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July 28th, 2014

Searching for Sugar Man

The darkest hour in the history of the music business was Metallica v. Napster.

It was the year 2000 and internet file sharing technology had made it possible for people to discover new music without having to buy it. When their new song leaked, thousands of Metallica fans downloaded the track before it was released in stores.

Metallica should have felt honored that there were still some people who enjoyed listening to their mediocre metal music. And they should have been pumped that there was this new distribution method that allowed them to share new music with their fans.

But instead of thinking about the poor kids who got to listen to their song because of Napster, the guys from Metallica thought about the Lamborghinis they wanted to buy with their royalty checks. So they took the owners of Napster to court and effectively put the company out of business.

Metallica had become so jaded that they had forgotten how great it feels to share your art with a stranger.

If some internet genius finds a way to introduce my writing to new readers and make money in the process, I won’t send a lawyer to the guy’s house – I’ll send a thank-you note.

Learning that people appreciate your work is more valuable than money. If somebody offered me the choice of either a million dollars or a million new readers for Max’s View, the decision would be easy. And my wife would try to talk me out of it.

The greatest thing that can happen to an artist is to discover that a whole lot of people love your art. Musician Sixto Rodriguez learned that in the most wonderful way possible.

“Searching for Sugar Man” tells the improbable true story of Sixto Rodriguez: a blue collar, second generation Mexican guy from Michigan. He recorded two folky pop records under the name ‘Rodriguez’ in the early 70s that nobody bought. After his label dropped him, Rodriguez took a construction job and began raising a family.

Little did he know, as he was lugging broken appliances out of abandoned Detroit buildings, South Africans were falling in love with his music.

Rodriguez was bigger than The Rolling Stones. But because Apartheid-era South Africa was a closed society, the people who worshipped Rodriguez knew nothing about him. When the internet was invented, his rabid fans were finally able to track their hero down.

When Rodriguez received a late-night phone call from a South African guy telling him that he was a revered platinum recording artist, it was sublime redemption. His response – thank goodness – was not to sue the South African record labels who made a fortune distributing his music. He was simply pleased to hear that his songs had resonated with people.

The brightest hour in the history of music was March 6, 1998, when Rodriguez played his first show in more than a decade, in front of a packed stadium in Cape Town.

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