By now, you’ve probably heard of Rodriguez, the subject of last year’s movie “Searching for Sugar Man,” which went on to win the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. I’ve been transfixed by his story and his music.
If you’re not familiar, Rodriguez recorded several albums in the early 70’s that didn’t sell, so he left the music business and seemingly disappeared. Meanwhile, his music found its way to South Africa, and unbeknownst to him, made him a star. The film documents two fans’ attempts to find out what happened to him. In bringing Rodriguez’ story to the masses, they enabled him to finally attain the stardom in the US he never had. I highly recommend the movie.
Rodriguez’ music was recorded 40 years ago, but somehow sounds more from today’s world than most contemporary music. Think Bob Dylan in his prime, with some R&B notes thrown in, and a string section. His voice is both raw and pure, and his lyrics are infused with poetic truth.
I have many favorites on the film soundtrack, but one of the songs that most resonates with me is “I’ll Slip Away.” Perhaps it’s simply a song about a breakup, or moving on from disagreeable circumstances, but it also works as an anthem of nonconformity.
Cause you've been down on me for too long And for too long I just put you on Now I'm tired of lying and I'm sick of trying Cause I'm losing who I really am And I'm not choosing to be like them.
A familiar theme in Rodriguez’ music is sticking it to the man. For me, as an autistic person, it’s the neurotypical establishment I must fit in with. How liberating it would be to not have to try anymore, and trust in my own path.
And if you get bored or you got loneliness Or it's dislike for me you express I won't care if you're right or you're wrong I won't care cause you see I'll be gone. Maybe today, yeah, I’ll slip away.
But more likely than sticking it to the NT man, I’d simply disappear into my inner world without them noticing I’ve gone. In a way, the song foreshadows Rodriguez’ own career and disappearance into the anonymity of hard labor. However, in time, he found the recognition he deserves. So too, do many autistic people dream of being appreciated for our unknown talent. Next week will be the start of Autism Acceptance Month, our vision of a world that celebrates our differences and hidden gifts, rather than one we wish to slip away from.
I like to think of Rodriguez as an icon for those of us who have such an unnoticed talent, and stay true to our authentic self, regardless of how long it takes for our audience to find us. They say he used to play Detroit bars with his back to the audience. They say now he’s finally getting some serious moolah from music royalties, but he plans to stay in the same house in the same blue-collar Detroit neighborhood, and give all his earnings to his family. Righteous.
In two weeks, Rodriguez’ first major American tour passes through Philly, and I’ll be in the audience. Should be a good time. Inside the music, for a little while, to slip away.