The documentary Searching for Sugar Man uncovers Rodriguez, a turn-of-the-seventies singer-songwriter from Detroit who faded into obscurity after the release of two albums. Though his tuneful protest music would eventually find cult status within the young, white anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, for decades the light-psyche folk troubadour was mostly an unknown. Clues to his persona were available only through his music. Here's what his songs (all available now on the soundtrack to the film) tell us about the dude in the dark sunglasses.
- That he was acquainted with Detroit’s inner-city drug scene:Sugar Man, the song, is a lightly chugging tune with strings and horns. The title character is a dealer: “Silver magic ships you carry / jumpers, coke, sweet Mary Jane.”
- That he had money and talent behind him:Sugar Man is the lead track on 1970’s Cold Fact, an album produced by Detroit guitarist Dennis Coffey. On the same record, the short, chorus-free I Wonder moves to the bass riff of Bruce Babbitt, the Motown studio bassist and member of the Funk Brothers. Rodriguez’s 1971 LP Coming From Reality was recorded in London, produced by the hit-maker and talent scout Steve Rowland. On guitar was the talented session man Chris Spedding.
- That he was heavily influenced by the popular sounds and songwriters of his day: The song Like Janis jangles like the Byrds and jingles like Bob Dylan – “A monkey in silk is a monkey no less.”
- That he was civic-minded and socially conscious: The rapped blues of This is Not a Song, It’s an Outburst: Or, the Establishment Blues has this verse: “Garbage ain’t collected, women ain’t protected / Politicians using, people they’re abusing / the mafia’s getting bigger, like pollution in the river / and you tell me that this is where it’s at.” Anyone listening knew just where this cat Rodriguez was at.
- That he marched to his own drum beat, and that he was plotting his escape: On the Carole King-admiring I’ll Slip Away, which was recorded shortly before he quit the music business in 1972 or ’73, Rodriguez sings about pursuing his own ideas of happiness and leaving to mend his shattered dreams. “Cause I’m losing who I really am, and I’m not choosing to be like them.”
Searching For Sugar Man screens at the Fox Cinema (Dec. 17, 7 p.m.; Dec. 18, 9:30 p.m., 2236 Queen St. E.) and the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (Dec. 15, 9 p.m.; Dec. 16, 4 p.m., 506 Bloor St. W.).
ART & MUSEUMS
Sobey Art Award
An exhibition shows off the talents of the annual award's four runners-up and the $50,000-winner Raphaëlle de Groot, the Quebec artist whose work in a variety of mediums reflects her interactions with people from different milieus, such as a community of nuns, workers at a textile factory, domestic workers and students. To Dec. 30. PWYC. Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, 952 Queen St. W., 416-395-0067.
The Barra MacNeils: An East Coast Christmas
With this fandango of East Coast music, the notion of regional musical sameness is dispelled. The clan from Cape Breton headline the concert, with Alan Doyle (of Great Big Sea), David Myles, Jimmy Rankin and Meaghan Smith testifying to a rich and varied song-based tradition. Dec. 15, 8 p.m. $29.50 to $69.50. Roy Thomson Hall, 60 Simcoe St., 416-872-4255.
Lemon Bucket Orchestra
Before one dies, one must witness a self-described "Balkan-Klezmer-Gypsy-party-punk-super-style" band perform a Ukrainian Christmas show. Tonight offers one the opportunity to cross that experience off one's, ahem, bucket list. Dec. 15, 9 p.m. $10 to $15. Great Hall, 1087 Queen St. W., rockethub.com.
His baritone croon is the comfort food of the Queen Street country scene, and his songcraft and mellow charisma make for a likable package. The Toronto troubadour does a casual supper-hour show at the Cameron House. Dec. 18, 6 to 8 p.m. PWYC. 408 Queen St. W., 416-703-0811.
