Sly Stone's Stage Debacle

Sly Stone | Britney Spears | Jack Nicholson | Chaos at Columbia Records | 'Mrs. Cheney ' | Tony Bennett; Quote of the Day

Sly Stone's Stage Debacle

It only took a few minutes Friday night at BB King's in New York to confirm the worst about funk and R&B legend Sly Stone. That's because Stone only made it through five of what could be loosely construed as numbers before announcing he needed a bathroom break.

As recent observers have noted of Stone's failed comeback, needing to pee is code for drugs. And when that happens, the show is over. As he did when I saw him on Nov. 20 at BB Kings, Stone left the stage and did not return for some time. When he did, he was clearly in a changed mental state and, yes, sleepy.

Nevertheless, his band — led by niece Lisa — sort of woke him up by launching into one of his old hits "If You Want Me to Stay." Stone, stoned, wearing a white hooded track suit and sunglasses, actually belted out most of the number. He started another song, ironically, "I Want to Take You Higher," and then wandered off stage. That was it. Good night.

The sold-out, standing-room-only audience was not happy. One fan grabbed a mike and shouted, "You crack addict. Get back on stage. I paid $100 dollars for this ticket." It was a sad moment.

The show had started ominously. Stone was an hour late, and when he finally sat down at his keyboards he led the audience through a medley of one-line smippets of hits sung first on an altering voice box and then in a whisper.

The band, a group of heroes including Sly-soundalike vocalist Rikki Gordon, plunged into "Dance to the Music," "Sing a Simple Song" and "Everyday People." But Stone spent most of the time nodding or pretending to play notes, occasionally chiming in.

And still there had been moments during the 40-minute set (I'm being generous here, timewise) that were spectacular because the band is amazing. Former Family Stone horn player Jerry Martini, for example, sizzled on solos as did Cynthia Robinson. As many have noted, the current band is much better than the real Family Stone was in memory some 40 years ago.

But the tragedy of Sly Stone (real name Sylvester Stewart) is one that has been continuous since around 1980. An admitted drug addict (crack a speciality), Stone has lived as a recluse.

His infrequent appearances usually have to do with lawsuits. Nevertheless, his numerous hits from 1968 to 1975, including "Everyday People" and "Thank You Falettin' Me Be Miceself (Agin)" are considered groundbreaking. They're also the main influence of many other artists including Prince.

Britney Spears: No One Wants a 'Piece of Her'

Britney Spears had better do something fast about her fading career. Her CD, “Blackout,” is No. 40 on the charts and No. 100 on Friday morning.

The album sold about 28,000 copies last week, and is about to expire altogether.

At the same time, the single “Piece of Me,” in which Spears baits paparazzi, is getting almost no airplay at radio stations around the country. It’s No. 10 on New York’s Z100, the premier top 40 station in the U.S.

But according to Radio and Records, “Piece of Me” is No. 36 nationwide. The single had only 879 spins. Compare that to Timbaland getting over 10,000 for his “Apologize,” and you can see the problem.

Britney has wound up spearing her pop career. Just to listen to the tape of her interview with Ryan Seacrest on KIIS FM’s Web site, conducted back on Oct. 31 when “Blackout” was released. It’s very sad. Spears can barely speak for herself, letting her babysitters Alli Sims and Sam Lutfi carry on like jackals.

Jack Nicholson in Downer Movie of Year

If chemotherapy, vomiting and long stays in a hospital are your cup of tea, then Warner Bros’ “The Bucket List” is for you.

Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, each of whom turned 70 this year and has an Oscar, star as two guys who are dying in a hospital room. Their illness? Scenery chewing.

Seriously, director Rob Reiner has made one of the most tedious films of the year, which isn’t so easy to do anymore. What happened to our Rob? He hasn’t made a good film in a decade. The man responsible for "When Harry Met Sally," "Spinal Tap," "Stand by Me" and "The American President" went sour somewhere along the way. He used to be hip and acerbic. Now he’s all about broken hips.

Oh, but "The Bucket List" is really, truly terrible, particularly in a sequence that shows the two men going back and forth to the bathroom, throwing up, incontinent, hallucinating, feverish from chemo, etc. Do we really need to see this? It’s like “Beaches” for very old grumpy men. Before they kick the bucket, they must puke into it.

But our sick guys are all about themselves. Their "bucket" list is a series of adventures they want to have before they kick the bucket. Freeman is a garage mechanic and can’t afford to do this.

Fortunately, Nicholson is a rich guy who owns the hospital where they wind up sharing a room and get their diagnoses. He can make it happen and does, much to the chagrin of Freeman’s wife. She’s left in the cold while her dying husband of many years zooms around the world with Jack. Huh?

There’s one bad scene after another. My favorite is when Freeman tells his wife that instead of coming home with her, he’s leaving her for Jack. Yeah, they go sky diving. (I think they actually did it.) They get tattoos. They race cars together. They travel to fake-looking locations. Yippee! Freeman is tempted to cheat on his wife, but doesn’t.

