Today, boys and girls, Sly Stone will get a lifetime achievement award at the Grammys.
It’s hard to put into words how important this is. Especially considering how horribly fucked over he was.
I might just stay up to watch it live.
In the meantime, here’s my thoughts on his significance – a bit from the first draft of my book that had to be left on the cutting room floor:
An instructive example is written in the story of Sly Stone, lead singer of the unparalleled Sly & The Family Stone. There has never really been a band quite like them, before or since. Black and white, male and female, the San Francisco funk progenitors embodied the sexual and racial liberation that the 1960s were supposed to unleash. A woman played the trumpet. The drummer was white.
If you haven’t seen their set from the Woodstock documentary (1970), watch it the next time you hear nondescript anodyne swill issuing from the radio (Read: Mumford & Sons) to remind you what music is supposed to sound like.
They took the stage in the middle of the night, set to play to 450,000 soggy, tired hippies crammed into a field built to accommodate just 50,000 people. And they set the place on fire.
“We would like to do a sing along together,” intoned Sly to the addled, exhausted crowd. “And what usually happens when you get a group of people together who might sing, for reasons that are not known anymore, most of us seem to feel we need approval… Now, it might do you some good.”
Sly was good with the uplifting one-liners. One of his best:
“You don’t have to die before you live.”
Tiresome misanthrope Richard Dawkins grumbles ineffectively today for hundreds of pages on the redeeming qualities of atheism, while Sly managed to express the life-affirming power of secularism in just eight inspiring words.