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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Everyday People": diff'rent strokes for Berkeley's folks

The sights and sounds of Bancroft and Sproul inspire today's entry.

I just could not get “Gimme Shelter” out of my head this morning. I didn’t think of that as a bad thing, though — firstly, its a masterpiece, and secondly, that meant its lyrics stuck with me and had the chance to inspire today’s entry in my Senior Soundtrack.

Love is just a kiss away, right? That’s hard to believe in such a divisive world… and yet it’s true; we just have to realize that we can play a part in bettering the world through committing to understand each other. After all, we’re all we’ve got. We’ve got one world, and —


Right on, Sly.

I heard that line as a car drove past Sproul Plaza on Bancroft this morning, their radio loudly and proudly ringing out “Everyday People,” by East Bay icons Sly and the Family Stone. It’s such a simple-sounding song, but there's a lot going on under the hood that makes the track so profound.

“Everyday People” was released in late 1968 as the lead single off Sly and the Family Stone’s fourth album, Stand! Fitting for its time period and title, the album was socially conscious, especially in terms of race relations. “Everyday People” touches on race as well as multiple other visible and superficial qualities of humans, highlighting how quick we are to judge based on the first things we see or hear about people. Rose Stone’s bridging sections then go a step further, highlighting how no two people see the world the same way either — as she puts it, “diff’rent strokes for diff'rent folks,” a line which inspired the title of an iconic TV show about a decade later. To top it off, the bridges use the "na-na-na-na-boo-boo" tune, mocking people for defaulting to their prejudices. I picked up on the taunting melody the first time I heard the song, but it took me a couple listens to realize how fitting its use was.

Clearly, "Everyday People" is much more than initially meets the ear. For such a simple-sounding song, the lyrics pack quite the punch — almost as punchy as Larry Graham's proto-slap bass (he's Drake's uncle, by the way). Not only are people so quick to typecast others, per Rose's lyrics, but people all see things slightly differently. How in the world, then, can we come to a consensus, so that we can truly "live together" as neighbors?

The key is the word "slightly" from my previous description. Our fundamental differences as humans are slight, and we have much more in common than most of us initially (choose to) believe. Sly Stone's verses and chorus emphasize our commonalities, to the point that we can seem interchangeable. In a more corporate and capitalist lens, the idea of humans being interchangeable is far from uplifting, but none of that pessimism is present why Sly Stone sings, "I am no better and neither are you / We are the same whatever we do." Sly's perspective isn't capitalist, but rather is humanist. Between the verses and the refrain of "We got to live together," Sly recognizes both our human agency and our responsibility toward each other to keep improving our world. It's a perspective that sadly seems lost much of the time in the modern world — including in the context of yesterday's post — but it's the point of view we need to have in order to find common ground and preserve what we still have before it's too late.

The song's titular chorus is succinct, but also so intriguing in terms of semantics and perspective: "I am everyday people." What a beautiful, Whitmanesque statement of commonality. Indeed, we each contain multitudes. We are never exactly one thing or the other; we aren't neatly categorized on binaries, but rather fill every part of the spectrum. At the same time, we're also each part of a great multitude as humans. We're unique... just like everyone else, and we have to leave our pride at the door if we're to accomplish things for the sake of our shared humanity and our world. It's a much-needed reminder in a world in which we can so easily be self-absorbed and so willing to pass negative judgments onto people and things we don't understand.

"Everyday People" reminds us to slow our judgment and take the time to appreciate being part of something bigger than any of us will individually ever be. At the same time, we can't get lost in the crowd — we each have our role to fill, and we can all fill said role better if we have a more compassionate outlook on life and humanity.


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