Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again) by Sly Stone review – funk, fame and addiction
In 1964, a 21-year-old named Sylvester Stewart from Vallejo, California successfully convinced KSOL radio in San Francisco to hire him. He took on the cool persona of “Sly Stone”. In his unique memoir, he reflects, “Sly was clever and cunning, while Stone represented strength and stability.” However, it can be argued that the majority of his life has not been characterized by being sneaky or steady.
During the late 1960s, Sly and the Family Stone were considered the most thrilling band in the world. With a mix of black and white members, both male and female, they embodied the idea of unity through their performances. Their 1968 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show showcased this energy as Sly and his sister Rose danced among the primarily white audience. However, within three years, their dream came to an end. Stone’s rise to fame and subsequent downfall became a symbol for unfulfilled aspirations and abandoned ideals.
Stone, currently 80 years old, has suffered from severe health issues due to his long-standing addiction to crack. Since 1982, he has not released any new material, and his attempts at a comeback in the late 2000s were met with disappointment or failure. It is unclear how much of this book was written by Stone himself and how much was contributed by his experienced co-author, Ben Greenman. While it is possible that Stone insisted on including lengthy quotes from past album reviews and talk show appearances, as well as meticulously noting every major event from the late 1960s, it seems more like an attempt to fill space. Stone’s distinctive voice shines through in his fondness for paradoxes (finding jazz “interesting even if it was boring”) and wordplay, such as “Contradiction, diction, addiction.” However, his slippery concept of time and memory make him less of a natural storyteller. His recollections of iconic figures such as Muhammad Ali, Richard Pryor, and Stevie Wonder lack depth and are rather mundane, except for his sharp observations about Jimi Hendrix’s aloof demeanor: “It frustrated me. It was like he didn’t realize the potential dangers of the world.” Despite Stone’s knowledge, it offered him little protection.
The young Sly Stone was an outrageous talent. By the time he formed Sly and the Family Stone in 1966, he had already been a doo-wop singer, a star DJ and a staff producer for Autumn Records. The group he designed embodied the 1960s’ highest hopes. They were an everything band – soul, funk, jazz, rock – whose example psychedelicised Miles Davis and Motown. Stone himself was Prince before Prince. They wowed Woodstock. So what went wrong? Everything.
Stone appears to support the widely accepted belief that the mind-altering consequences of fame and addiction mirrored the overall societal attitude. In 1971, his album There’s a Riot Goin’ On, which he presents as a salty reaction to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, was a representation of collapse. Known for cancelling performances (he blames untrustworthy event organizers), he secluded himself in his Bel Air mansion, acting as a paranoid leader of a crumbling family. Bassist Larry Graham became convinced that Stone had placed a hit on his life and began checking under his car for explosives. While Stone denies this accusation, he does confirm a shocking rumor: his aggressive pitbull Gun did indeed kill his pet baboon and then engage in sexual acts with its corpse. Worrisomely, Stone refers to Gun as his “closest companion”.
Stone’s success did not abruptly end. His album There’s a Riot Goin’ On reached number one and his following two albums were certified gold. His marriage to actor Kathy Silva in 1974 at Madison Square Garden received significant media attention and was extensively covered by the New Yorker. However, his subsequent albums gradually lost their impact and eventually ceased to make an impact at all. Fans of the movie Boogie Nights will recognize similarities in the book’s depiction of the 1980s. Stone expresses frustration that journalists only wanted to focus on drug use and decline, but this is inevitable when the music fades away.
Stone, after tidying up his writing, shares his diluted thoughts on politics and music – an unsatisfying ending to a frustrating book. Did he truly encounter Frank Sinatra one evening? Was there a moment where he caused a scene at a party by brandishing a gun while under the influence of angel dust? He cannot be certain. He ponders, “The details in people’s stories change over time, in their own minds and in mine, whether in part or in whole, each time they are retold.” Instead of attempting to force his life into a traditional storyline, it may have been more fulfilling to embrace the enigmas and mysteries: let Sly be cunning.