelloul, the tears rolled down his face.

Segerman and Strydom were joined in a conversation with Marianne Thamm, journalist, and author, whose most recent book is the music biography, PJ Powers: Here I Am. She cut to the chase, asking the authors her trademark probing and unrepentant questions. The interview was passionate and heartfelt as Strydom and Segerman shared the experiences of their own respective searches for Sugar Man and each other, and of making the film and writing the book.

“It was a very happy collaboration between Sugar and I,” said Strydom, speaking of the creative osmosis that evolved between the two of them. “The process of making the documentary with Malik was an amazing one. He was a Werner Herzog disciple who knew you could only put so much into 83 minutes. He knew how to get bite-sized statements from people, to the point that he got me saying a line, other people saying the line. In the end, we didn’t know who said it, even though we had all said it.”

Strydom said that in the book the movie covered two years of their lives, but the book covers 72 years, the age Rodriguez is now. “The movie takes 83 minutes. The book takes as long as it does for you to read it.”

Thamm asked if at any stage they wondered if it would be better if Rodriguez had remained undiscovered, a mysterious artist we South Africans all thought was world-famous. Should we have held onto him that way, listening to music and revelling in the nostalgia it brought back? “Having met the man … now he’s real … the fallout. He’s not easy to be around, as we all know. Are there any regrets?” she asked.

In response to Thamm’s enquiry, Segerman described the encounter with Rodriguez’s daughter, Eva Koller. When she first made contact she said, “Do you really want to do this? Sometimes the mystery is best left alive …” Her first reaction was concern about going down the down that road. But he doesn’t evidence of cause for regret in anyone who was involved in the search: “Ask Koller now how she feels about what’s happened in the last 20 years, touring around America in buses, filling the Royal Albert Hall two nights in a row, having a wonderful time taking her dad on stage – his eyesight is very poor, so when he goes on stage one of his daughters takes him to the microphone. I think back then we all wondered … now that everybody has experienced him and his music around the world, I’m happy that we did.”

Thamm reflected on the mysterious nature of Rodriguez’s intersection with the universe. “Everyone who arrives at this point comes with a tremendous sense of goodwill, some universal well-wishers in the sidelines, clapping him along … and yet Rodriguez himself seems to scupper his opportunities, or turns away from them, or something happens … What do you feel he has drawn to himself? It adds to the mystery of who he is,” she said.

“Rodriguez in his late 50s he discovers his audience – not just in South Africa but around the world. For him, discovering that he can go onstage, can meet his fans, is sufficient for him. It’s great that he’s making the money and supporting his family to the degree he is now, but for himself, that’s all he ever wanted to do. There’s other mysteries, though, about the publishing and who owns the songs. We talk about it in the book. There’s now a court case going on in America. There was some dodgy stuff going on back in the day …”

This vibrant discussion kept everybody present engaged and entertained. The collective hilarity and candour of Segerman, Strydom and Thamm was utterly refreshing. Those who came had a marvellous evening and the queue to get the book signed bears tribute to the intrigue of the story. It is an absolute must-read for those disposed to be moved by the gravelly voice of Sixto Rodriguez and his incomparable melodies that speak across the years.

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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted live from the event using the hashtag #livebooks:


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