Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin): A Memoir
Sly Stone With Ben Greenman
Some readers may remember a time before Sly and the Family Stone
. There was musicmusic you might reasonably call funky. The word "funk" first appeared in the early seventeenth century. Its use in jazz went back to the 1950s, at least. But for a lot of people, there was before Sly and after Sly, a division as lapidary as any. You might be pardoned for thinking Sly had accompanied Sun Ra
on a journey from another world. No such luck. The truth is he was a product of working-class Vallejo, CA, and the Church of God in Christ, the source of one of his first recordings. No one claims he was utterly original, but Sly was unusual. Or "extreme" as a colleague observes. That may be the understatement of the year. How the man made it to 80 years of age is one thing. How he ever got through a blizzard of cocaine and PCP is another. Or where all the money went? Or even, why?
He began on KSOL in San Francisco
as a factotum cum radio personality, and by 1965 he was producing for The Great!! Society!! a Bay Area band whose girl singer was Grace Slick, and a tune that began as "Someone to Love" (Northbeach, 1965) He helped start a record label, Autumn, sold it, made some money, and decided he should have a band, among other things, like a Jaguar. He helped get a cover band going in Redwood City that morphed into Sly and the Family Stone; a record deal with Epic (part of Columbia); and "drugs came in" as Sly's fuel. A record followed, A Whole New Thing
(Epic, 1967) a debut recording for Sly and the Family Stone. Not much happened. The band sounded a little like a cross between Chicago and the Temptations. It went nowhere.
But Sly found his formula, "pure energy." "Dance to the Music," with a mighty Hammond and all the squares going home and Sally riding before Sally Ride. The song was known to rock Superior school buses off interstates with its a cappella section driving whole student bodies wild as they "listened to the voices." Then there was Woodstock, and "Higher" and now, coincidentally, PCP, and "Hot Fun in the Summertime" and the iconic "Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin.)"
The story continues, but it goes from being merely suggestive to pretty explicit. The humor, which starts as adolescent, end up disgusting. The sex, of which there is plenty, simply gets more explicit, as Sly details his desire not to be a Dick Van Dyke sort of husband (no danger). There is what can only be described an orgy of conspicuous consumption at Sly's wedding, with the bridal party done up in Halston fashion, and Sly gifting a Cadillac to Etta James while accompanied by a violin case full of cocaine. There were appearances on television talk shows, including a memorable one on The Mike Douglas Show
(1974) in which Muhammad Ali barely tolerated Sly's foolishness. There are more houses, a Mercedes (or two) a Rolls Royce, a Maserati, rotating personnel changes in a collapsing band, problems with the IRS, even more women, children, more drugs, repeated hospitalizations and the inevitable spiral into homelessness and destitution. It is not, after 1975, really an edifying story, but it goes on for 40-odd years. In a Faulkneresque sort of way, Stone persists. The final snapshot of Sly says all anyone wants to know.
This is not a very good book by conventional standards, but then, who would judge Sly and the Family Stone by conventional standards? They came, they saw, they conquered, they wiped out. They may or may not have influenced Miles Davis
of the latter period. A very American "success" story. The End,
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