Archive for the ‘Soul’ Category

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Camper Van Sly, and Memories of Sly in Paris

September 25, 2011

The New York Post broke the news today that Sly Stone is homeless and living in a van. According to the story in the Post, the 68-year-old is living in a camper van parked on a residential street in the rough Crenshaw neighbourhood of LA. The story says a retired couple makes sure Sly eats once a day, and he showers at their house. Sly, who once lived in a Beverly Hills mansion, makes music inside the van with a laptop. He posed for a photo with his Taser.

Very sad. It’s hard to believe that it’s come to this for one of the greatest ever soul and funk artists.

The news today is reminding me about the time I saw Sly perform (and I use that word loosely) in Paris. In July 2007 we lived in Paris for two weeks. Before arriving in the City of Light, I did what I always do before travelling somewhere: I researched what concerts would take place during our stay. Part of my research was seeing what was on at the Olympia, a legendary music hall in Paris (everyone from Edith Piaf to Led Zeppelin has performed there). Fifteen years earlier, while living in Paris for two months, we went to a bunch of memorable concerts at the Olympia (David Byrne with his Rei Momo Latin band, Khaled, Les Negresse Vertes).

So I thought I hit the jackpot when I saw that Sly & The Family Stone were scheduled to perform there on July 23, 2007. But I knew all about Sly’s long history of erratic behaviour, so I hesitated. I decided in the end to go for it, because when would I get another chance to see Sly?

Sly Stone at the Olympia in Paris

All of the seats in the Olympia can either be in place or removed, and it was the latter that night. The sold-out hall was completely packed with people, including many who had probably gone through the same inner dialogue that I had before spending 55 euros on a ticket.

The show started well with the opener Martha High, who sang for years with James Brown. Martha’s soulful voice was in fine form, and her band the Shaolin Temple Defenders (great name) brought it. Then Sly’s band came on. It didn’t include the great bassist Larry Graham, but it did include original Family Stone member Cynthia Robinson on trumpet and vocals. Plus family members Vet and Lisa Stone were in the group. This version of the Family Stone sounded great as they performed a number of tunes. But where was Sly? I was starting to get nervous, and thinking that I should have listened to my intuition and saved my euros.

He eventually came on stage. His voice reflected the hard life he’s led since his glory days, but still had enough of that character I love from the classic Sly & The Family Stone tracks. He played a keyboard and also came out to the front of the stage and generally showed a lot of energy for a reclusive/aging/fading rock star. The problem was Sly only performed for about 15 minutes (his band was up there considerably longer). Sly left the stage at least twice, and the video below of “I Want To Take You Higher” captures his immortal words before one of those exits: “I’m going to go take a piss. I’m old.”

While I didn’t get my money’s worth, somehow I didn’t regret going to the show. I got my 15 minutes of Sly, in Paris no less, and that was enough to qualify as a memorable concert experience. In light of Sly’s situation now, it probably was my one and only chance to see the soul/funk master.

Videos I took of Sly & The Family Stone at the Olympia in Paris:

Postscript:

September 27, 2011

After Sly was outed as a homeless person, I had a feeling that it was just a matter of time before goofy things started happening, given America’s obsession with alternately worshipping and bringing down celebrities. It’s starting. Today, TMZ posted a video interview with Sly, who did the interview while lying down in his van. As one of the commenters on the video put it, you can smell a reality show coming. Meanwhile, whatever shred of dignity Sly has left is being further eroded.

Sly & The Family Stone, more than 40 years ago when they were at the height of their powers, on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour:

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