Imagine this as a movie plot. A virtually unknown Mexican-American singer-songwriter from Detroit produces two albums in the early 1970’s which are complete commercial flops in the U.S. so he puts his energy into various labor jobs to support himself and his family while he continues to play his music in local bars and clubs. Think that story will work?
No? Let’s add to it. Bootleg copies of the his albums find their way to South Africa and the songs resonate so greatly with the people they become ingrained in the culture and the anti-apartheid movement while the musician (totally unaware) reaches rock star status equivalent to the biggest names of that time such as Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens…let’s make it the king himself – Elvis. Think that is a good premise for a Hollywood blockbuster? Do you find it too farfetched?
Even Hollywood might find it hard to sell such a story but guess what…it’s a true story and it has become a movie. Sixto Diaz (Jesus) Rodriguez is that musician. The movie is Searching for Sugar Man, which won the Academy Award for best documentary in 2013. His songs questioned and protested a wide array of issues from the Vietnam war to racial inequality; from supporting women’s rights to questioning the establishment. These songs and topics were enthusiastically embraced by the people of a country strongly opposed to the atrocities of an apartheid policy and a government which enacted strict media control and censorship.
Nothing was known about Rodriguez. Before he was finally discovered in Detroit it was rumored he had shot and killed himself. Another story was that he set himself on fire on stage after finishing a song. These ‘urban legends’ led to the title of his first concert series – Dead Men Don’t Tour. That was in South Africa in 1998. At the first show the bass player repeatedly played the eight note riff from the wildly popular song I Wonder while the crowd chanted Rodriguez – Rodriguez – Rodriguez.
So, why is Rodriguez this Friday’s Fearless Brand? It is not the fame nor the incredible story. Rather it is because of how Rodriguez lived his life across the ups and downs and fame and disappointments. In last week’s blog It Starts With You, I highlighted several characteristics of a fearless brand. Authenticity. Honesty. Clarity. Consistency.
Rodriguez has complete clarity as to who he is and what he does. He is committed to his music, his songs and his beliefs. His actions and behavior are consistent whether being lauded as a rock star or swinging a hammer on a job site.
Rodriguez has been the same unassuming and humble person whether recording his original albums, enduring their failure or accepting stardom some twenty plus years. When in South Africa for the tour he slept on the sofa in his room because he did not want to be a bother and cause ‘unnecessary’ work for someone else. Back in the States he maintained his very modest home and continued to do the construction work which supported him through the years.
So, what is the take from this week’s Friday’s Fearless Brand? To me the greatest take away is yet another example of the power of clarity. He knew his beliefs, his satisfiers, his talents. Rodriguez had very little question about what he could – and could not – control. This resulted his conviction that his life was exactly as it was supposed to be. He was equally undaunted by the lows – failed albums – or the highs – ‘instant’ rock star status. He continues to simply be Rodriguez.
There should be no doubt that I find the story of Rodriguez and the documentary of his life to be fascinating. I also happen to really like his music (yes, it’s on my iPhone). Should you care to learn more about Rodriguez -Friday’s Fearless Brand – visit the official Rodriguez website as it contains videos, tour dates, message boards and much more.
Thanks for sharing this story Bill. Fascinating how someone can almost be invisible at home and well known abroad. Look forward to the upcoming Fridays.
I found it a fascinating story as well. I hope you have the opportunity to watch the film. Appreciate your comment and yes, more Friday’s Fearless Brands to follow. 🙂
What a fabulous choice! Rodriguez was a significant part of my youth growing up in South Africa, but I’d never thought of him as a brand. What an inspired and insightful view – and a brilliant demonstration of not only a fearless brand, but in particular a fearless PERSONAL brand. Thanks for opening our world.
Thank you for you kind comments and observations Tara. I certainly hope that I did justice with my representation of Rodriguez and his impact on the culture of South Africa. While the label ‘brand’ may be overused or misunderstood – we are all ‘brands’ and have the ability and obligation to be aware of and manage that fact.
Yes the documentary was great, a brilliant, humble man indeed. Thank for writing about it
Thank you Carly. I am glad that you know his story – it’s fascinating and – I believe – provides lessons we all can benefit from.