John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

Sly Stone vs. the Neo-Nazis

After Charlottesville, "Everyday People" reminds us what America’s really about.

By - Aug 24th, 2017 03:24 pm
Sign-up for the Urban Milwaukee daily email
Sly & The Family Stone

Sly & The Family Stone

Like James Brown before him and Bob Marley after, Sly Stone revitalized popular music in a way that felt more alive and daring than what had ever been done before. What he accomplished in a very short span is hard to overrate. Along with his band of fine musicians, he took Brown’s funk concept and went global with it, much like Motown records did before him. His music was embraced equally by black and white audiences and, as today’s song, “Everyday People,” indicates, every shade in between. It was a huge hit, deservedly so, and seems particularly timely after a weekend like the one we recently endured.

The violent display of racism in Charlottesville, followed by El Presidente’s coy use of racist dog whistles to insure he lost none of his white nationalist support, was sickening. It felt like the whole country had a bad case of stomach flu. The civil war is long gone — like 152 years gone. Why won’t this go away?

It’s curious to notice how the 1860s still linger, a subtext to so much in our American lives, while the 1960’s with all their optimism, recede at an alarming rate. Sly Stone, a star in that era and the 1970’s, and one of the more aptly named artists of all time, has been MIA for the better part of 50 years. A drug casualty who forgot to die, possibly enabled by a never-ending royalty stream, he and his vibrant legacy live on. You never hear news about him, he must have fired his publicist ages ago. Like Dave Chapelle, he walked away at the height of his career. Chapelle’s back, so where’s Sly? We could use him right now

But there’s nothing in the pipeline, so let’s focus on his past music, which qualifies as medicine in this writer’s frazzled brain. Nothing rinses the mind cleaner of hatred and despair quite as well as this classic American anthem.

Part of Sly’s genius — and there are many parts — is his ability to make every second of a song into some kind of a hook. This one has dozens. The lyrics, the horns, the fabulous singing of his sister Rose and other band members. When he sings the title, it feels like a ball of fire has descended from the heavens. Then there’s the bass, one very insistent note, driving the whole song right down the middle of the road. It musically runs you over. Above it, things vary slightly, but for all intents and purposes, this is a one-chord song. When it ends, you realize you’ve heard something utterly perfect.

Sometimes I’m right and I can be wrong
My own beliefs are in my song
The butcher, the banker, the drummer and then
Makes no difference what group I’m in

I am everyday people, yeah yeah

There is a blue one who can’t accept the green one
For living with a fat one trying to be a skinny one
And different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo

Oh sha sha we got to live together

I am no better and neither are you
We are the same whatever we do
You love me you hate me you know me and then
You can’t figure out the bag I’m in

I am everyday people, yeah yeah

There is a long hair that doesn’t like the short hair
For bein’ such a rich one that will not help the poor one
And different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo

Oh sha sha we got to live together

There is a yellow one that won’t accept the black one
That won’t accept the red one that won’t accept the white one
And different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo

I am everyday people

© Slyvester Stewart

Among his other claims to fame, Sly Stone wrote concise, memorable and slightly off-the-wall lyrics. I love every line in this and the way much of it features the taunting melody kids use on each other. It’s ending feels big and satisfying, like “A Day In The Life.”

The song’s seemingly easy-going philosophy is a threat to the neo-Nazis and white nationalists who gathered at Charlottesville because it so powerfully suggests the unity of all people, that we are all everyday people. The Nazi alternative is the sick myth of racial superiority, two-bit sloganeering that is vile, dark and doesn’t smell so good.

What’s really superior is the beauty of this man’s music, something that flowed from his complicated soul like liquid gold. Some of Sly’s built-in self-destruction might possibly be traced back to slavery. Who knows? All I know is I want this horrible feedback loop to end. African American culture, this nation’s truly superior gift to the world, was forged in pain and injustice. Take that pain away and that magnificent churning river of music might calm down and turn into a quiet, placid stream, where we can all see our reflection. I’m ready for that.

This country’s culture minus the contributions of Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, George Clinton, James Brown, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Prince, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Betty Carter, Betty Wright every other Betty (and all the other artists that fans of great music will be mad at me for leaving off) doesn’t even exist. Without them we’d be dancing minuets, hornpipes and reels. We wouldn’t even have Ted Nugent or Kid Rock, which by the way is fine with me, because every single lame-ass thing they do is an unconscious acknowledgement of real African American innovation. Innovative stuff like this song, which is like gulping down one of the better energy drinks in the world. God bless America, the one that’s filled with everyday people, the one that stands opposed to Nazis and all the truly inferior supremacists.

More about the Charlottesville Virginia Violence

8 thoughts on “Sieger on Songs: Sly Stone vs. the Neo-Nazis”

  1. Judy Kuhn says:

    Lovely. Thanks.

  2. Jason Troll says:

    We expect all lawmakers and citizens to denounce nazi’s and skinheads but a pattern keeps recurring at all these rallies, whether its, Berkley, Boston or Charlottesville. Who are these hooded thugs that the left adores? Is this Zorro or the Lone Ranger that throws bottles of piss at law enforcement, these masked punishers are scene carrying two by fours with nails attached and areosol flame throwers. When will the left denounce them. When will they ask for their hoods to come off. The nazis and skinheads are ugly monsters but the left must not praise its own hate groups.

  3. Benny Nota says:

    Jason is aptly named.

  4. Thomas says:

    Spot on, John,

    Sly had the chops and the warmth to make people feel good for righteous reasons: the joys of what humanity shares chief among them. I still feel good when I hear bits of EVERYDAY PEOPLE – even when those bits are used to sell some product on TV. The tune transcends the banality of the marketplace.

    Hey Jason Troll, please do yourself 2 favors: (1) Listen to “Everyday People;” (2) Re-read what John wrote about “Everyday People.”

    “Dance to the Music.”

  5. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    I like this verse: “I am no better and neither are you
    We are the same whatever we do
    You love me you hate me you know me and then
    You can’t figure out the bag I’m in”
    and the song certainly struck a chord with everyone!

  6. Jason makes excellent point above. The hooded pro-socialist/communist/anarchists must be shunned/marginalized with as much vigor (or dealt with in a much harsher way if armed with any type of weapon) as the asinine nazi/skinhead movement. Yet we must always remember that freedom is speech is guaranteed in our Constitution. Boards with nails, piss bottles, flamethrowers etc are not.

  7. Thomas says:

    I disagree with David’s post # 7. Jason missed the point of John’s tribute to “Everyday People.” Neo-Nazis organized and orchestrated violence in Charlottesville. The fact that there were some bad actors among those opposed to fascism misses the point. Fascists use blame of others to justify their nihilistic behavior.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *