Jeff Kaliss: I Want to Take You Higher

In the American arts, two narratives frequently occur. First, there’s the classic: Boy has talent, talent brings fame, then dope, lawyers, paranoia, arrest, a downward spiral ending in death (or worse), a vastly shriveled talent, and a stack of legal bills follow. Then there’s the other, less-famous narrative: the forever-unfinished masterpiece. This is when a perfectionist’s refusal to release an incomplete work becomes more interesting in itself than any finished product could hope to be (see: Axl Rose, Chinese Democracy). The story of Sly & the Family Stone has a little bit of both, which is why Jeff Kaliss’ I Want to Take You Higher (Backbeat, $24.95) is such a compelling read. Sly Stone (real, unhip name: Sylvester Stewart) and his band made music funky enough for the Apollo and trippy enough for Woodstock. But since as early as the late ’60s, Sly himself has mostly snorted a lot of toot, forgot to pay his taxes, missed important gigs, spent exorbitant label advances on unfinished music, hid from the FBI, and—just recently, in fact—participated in a Family Stone comeback that was more like weird performance art than a return to form. This book details it all, but is most notable because its author was granted face time with Sly himself, whose life, we learn, now parallels Howard Hughes’ (nocturnal, isolated, constantly in his home studio recording God knows what). Finishing the book, one is sadly reminded of Sly’s squandered genius. Which also brings to mind an apt quote from Rick James: “Cocaine’s a hell of a drug.” Elliott Bay Book Co., 101 S. Main St., 624-6600, www.elliottbaybook.com. Free. 2 p.m. BRIAN J. BARR

Sun., Nov. 23, 2 p.m., 2008

 
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