Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again
by Madeline Bocaro
© Madeline Bocaro, 2023. No part of this site may be reproduced or re-blogged in whole or in part, in any manner without permission of the copyright owner.
With great anticipation of Sly Stone’s memoir, I have read many posts on social media from people of all ages and races, saying that they have loved Sly since they were ten to twelve years old, (like myself) and their excitement could hardly be contained! There are many things about Sly that speak to young people. His mischievous smile, the sly look in his eyes, his ultra cool / super funky look, the joy he spreads through song with his integrated group of musicians, and his innocence in believing that music would unite us all.
Thanks to Shyn Digg for the above photo!
My friend Nicole and I vowed several times that we would go on a mission and find Sly. His book shows us that it’s a good thing that we didn’t!
Sly’s story is humorous and heavy, joyous and sad. It’s amazing that he is now able to tell it all at the age of 80, and that the kids who loved him (now in our sixties) are holding this book in our hands. This fills in all the gaps in all the missing years of a musical genius.
The best part is that it is unmistakably in Sly’s own voice. He speaks in a wonderfully simple hip-hop haiku. His wise jive describes life in a unique way, conveying his frustration and means of survival, which we can all learn from. (In school, he is at the blackboard, “Black, bored.” “Everyone had to be free all the time, or no one was free at all.”)
The foreword was written by Questlove who published the book, and recently brought us the wonderful The Summer of Soul film. He also has a Sly documentary in the works!
During countless hours being interviewed for the book, it’s amazing how clear Sly’s memories are. “I can still hear a note bouncing out of an electric piano in 1966… I can still feel the light on my face as I walked onstage in 1972.” He brings us back to these times and places, and evokes all the excitement.
It is cool to know that Sly still re-watches his classic old television talk show appearances. I always wanted his take on The Mike Douglas Show when he verbally sparred with Muhammad Ali. He speaks about this early in the book. Sly is clowning around, trying to diffuse Ali’s bitterness and anger. He was all about “lifted spirits and lightened minds.” He tries to “generate a glow of goodwill” by saying, “Kindness needed to radiate toward every person, or it would reach no one.” He wants to elevate everyone with music. “To return to that attitude and altitude.”
This reinforces my theory that the reason for his disappearance and escape into drugs was that he was too sensitive to withstand the social injustice and intense pressure that he was getting from all angles, while trying to promote positivity.
There are details about his childhood (from Texas to San Francisco) mostly in church, where the music grew out of him. “When I went out into the world, I was surprised to see people who weren’t carrying instruments. I wasn’t sure what they did instead.” He is inspired by pop stars who came out of the church, “who kept what was holy and added in what was earthy…”
Sly leaves his musical theory studies with David Froehlich to become a radio DJ on KSOL, playing R&B and soul. He has the verbal chops to get everyone hyped about a record that he is about to play, and he also plays on records and produces them. He respects the Beatles and Bob Dylan.
Sly and The Family Stone’s debut album is released in 1967 with a deliberate concept; black and white, male and female – all equally powerful members, in a funky fashion explosion. As their star began to rise, so did their platform shoes. Their afros got bigger and bigger. Their maniacal, go-getting manger, David Kakpralik fueled the fire. Drugs enter the scene early on, due to the demands of touring. The exciting Electric Circus shows in New York City are detailed.
Sly talks about many of the songs in detail. We learn that ‘Underdog’ was written for The Beau Brummels whom he had produced. ‘Higher’ was based upon a Billy Preston song called ‘Advice.’ Sly and Billy worked a lot together early on.
Billy Preston ‘Advice’
I love Sly’s explanation of the song which titles this book,
“The way I spelled the title, mice, elf, small humble things that were reminders of how big the rest of the world was. You had to stand up straight to be seen at all.”
He describes the song “Stand!”
Snare drum in, and then it was lift and uplift.”
We learn that Sly delivered a French version of ‘Dance to the Music’
(The French Fries)
The Fillmore East show with The Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1968 is discussed. “We pied pipered the crowd out of the theater onto the street… They had to put the place back together after our set, and then Jimi came on and tore the place up again.” Can you imagine being there??!!
Then, “After Woodstock, everything glowed.” This was their pinnacle, and the money started pouring in. Sly’s Coldwater Canyon home becomes a drug den. “Angel dust in the City of Angels.” Everyone takes notice and is influenced by their sound; The Jackson Five, The Temptations, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock. Sly searches out and supports new acts, as the Beatles did with Apple, and his disciple Prince did later with Paisley Park.
Sly was caught in the middle. The Black Panthers didn’t appreciate him mixing with whites, and whites thought he was too militant. He wanted to “Rise above the divisions that are subtractions.” Soon came the headlines, Sly Late, Sly Missing, Sly No-Show. He claims to be only 10% responsible for this, and that it was mostly manipulation by the promoters and venues due to disorganization and double bookings. He regrets leaving kids in the audience without a show.
