The following, “Family Affair” (script, excerpt), is an excerpt of a completed script by Jeff Kaliss.
Jeff Kaliss studies writing and jazz piano at CCSF after completing an MFA in Creative Writing at SFSU. His poetry appears in the Suisun Valley Review and he reads it around town. Jeff wrote a biography of Sly & the Family Stone and thousands of articles about music.
by Jeff Kaliss
EXT., YASGUR’S FARM, NEAR BETHEL, NEW YORK, AUGUST 16, 1969, CIRCA 4 AM.
FADE IN, over sound of an insistent rock drumbeat, to a scene tinted psychedelically:
PAN, hordes of slowly stirring sleeping hippies, most in sleeping bags across the occupied meadowland, some wandering half-naked, some smoking doobies. CAPTION: “Woodstock Music & Art Festival, Bethel, New York, August 16, 1969, 4 a.m. On stage: Sly & the Family Stone.” An amorous, still-sleepy HIPPY COUPLE, he black, she white, embrace as they listen:
SLY (OS, AMPLIFIED)
What we would like to do is, sing a song together.
(Pause) But most of us need approval.
HIPPY COUPLE embraces, kisses, then turns their smiling faces towards the glow of the stage. CUT to CU of SLY STONE, 26 years old:
Most of us need to get approval from our neighbors,
before we can actually let it all hang down.
CUT TO HIPPY COUPLE. He looks down towards his midsection, looks at her, they both start laughing. CUT back to:
Now, what we’re gonna do here is a singalong. A lot
of people don’t like to do that, because they think it
may be old-fashioned. But you must dig that it is not
a fashion in the first place! It’s a feeling, and if it was
good in the past, it is still good! So what I want you to
do, I’d like everybody to join in, when we say “Higher!”,
I want you to hold the peace sign up. It’ll do you no harm.
SLY starts to sing, against the continuing pulse of GREG’s drumming. INTERCUT with the hippy couple responding vocally and with peace signs.
(Chanting:) I wanna take you higher!
Chant is repeated.
Way up on the hill! I wanna hear y’all!!
CUT TO dusky vista of hippie throng on the hill, some distance from the stage. Many more now are standing and displaying peace signs, as well as many more illuminated joints.
CUT TO entire Sly & the Family Stone band on stage. JERRY, on saxophone, and CYNTHIA, on trumpet, launch into the brassy instrumental tag from “Music Lover”, then transition to “I Want to Take You Higher”, with SLY taking the lead on vocals and keyboard, ROSE on backup vocals, LARRY on backup vocals and bass, and FREDDIE on guitar, along with JERRY, CYNTHIA, and GREG. During the performance of the song, we get to see all of them in closeup, intercut with shots of an audience reclaimed from the night, the Hippy Couple among them, moving to the music. We may or may not run opening credits and the film title here. On the chorus line, “Baby light my fire”, the Hippy Couple can do just that. On the extended chant of “Boom-laka-laka-laka”, CROSSCUT to:
INT, LIMO, STREETS OF OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA, PRESENT DAY
Psychedelic tint is gone. The extension of “I Want to Take You Higher” is playing on the limo’s sound system. SLY, 72 years old, is half-snoozing on the back seat, where he’s positioned between BEBE and ARLENE, two of his handlers/friends.
(Chanting along:) Boom-shaka-laka-laka/Boom-
Sly, you been snoozin’? Groovin’ with the old hippy
How you could get jet lag on a one-hour flight north
from LA to Oakland?
Is that what this is?
No, you off the flight now, you in a limo on your
way to the big Sly & the Family Stone 40-year
tribute or whatever the hell it is you gettin’ paid
to be the big deal at.
How long till we get there?
Tough to tell. Traffic’s backed up on the Nimitz.
Yeah, we in traffic, But maybe you be on time
for once in your life.
It’s “In Time”, not “on time”. (Pause) But don’t bug
me, lemme go out of time a bit more. Where’d you
say we were?
You’re in the City of Oakland, Mr. Stone. Why you ask?
