Cynthia Robinson


Yesterday, I saw the news that Cynthia Robinson had died at 69.  She was one of the creative forces behind Sly and the Family Stone, the first black female trumpeter to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (not that there’s an extensive list of black female trumpeters out there, but maybe there should be).

One of the things I’ve always liked about Sly and the Family Stone is that it’s an ensemble, each member of the band playing an important, integral role to the music.  Yes, Sly himself was the star–and rightfully so, given his talent and charisma.  But he knew that the band worked best as a band.  Cynthia Robinson opens up the classic “Dance to the Music” with her strong voice, helping create the sense of joy that permeates that song, but then blends seamlessly into the whole.  That doesn’t make her presence less important; it highlights her skill as a musician.

I really like this clip of the band playing “Than You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” because it highlights the groupness of this group.  Everyone shines for just a moment or two, and you can see Cynthia rockin’ and funkin’ it up with one of the finest horn sections in music history.  The quality of the clip isn’t great, but the music shines through.

“Que Sera Sera”


I’m feeling philosophical today.  I’m trying for a different job at the community college I got laid off from a year and a half ago, and I’m going to put out another application or two in the next couple of days.  I like my current gig of online tutoring, but it pays bupkus, and frankly, working from home is weirder than I thought it would be.  It’s starting to eat into my leisure computer time.

But a job is a job, so I can’t complain too hard.  And if I get another job, maybe I’ll keep this online tutoring but do only a few hours a week.  I don’t know.  There’s always so much uncertainty in the world, so much uncertainty in one life.  When I was in school studying Literature, I found myself most drawn to the Modernists of the early 20th century, writers like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf and John Dos Passos.  The world changed so much during the first 30 years of the 20th century.  Between wars and economic meltdowns, no one knew what to make of anything anymore; so many authors turned to within, trying to find a way to articulate the minds’ “stream of consciousness.”  Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was turning the scientific community on its head.  Art was taking a turn for the Cubist and Surreal.  And folks were beginning to accept that maybe that crazy Freud guy was right about the conscious and subconscious, and the fact that maybe we didn’t always have complete control of our actions.  (The conscious and subconscious was just about the only thing Freud got right, as far as I’m concerned.)

Needless to say, I have a pretty high tolerance for ambiguity.  Sure, I like my routines and ruts, but that’s probably just my mild OCD talking.  But my life of the mind has always been willing to see everything in shades of gray (way more than fifty, too).  I’m learning to apply that tolerance to my physical life, but it’s not easy.  It’s hard to roll with the punches when you’re not sure you have a paycheck coming in.  It isn’t easy to shrug your shoulders and say, “That’s the way it goes” when your family is in pain.  I’m pretty damn lucky in that I have a roof and food and medical care if I need it, but that doesn’t mean life is always easy.

I became familiar with “Que Sera Sera” through Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much.  But Sly and the Family Stone’s version is grittier.  (BTW, thanks for the suggestion, Sandee.)  They turn it into a slow blues burner, filled with the resignation that “whatever will be, will be” probably isn’t going to turn out too well.

But there’s hope here, too.  Things might be bad, but it just might turn around.  That’s what makes the best Blues so good.  Life isn’t written in stone, and thank goodness for that.  Tomorrow, you might find $20 dollars on the sidewalk.  Tomorrow, you might get a call or an email from a friend you haven’t seen for too long.  Tomorrow, you might learn that you got that job.  Or you might lose your favorite hat, forget your umbrella and get soaked on the way to work.  Whatever will be, will be.

“I Want to Take You Higher”


I really don’t have much to say right now, mostly because I was so happy about finding this version of this song that I watched the clip before I started the post.  And this clip stuns me stupid every damn time.  It is the single best song in one of the best performances at probably the greatest concert of all time.

Sly & the Family Stone were at their absolute peak in 1969.  Their performance at Woodstock was electrifying.  This was Sly before drugs and anger ruined him, when the mantra “I want to take you higher!” was an invitation to free your soul with music and dance.  Their start time at Woodstock was around 3:30 am.  (That’s o’dark thirty for the rest of us.)  And they still got a few hundred thousand hippies onto their feet, boogying in the mud.  Unbelievable.

The video quality isn’t the greatest, but it does nothing to dim the amazing light coming off the stage.  For a little while, Sly & the Family Stone burned brighter than any star in the musical universe.  I want to take you higher, indeed.

I Want to Take You Higher

(Oops!  It looks like Daily Motion only lets me post the link.  Still worth it.)