A move to Bel Air brings a posse of bodyguard gangsters with guns, musicians and hangers-on. The band begins to fracture, with the drummer leaving first. The mechanical syncopation of the MRK-2 becomes a substitute. It’s now Sly and the Rhythm King. In those days, drum machines were merely used as metronomes, and were not meant to be recorded. Sly took it one step further with the No. 1 hit ‘Family Affair.’ There’s A Riot Goin’ On divides critics, but reaches No. 1. People said the album was dark, “but that wasn’t my intention.”
In 1972, the sordid story of Larry Graham’s departure unfolds. “Larry stirred himself into Hot Chocolate and renamed it Graham Central Station.”
The album Fresh in 1973 is pure electronic funk. Sly’s extravagant wedding/concert at MSG to Kathy Silva on May 31, 1974 is recounted! Then came the run of shows at Radio City in January 1975.
If we had the internet at the time, we would have known that Sly never stopped making music and performing intermittently. When he was deeply into recording, he could stay clean for a week, but this couldn’t last with someone inevitably visiting with drugs. Soon, the IRS repossessed his Bel Air home, cars and more. He lived in mansions, apartments, hotel rooms and jail cells. There were several arrests for many reasons (drug charges, parking tickets, child support). The charges were compounded by failure to appear in court. “Arrest records were my new records.”
He talks about spending time in the 80s with George Clinton, hanging out, getting high, playing music and traveling. In 1982 there is a tour with Bobby Womack. Most of us caught his rare appearance on The David Letterman Show performing ‘If You Want Me to Stay’ and ‘Stand!’
He talks about living contentedly in a mobile studio. (That’s when my friend and I had hoped to bring Sly some milk and cookies and persuade him to release a new album).
There were more performances in Chicago, Florida, more arrests, rehab. While between homes and in tax debt, Sly meets Arlene Hirschkowitz who becomes his girlfriend, engineer and manager, and (although they split in 1988) later facilitates the writing of this book. Miraculously, he is always provided with a place to live, and an allowance for drugs.
Sly speaks with grace and humor.
He doesn’t hide anything, or wallow in regret, although he now clearly sees what he should have done differently.
In 1993 he emerged for the band’s induction into The Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame. His ‘Thank you’ speech was extremely short, and then he was gone again.
He begins to hear his songs sampled by hip-hop artists and wonders why he is not getting enough royalties.
Then came the 2006 Grammys tribute. We all knew that the band would appear, but would Sly be there? YES! It was like a sighting of Hayley’s Comet – a flash of glory in a long silver cape, the SLY belt and a platinum mohawk! Elation turned to bafflement. Is that really Sly? What is wrong with his hand? Why is he bent over? And why did he abruptly leave the stage? We now know that it was from a motorcycle crash, a fall out of bed, and because he was pissed that his mic was turned off.
A move to Napa brings him nearer to family. Another run of concerts lands him at B.B. King’s club in New York City in 2007 (which I attended) –and later, Coachella.
MY REVIEW: When Sly was Fly…
In 2011 at age 68, a new album titled I’m Back! Family & Friends is Sly’s first in almost 30 years. In 2015 Sly was awarded five million dollars in royalties, which was blocked by the judge. He couldn’t get a break!
In a later appearance on The Mike Douglas Show, Sly said that he would make one more album, “and if it does not go platinum immediately, then “goodbye.” He kept his word.
Sly’s three children were interviewed on CBS This Morning recently, at his modest California house, where he has been living after his four attempts at rehab. They said that while growing up with their dad, everything in their life was weird, which seemed normal to them. Now it’s weird decorating the Christmas tree with Sly, because it’s such a normal thing. It’s all come full-circle.
My message to Sly:
Thank You Falettinme Hear Your Voice Agin!
We still want the funk – if you want to bring it!
On The Sly is a MUST-SEE documentary, passionately made by a fan named Michael Rubenstone, who is thanked in the acknowledgements of Sly’s book – “for the search and the find.”
Here is the info how to watch – it’s only available through a limited-time private Vimeo link for super Sly fans.
Make a $9.99 tax deductible domination HERE (https://www.paypal.com/paypalme/searchforslyllc) and you will receive a private link of the film, which will be active for a week.
© Madeline Bocaro 2023. No part of this text may be copied, photocopied, reproduced, translated or re-blogged in whole or in part, without prior written permission. Reproduction without permission is prohibited. All text written by Madeline Bocaro is protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without prior written permission.
See more in my Playlist category:
About A Song
Eat to the Beat
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