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Seeking Completion in an "Ordinary" Legend: Reflections on a Rodriguez Concert

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I stood on the steps of New York's Town Hall with hundreds of other enthusiasts of the newly found but not new at all symbolic giant of Rodriguez, the resurrected singer song writer made famous in the Oscar winning documentary "Searching for Sugarman."

There was one gentleman on the step above mine, and our eyes met. I offered to him, "You know I'm Jewish but I think he (Rodriguez) is Jesus." And he responded, "Well I'm a Christian and I think he is the Buddha." That one brief conversation may say quite a lot.

For those of you who didn't see the film, Rodriguez is a resurrected singer songwriter whose 1970 album was mysteriously transported to South Africa where it made him the Bob Dylan of that country, one of the voices of protest against Apartheid and towards democracy. Rodriguez, who never died, is resurrected only because the South African fans heard he committed suicide while performing, while the American fan base was just about non existent. A son of Mexican immigrants who put himself through college with a degree in philosophy, he was a day laborer, something of a loner (though he loved and had three daughters with whom he is very close). a man whose eyesight grew weaker and weaker and who as of now is almost blind.

So why were we there, summoning Buddha and Jesus; why did the crowd greet him with a feverish pitch of embrace and excitement. And why was Rodriguez' remark both ironic and apt when he said, "I just want to be treated like an 'ordinary legend'". What does he have that we not only appreciate but want, want and admire, want and perhaps envy.

He told a crowd of hungry listeners to be gentle with our anger, that he who conquers his anger conquers himself. He told us to keep being political and to keep caring. And as he sang the songs of other artists as well, he showed us he has not stopped growing and respecting what is outside himself. He respects giving--giving respect and material goods: yes he was in Town Hall and he is going all over the world, but he gives of his money, he does not hoard it or value it as most of us do. We hear that wishing for fame takes the joy in its accidental presence away or makes it cheaper, while most of us yearn for recognition that often feels like something that will make us whole, safe.

There is always a danger in assuming we know the spirit and heart of another person, especially a public figure who is an easy foil for whatever lies in our imaginations and yearnings. So often we want to be completed by a hero or a magician whom we put on a pedestal even though someone like Rodriguez would caution us not to, tell us how unwise that would be. And so it is a struggle, it could and perhaps should become our own struggle to disentangle our imagery from the fact, the "cold fact" that he will remain a stranger to us as we put details together to make up what many have seen as a fairy tale. In truth the fairy tale concept seems to simplify the man, to simplify all of us-- since life at its most real means evolving past the need for completion and addiction to fantasy only.

In a song I see as one of his most haunting, "Crucify Your Mind", Rodriguez talks of someone selling her body and the doomed attempt to convince the mirror image left behind that there is more than there is. The latter part of the lyrics goes:

"Soon you know I'll leave you
And I'll never look behind
'Cos I was born for the purpose
That crucifies your mind.
So con, convince your mirror
As you've always done before
Giving substance to shadows
Giving substance ever more...

There is real loneliness, and deep pathos in this song, with its haunting melody that fits so well. And here are some of the words that make the man Rodriguez a gritty, hard living and loving human being, perhaps the one who knows better than anyone he is no Jesus, no Buddha, no perfect anything or anyone.

Yet there is loneliness as we hit the streets after the euphoria of having had a worshiping, participatory and joyous community spirit slip away. But we can still get to know and learn from this man's uniqueness of character, his lack of greed in the sense that American culture has taught us that fame and money rock more than anything else. And we can ponder on a man who has done things his way, not at all perfectly, and not in any way meant to be copied.

I have noticed more and more lately that my own work in psychotherapy begins with questions. The student I mentor asks me often what will happen after the questions are asked, and I say I don't know. I'm not a Buddhist by any means; I am just finding that planning the answers takes away the possibilities of what might happen, and disallows any creativity.

Perhaps tolerating the fact that many of us have missed the early security of a tender world of family, of intimacy with people who could regulate their own emotions, might help us tolerate the work we all have to do to be real, to practice our emotions, and our connections. The irony can be that asking the questions and processing solutions or ideas in company can be both soothing and truly interesting.

So, while many of us have seen and will see Rodriguez as part of our forays into spiritual tourism, on a pilgrimage of sorts, his music and his essence kind of send us back to ourselves. There's no saying we can't find company to help us...but to depend on him would be ever so unfair.