You can make a movie with a sick character and steer clear of cliches. In Tamara Jenkins’ beautifully wrought “The Savages,” Phil Bosco is also in dire straits. But the movie is about his children, Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and how they cope with him.

The Bucket List, however, is unbearably centered on the miserable end of these two people. Just to make it worse, John Mayer sings the inevitable gushy, sure-to-be-Oscar-nominated song over the end credits. It’s the kind of song the boys from "Spinal Tap" would make fun of. Rob, do yourself a favor, call Chris Guest. The sooner, the better.

Chaos at Sony's Columbia Records

No hits, no Grammys (for Bruce Springsteen) all means one thing: layoffs at Columbia Records.

Friday at 1 p.m. ET comes the announcement. Lots of people in many divisions who’ve been there a long time will get the ax.

Rick Rubin, who’s being paid millions and has done nothing so far, gets to stay. The last we heard about Rick he was taking Lynn Hirschberg around in Los Angeles shopping for expensive new office space. No word on whether he found it. When he does, the joke goes, there will be no one left to sit in it.

Columbia Records, like the other record companies, is in a freefall downward. Aside from Springsteen and Beyonce, they have little to boast about. They blame downloading. Yet, like Warner Music, Columbia has not developed any new acts or made much of its roster.

One such group, the Jonas Brothers, was dropped by Columbia last year after they were kicked around for their debut album on the label. The Jonas Brothers are a hit on Disney’s Hollywood Records with their second album, a blow to Columbia that has had a history of losing emerging talent. For example, Alicia Keys was theirs, languished and left for Arista and Clive Davis. The rest is history.

I’m told that even with the heads being chopped, Columbia is still left with three “chiefs”: Steve Barnett and Rubin, who are co-heads, and Mark Didia, the general manager.

After Saturday, the trio (ha ha) might have to do a lot of scut work, because the longtime head of video promotion, the head of urban radio, the head of alternative promotion and the national top 40 promotion person are reportedly out.

Plus, the tour marketing department will be gone, which means long-term employees on both the East and West coasts. Also set to be moved is Fran DeFeo, the head of publicity, leaving just a couple of people in a department that used to be quite large.

The effective end of the PR department has already been felt. This week, I tried to get a copy of Wyclef Jean’s excellent new "Carnival II" album for review. Since no one is left, I simply downloaded it from a Russian Web site. So much for that. Will Columbia do much for Wyclef? Probably not. And that’s the problem.

Columbia is part of Sony BMG, so we really don’t know the extent of their losses. But they’re quietly following Warner Music down the tubes. WMG finished the day Thursday at $7 a share.

Call Her Mrs. Cheney

Faith Salie can relax now. She lost her prized BlackBerry in a cab. I told her it would come back. And it has.

Salie is the urbane host of a daily show on public radio called “Fair Game.” Do you know how public radio works? I didn’t. Four different groups supply shows to it including NPR, which Salie isn’t on, and PRI or Public Radio International — which she is on. Got that?

Anyway, I asked Faith about some of her recent interview subjects. She mentioned that Lynne Cheney asked that she be called “Mrs. Cheney” and not Lynne. That’s a first. “She was like a schoolteacher,” Salie recalled.

Luckily, Salie has had better luck with some other interviewees like John Lithgow, Jonathan Demme and Lou Dobbs.

Her favorite recent subjects? “Anthony Hopkins. He let me call him Tony,” she said. “He did his Elvis impersonation for me and one of Louie Armstrong, too. He’s cool.” Slash, of Guns N' Roses fame, Salie reports, “was surprisingly thoughtful.”

The Harvard and Oxford universities grad is not always reverential, however. She recently asked comedian Joy Behar if, when she guest-hosted for Larry King, he left behind “an old man smell.” She’s still waiting for Behar to recover!

Tony Bennett Loves 'Bella' Too; Quote of the Day

On Thursday, I told you how much Kathie Lee Gifford loves the movie “Bella.”

Now there’s a video testimonial you can watch from Tony Bennett on

Tony, one of this column’s heroes, actually just stood up and gave an impromptu speech about the film at its New York premiere. Luckily someone had a video camera. And voila! Do see this movie if you can, and if you can’t, don’t miss “The Savages,” “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” or John Cusack’s Oscar-worthy performance in “Grace Is Gone.” ...

The New York Times’ A.O. Scott on Joe Wright’s “Atonement”: “Unlike Mr. Wright’s brisk, romantic film version of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” “Atonement” fails to be anything more than a decorous, heavily decorated and ultimately superficial reading of the book on which it is based.

"Mr. McEwan’s prose pulls you in immediately and drags you through an intricate, unsettling story, releasing you in a shaken, wrung-out state. The film, after a tantalizing start, sputters to a halt in a welter of grandiose imagery and hurtling montage.”

It just goes to show you: not all Oscar-hyped films can withstand actual release and criticism. Believe me, I knew “The English Patient.” This is not “The English Patient.”