’Cause, I’m gonna snooze back some further in time
and about forty, fifty miles north of here. Vallejo,
California, my hometown. Arlene, wake me when
we get wherever we’re supposed to be in real time.
ARLENE kisses Sly’s cheek lightly, responds with his nickname.
(Mumbling as he dozes off) Most of all, most of all,
we need to get approval before we hang out. . .
Music up: Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s take on “You Gotta Move”, which continues during and after crossfade to:
INT. THE STEWART FAMILY’S EARLY ’50S HUDSON SEDAN.
Film tint now has the same vintage ’50s look as does the clothing of the Stewart family, on its way to a Sunday church service: daddy K.C. Stewart at the wheel, with his wife ALPHA at the opposite end of the front seat, both of them flanking their eldest child, LORETTA, 18, who balances the youngest, two-year-old VAETTA, on her lap. On the backseat, Sylvester (SYL), nine, sits between sister ROSE, seven, and brother Frederick (FREDDIE), five. These three squirm and try to smile. Everybody’s in their Sunday best. The music fades down.
Now remember, children, we’re always needing
to get approval, not only from our fellow man, but
most importantly from The Lord. And this Stewart
Family has a special place in the ear of The Lord,
and a special mission we’ve been chosen to fulfill.
What kind of mission is that, Stewart Children?
SYL, FREDDIE, & ROSE
A musical mission, . . .
(Finishing up). . . Mama Alpha.
That is correct, Sylvester! And you are taking a special
lead on that special mission, aren’t you? You are the
up-front and up-close voice of the Lord, in musical form.
(Whispering:) Yeah, up-close to some of them cute
little Johnson girls in the front pew! (Giggles)
(Whispering:) Shut up, Freddie!
You too, Rose! You’re just jealous!
You children mind! I’m talking about the faith
of the Church of
God In Christ. Your father and I carried that faith
all the way here from Denton, Texas. And all
you’re carrying is carrying on!
K.C. chuckles, eliciting a half-frown, half-smirk from ALPHA
EXT, THE TABERNACLE OF FAITH & DELIVERANCE, VALLEJO, CALIFORNIA
The Stewarts’ car pulls into the church’s parking lot. Numerous black families are also preparing to enter the modest-looking but very clean place of worship.
And here we are, at the other end of our mission,
in Vallejo, California, with a batch more young Christian
Stewarts than when we left Texas. (Though we already
did have you, Loretta, and you, Syl, but you were just
a baby boy.)
SYL exchanges loving smiles with his father.
And here it is another Sunday and time for you kids to
entertain the congregation.
K.C. takes on ALPHA.
And to do the Stewart family proud, too.
CROSSFADE with the sound of Gospel piano to:
INT, THE TABERNACLE OF FAITH & DELIVERANCE
CU on SYL, who’s singing “Walking in Jesus’ Name”, accompanied by LORETTA on pounding Gospel piano. PAN the Sunday-dressed congregation, most of them smilingly rapt with the young, tone-perfect singer. Linger on the Johnson Girls, seated in one of the front pews and engaged in mild girlish mischief, alternating peeks at SYL with giggles and whispers among themselves. During the song’s instrumental break:
CU on SYL, who’s focused on and visibly upset by the behavior of the girls. After the line:
(Singing:) I’m gonna walk out /In my Jesus’ name. . .
CUT to the end of the service, the congregation heading out along the aisle. SYL takes on the mischievous Johnson GIRLS, who look over at him as they move out, pointing and giggling. SYL smarts and starts to cry, turning towards ALPHA.
Mama, those girls were not feelin’ it, I know they wasn’t.
What was it I was not doin’?
Son, you was doin’ everything you could, but just
’cause you got the spirit don’t mean everyone got it.
They was probably just thinkin’ what a good-looking
young man you are, and maybe that distracted ’em.
It happens with young girls.
EXT., FRONT DOOR, TABERNACLE.
The PASTOR is sharing good tidings with the exiting congregation. When the Stewart family assembles in front of him, he ruffles the hair of SYL and FREDDIE.
(To ALPHA:) That was a fine family performance
in the name of the Lord, Mrs. Stewart.
I liked your performance too, Pastor!
