A lovely film about a Detroit singer-songwriter robbed of musical fame but rewarded with a second chance decades later, at age 70, "
Today, as he did back when he was almost famous, he goes simply by Rodriguez. He was born in Detroit of Mexican immigrant parents and raised by his father after his mother died. Years later Rodriguez generated a following as that mysterious character who sang and played guitar, often with his back to the audience, in bars like the Sewer in the late 1960s.
His songs reminded people of
And neither album found an audience. Rodriguez's recording career was over before it began. He worked for decades in relative obscurity on construction jobs. He managed to feed his three daughters. He didn't realize until decades later that bootleg copies of "Cold Fact" had found their way to
Meanwhile ... in 2006, Stockholm-based Malik Bendjelloul, of Algerian and Swedish ancestry, had saved up enough money from his work designing TV series title sequences to take six months off and travel, looking for short
In a separate interview, the director characterizes Rodriguez as "a mystery, still."
Now the mystery man is enjoying his second act. There's a Letterman appearance scheduled for Aug. 13. Rodriguez tours widely. He's been to South Africa four times, Australia four times.
"He's this humble, quiet guy," says Bendjelloul, "who never lost his hope. For 30 years, he was always walking with a guitar on his back in Detroit. He never played because no one asked him to play. But he wanted to play. And now he plays. It's beautiful. Think about it."
Rodriguez, in turn, credits the director with "exciting my musical career, and I'm grateful." The singer-songwriter has shared stages this year with
Rodriguez puts it simply, after a sip of coffee: "He's a self-taught filmmaker; I'm a self-taught musician." It was fate they met, just as something told the filmmaker to go into the Cape Town record store in 2006 and listen to a story about a Detroit legend who was more of a spirit, and who never got his due the first time.
Moral? According to Bendjelloul: If you're a documentary filmmaker looking for subjects, "See the world. It's so much better than sitting at home, Googling."