It’s a thousand degrees in Baltimore, and judging by the weather forecast it looks like its not going to clear up anytime soon. Springsteen is always good to listen to in the summer, but a real summer band is Sly & the Family Stone. With Sly you can take comfort in the fact he and his band are sweating just as much as you are, if not more. Just like The Band the sound that Sly and the Family Stone could only be made in America. If the Band was taking cues from Americana and roots music to create something original, Sly took R&B and gave it all whole direction that paved the wave for funk a few years later. They tackled racism and politics but its message was held-down by a funky groove and soulful vocals.
“Different strokes for different folks” has become a cliche now, but back in the 1960s its message was loud and clear. Do what you want, just don’t bother me. Everybody is included here – come join the party. If that message wasn’t clear enough Sly proved it by the make-up of his band – it was one of the first multi-racial and multi-gender groups. At the very beginning rock and roll was about breaking boundaries, and Sly was doing that by including white, black and women into the group. They were in fact “everyday people” from all walks of life.
In its own way, “Thank You (Fah Letinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” is a very political song. This is the sound of a group of people who were oppressed and finally realizing their place in the United States. The era of the Civil Rights had ended, and the African American Community was beginning to finally beginning to truly become American. “Mama’s so happy, mama starts to cry”, the song goes. Those that came before are joyous that their sons and daughters are finally one with the rest of the nation. Is the title of the song phonetic, or it just a slang way of saying “thank you for letting me be myself again?” Either way, the message is clear: thank you for embracing us. Thank you for letting me be part of the nation.
It’s a shame that Sly’s genius was also the very thing that made him one of the most aggravating frontmen in rock. By being the leader of the group he became convinced that he could do everything himself – forgetting the very idea of the togetherness which not only made the group distinct, but also historically important. Years before Axl Rose even dreamed of screwing over dozens of versions of Guns & Roses, Sly became notorious as a no-show for concerts. Eventually he became rock and roll’s version of JD Salinger.
But Sly and The Family Stone’s vision of America will live on for years, and we still have the music.