Sly Stone is supposed to appear on the Grammy show tonight.
Sly, of course, is the coolest, hippest musician of our time. In an incredible five-year period, he mapped out the future of rock ‘n’ roll, hip hop and American race relations, sliding from the most optimistic, integrated stew of soul, rock and funk to the scariest, druggiest, dirtiest masterpiece ever recorded in an attic in Bel Air. He’s also the most elusive and mysterious of pop stars, skipping out on more shows than George Jones and only occasionally popping up to be propped up behind an electric piano to deliver a nostalgic growl before crawling back to his room with no windows.
Sad Sly. But at least he’s not in prison for waving a gun or on trial for murdering a House of Blues hostess. The royalties must still be pouring in, “Dance To the Music” was the highlight of Shrek’s Swamp Karaoke Dance Party, there was last year’s revival at Starbucks, and we wouldn’t be surprised if someone’s already got the bright idea of giving him the Brian Wilson tratment, strapping him into a concert tour backed by a peppy band of acolytes.
News and historywise, the LA Times reports that Sly showed up for Monday night’s Grammy rehearsals, and played up the manufactured mystery of whether he’ll make the broadcast:
The assembled musicians again ran through their medley of Stone hits and then … there he was, in a hooded, camouflage rain slicker, matching pants and 3-inch platform boots. He came to a keyboard at center stage and made eye contact with no one. Still lean, but beneath the hood he seemed smaller than he was in the '60s.
The teleprompter told him how to reintroduce himself to the world: (SLY): Ow Ow Ow.
He sang "I Want to Take You Higher," and his voice was robust and clear. Looking straight down, his chin bounced on his chest. His left hand and wrist were in a cast. From under the hood, he peeked at the musicians next to him, grinned … and then he was gone…
…Stone came back and did it again. This time, his plastic pants were tucked into his boots and, at the song's close, he stepped away from the keyboard, bobbed his head and beamed. And then he was gone again.
…A third run-through. This time, though, when it came to the point where Stone should have dashed out on stage, there was a long lull and empty air. Finally, a crew member jumped up behind the keyboard and played the part of the enigmatic star.
Meanwhile, find Greil Marcus’ Mystery Train, get a copy of There’s a Riot Goin’ On and ask about the compilation CD at Starbucks the next time you stop in for your nonfatsoycappafrappalatte.