The spirited troupe is led by the author and former Rheostatic Dave Bidini. Anything is possible, and rumours persist that singer-songwriter Selina Martin will be on hand for an interpretation of the Rush classic Spirit of Radio which, according to Mr. Bidini, is a "colossus re-working" that finds the undreamed middle ground between Heart and the Decemberists. Dec. 20, 7 to 9 p.m. $5. Dakota Tavern, 249 Ossington Ave., 416-850-4579.
An autobiographical one-man show comes from Anthony Rapp, an original cast member of Rent who uses the that hit musical's backstory and music to explore love, loss and borrowed time. To Jan. 6 (Dec. 18 and 20, with post-performance talk). $29 to $69. Panasonic Theatre, 651 Yonge St., 416-872-1212.
The Wizard of Oz
The wizard behind the curtain is Andrew Lloyd Webber. A stage adaptation of the MGM classic film includes new music and beloved chestnuts within an over-the-rainbow spectacle. Opens Dec. 20. $35 to $130. Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria St., 416-872-1212.
An Intimate XXXmas
The rhinestoned ladies of the Skin Tight Outta Sight burlesque troupe grind a crowd Grinch-less, for a happy night of jumping jazz and whirling pasties. Dec. 18, 9 p.m. $12. Painted Lady, 218 Ossington Ave., 647-213-5239 or skintightouttasight.com.
Sashar Zarif Dance Theatre
On the occasion of the winter solstice, a new production (Sama-e Rast ) gets its world premiere. The collaboration of renowned Azerbaijan singer Alim Qasimov and the charismatic dancer Sashar Zarif re-integrates the lost dance element back into the ancient practice of Mugham, involving music and poetry. Dec. 21, 8 p.m. (7 p.m., gallery exhibit opens). $35 to $100. George Weston Recital Hall, 5040 Yonge St., 416-250-3708.
Choir! Choir! Choir!
More! More More! The three-part harmonizers, with a rotating membership of more than 3,000 vocalists, branch out from their regular gigs (on Tuesdays at No One Writes to the Colonel and Wednesdays at the Monarch Tavern) to belt out pop hits to patients tomorrow at Sunnybrook Hospital (2 p.m.) and North York General Hospital (3:15 p.m.). Dec. 15. Donations benefit The Stop Community Food Centre. choirchoirchoir.com.
Christmas Flower Shows
They put the holly in holly-jolly. Events of festive topiaries happen at a pair of conservatories, where, on certain nights, extended hours accommodate candle-lit tours. To Jan. 7. Allan Gardens (19 Horticultural Ave.,416-392-7288) and Centennial Park (151 Elmcrest Rd., 416-394-8543). toronto.ca.
Miracle on 34th Street
That's little Natalie Wood who plays the Santa-skeptical daughter of a New York department store event planner who hires the white-whiskered Kris Kringle for the holiday season. We think you know what happens. Dec. 16, 2 p.m. Fox Theatre, 2236 Queen St. E., 416-691-7330.
Bud Light Pre-Game Festival
Sure, licensed food tents, a concert by Juno-winning blues band Fathead and a Quarterback Challenge too. But at the big NFL game tomorrow involving the Bills and the Seahawks, we're holding out hope for a celebrity groin-pull demonstration. Dec. 16, 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Front Street between Blue Jays Way and John Street. BillsinToronto.com.
Christmas By Lamplight Dec. 15 and 22. Black Creek Pioneer Village, 416-736-1733.
TSO: Handel's Messiah Dec. 18 to 23. Roy Thomson Hall, 416-872-4255.
Tafelmusik: Handel's Messiah Dec. 19 to 22. Koerner Hall, 416-408-0208.
Elvis: The Wonderful World of Christmas Dec.21. Markham Theatre, 905-305-7469.
Aradia Ensemble: The Dublin Messiah December 22. Glenn Gould Studio, aradia.ca.
Sing-along Sound of Music Dec. 22. Rose Theatre Brampton, 905-874-2800