Frederick! Well, you know he says he might want
to be a preacher some day.
Well, I’d say they’ve got a career in music they might
want to take a look at first. Am I right, Mr. Stewart?
Hard to make any money from that one. (Chuckles)
But someone said we should record “Walking in
Jesus’ Name”, sir, so we may get a little 45 out of it!
I think the world would be the better for that, son!
INT, LIMO, STREETS OF OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA, PRESENT DAY
SLY is nodding, humming “Walking In Jesus’ Name”.
What that you been hummin’ in your sleep, Boss?
That is the first song we ever recorded. “Walking In
Jesus’ Name”. Recorded it with Rose, Freddie, and
Praise be! And you was still all Stewarts. That was
long before you all became Stone.
The legendary Sly & the Family Stone! But you know,
Bebe, some of the best of popular music came out
of the church. Look at Aretha Franklin. Whitney
Huston, may she rest in peace. Even white folk like
Willie Nelson! All had it going back to church, and to
Yeah, I guess so, Arlene. My family never did too much
of their own music in church, just sing-along-with-pastor,
but I guess that’s where I learned to like the sound.
(To Sly:) Your brother Freddie still doing his ministry thing?
Evangelist Temple of the Church of God in Christ, back
home in Vallejo,’bout forty minutes north of here. Vet
goes there. I oughta get up there some time. I hear he
still straps a guitar on over his robes, to do those Gospel
numbers. I’d probably just upset the service, though.
Still too much lingering celebrity.
They said Freddie’s gonna be there to greet you
today, Syl, you’re both on some kind of panel.
Freddie’s probably dealing with the lingering celebrity
right now. Right in there. (She points out window.)
Welcome to the Fox Theater!
SLY gazes out the tinted window of the limo.
We there, Boss!
INT., DEN OF THE FOX THEATER, OAKLAND
PAN several members of the former Family Stone band, all now on the far end of middle age, seated as a panel at a long table on a raised area at the front of the Den, with name cards in front of them. FREDDIE (Frederick Stewart) is at center, with CYNTHIA (Robinson), JERRY (Martini), and GREG (Errico) alongside. EDDIE Lanier, the panel moderator, wields a wireless microphone. An expectant crowd of fans and press crowds the space in front of the panel.
(Amplified over mic) Ladies and gentlemen, I have
word that we’re gonna be welcoming, in just a moment,
the man who made this band we’re celebrating here
today, Mr. Sly Stone!
CROWD cheers and applauds, spontaneously starts singing “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”.
(to Cynthia) It’ll be the first time Syl’s been early
for a gig in over forty years!
PAN as FREDDIE looks out through a window towards the arriving limo. CROSSFADE to:
INT., GEBHARDT HOUSEHOLD, VALLEJO, CALIFORNIA, LATE ’50S.
Through the plate glass window of a middle class family living room in a white section of Vallejo, we see a tricked-out 1956 Ford Fairlane Victoria sedan drive up and park. Looking out through the window at this arrival are the founding members of a Vallejo High School vocal group, the Viscaynes: brothers VERN & CHARLIE Gebhardt, FRANK Arellano, CHARLENE Imhoff, and RIA (Maria) Boldway.
But isn’t he cute?
Yeah, he is, kinda, I guess.
What’s his name? Where’d you find him? He’s a
senior, ain’t he?
No, he’s a junior, Sylvester Stewart, grew up here
in Vallejo, over on the west side, near the cemetery.
I knew him from junior high, we played baseball,
but he also played guitar behind a doo-wop group.
He was late for gigs back then, too.
But was he any good?
He was great! And he’s only gotten better since
junior high. And bigger.
He is cute! Is he just gonna sit in that car and
comb his hair?
You know, Frank, once we get this group formed
up, it’s gonna be the first doo-wop group at Vallejo
High. And, the first mixed color musical group! Two
white brothers, a chatty Filipino, a white chick,
and a Negro who hopefully knows something other
than “Old Man River” and Gospel music.
Doorbell rings. CHARLIE opens the door. SYL, 16 and neatly dressed, enters, singing a portion of The Ray’s 1957 hit, “Silhouettes”.