Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron, 1949-2011: Revolutionary Poet, Novelist, Singer, Songwriter, Musician, Activist

Gil Scott-Heron, 1949-2011


Another African-American GIANT has left this vale of tears we arrogantly call "civilized society" and I sincerely wish there was another word other than the woefully overused, abused, and exploited cliche "genius" to describe just how truly original, dynamic, profound, innovative, and extraordinary Gil Scott-Heron's art was at his best. His enduring work as writer, poet, and musician was and is FAR BEYOND in form and depth of content what 99% of rappers in history could even conceive of let alone actually express (the only notable exceptions to this obvious fact worth mentioning are Chuck D of Public Enemy, Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest, Rakim, Mos Def, De La Soul, and KRS-One who themselves would openly admit they were nowhere near as advanced as Gil was!). Hip Hop and the so-called "spoken word" community in this country WISHES that a poet as creative and yes revolutionary as Scott-Heron could have been its actual "forefather." It's certainly the hip hop community's massive loss that Gil's work always went in openly radical directions that were inspired and deeply informed first, last, and always by the legendary cultural/artistic examples and contributions established by Langston Hughes, Bob Kaufman, Aime Cesaire, Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Gwendolynn Brooks, Sterling A. Brown, Melvin B. Tolson, Jean Toomer, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, Chester Himes, John Coltrane, Malcolm X, Paul Robeson, W.E.B. DuBois, Robert Hayden, Eddie Jefferson, Zora Neale Hurston, King Pleasure, Betty Carter, Marvin Gaye, and Etheridge Knight, among other giants from the fertile African American literary/musical traditions. More than mere homage Gil always vigorously sought and found new ways to carry forward these incredible traditions in a popular art context rooted deeply in both black vernacular and modernist traditions and forms. Listen especially to Gil's dynamic signature work from the 1970-1985 period to find out just how consistently creative, deeply perceptive, politically conscious, and truly visionary his poetic and musical work was. That is and will always remain his inspiring legacy to 20th century art and culture for both his people and the world. RIP Gil--and love always...


Gil Scott-Heron, Voice of Black Culture, Dies at 62
May 28, 2011
New York Times

Gil Scott-Heron, the poet and recording artist whose syncopated spoken style and mordant critiques of politics, racism and mass media in pieces like “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” made him a notable voice of black protest culture in the 1970s and an important early influence on hip-hop, died on Friday at a hospital in Manhattan. He was 62 and had been a longtime resident of Harlem.

His death was announced in a Twitter message on Friday night by his British publisher, Jamie Byng, and confirmed early Saturday by an American representative of his record label, XL. The cause was not immediately known, although The Associated Press reported that he had become ill after returning from a trip to Europe.

Mr. Scott-Heron often bristled at the suggestion that his work had prefigured rap. “I don’t know if I can take the blame for it,” he said in an interview last year with the music Web site The Daily Swarm. He preferred to call himself a “bluesologist,” drawing on the traditions of blues, jazz and Harlem renaissance poetics.

Yet, along with the work of the Last Poets, a group of black nationalist performance poets who emerged alongside him in the late 1960s and early ’70s, Mr. Scott-Heron established much of the attitude and the stylistic vocabulary that would characterize the socially conscious work of early rap groups like Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions. And he has remained part of the DNA of hip-hop by being sampled by stars like Kanye West.

“You can go into Ginsberg and the Beat poets and Dylan, but Gil Scott-Heron is the manifestation of the modern word,” Chuck D, the leader of Public Enemy, told The New Yorker in 2010. “He and the Last Poets set the stage for everyone else.”

Mr. Scott-Heron’s career began with a literary rather than a musical bent. He was born in Chicago on April 1, 1949, and reared in Tennessee and New York. His mother was a librarian and an English teacher; his estranged father was a Jamaican soccer player.

In his early teens, Mr. Scott-Heron wrote detective stories, and his work as a writer won him a scholarship to the Fieldston School in the Bronx, where he was one of 5 black students in a class of 100. Following in the footsteps of Langston Hughes, he went to the historically black Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, and he wrote his first novel at 19, a murder mystery called “The Vulture.” A book of verse, “Small Talk at 125th and Lenox,” and a second novel, “The Nigger Factory,” soon followed.

Working with a college friend, Brian Jackson, Mr. Scott-Heron turned to music in search of a wider audience. His first album, “Small Talk at 125th and Lenox,” was released in 1970 on Flying Dutchman, a small label, and included a live recitation of “Revolution” accompanied by conga and bongo drums. Another version of that piece, recorded with a full band including the jazz bassist Ron Carter, was released on Mr. Scott-Heron’s second album, “Pieces of a Man,” in 1971.

“Revolution” established Mr. Scott-Heron as a rising star of the black cultural left, and its cool, biting ridicule of a nation anesthetized by mass media has resonated with the socially disaffected of various stripes — campus activists, media theorists, coffeehouse poets — for four decades. With sharp, sardonic wit and a barrage of pop-culture references, he derided society’s dominating forces as well as the gullibly dominated:

The revolution will not be brought to you by the Schaefer Award Theater and will not star Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.

The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.

The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.

The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, brother.

During the 1970s, Mr. Scott-Heron was seen as a prodigy with significant potential, although he never achieved more than cult popularity. He recorded 13 albums from 1970 to 1982, and was one of the first acts that the music executive Clive Davis signed after starting Arista Records in 1974. In 1979, Mr. Scott-Heron performed at Musicians United for Safe Energy’s “No Nukes” benefit concerts at Madison Square Garden, and in 1985, he appeared on the all-star anti-apartheid album “Sun City.”

But by the mid-1980s, Mr. Scott-Heron had begun to fade, and his recording output slowed to a trickle. In later years, he struggled publicly with addiction. Since 2001, Mr. Scott-Heron had been convicted twice for cocaine possession, and he served a sentence at Rikers Island in New York for parole violation.

Commentators sometimes used Mr. Scott-Heron’s plight as an example of the harshness of New York’s drug laws. Yet his friends were also horrified by his descent. In interviews Mr. Scott-Heron often dodged questions about drugs, but the writer of the New Yorker profile reported witnessing Mr. Scott-Heron’s crack smoking and being so troubled by his own ravaged physical appearance that he avoided mirrors. “Ten to 15 minutes of this, I don’t have pain,” Mr. Scott-Heron said in the article, as he lighted a glass crack pipe.

That image seemed to contrast tragically with Mr. Scott-Heron’s legacy as someone who had once so trenchantly mocked the psychology of addiction. “You keep sayin’ kick it, quit it, kick it quit it!” he said in his 1971 song “Home Is Where the Hatred Is.” “God, did you ever try to turn your sick soul inside out so that the world could watch you die?”

Information on his survivors was not immediately available.

Despite Mr. Scott-Heron’s public problems, he remained an admired figure in music, and he made occasional concert appearances and was sought after as a collaborator. Last year, XL released “I’m New Here,” his first album of new material in 16 years, which was produced by Richard Russell, a British record producer who met Mr. Scott-Heron at Rikers Island in 2006 after writing him a letter.

Reviews for the album inevitably called Mr. Scott-Heron the “godfather of rap,” but he made it clear he had different tastes.

“It’s something that’s aimed at the kids,” he once said. “I have kids, so I listen to it. But I would not say it’s aimed at me. I listen to the jazz station.”

Gil Scott-Heron, Forefather of Hip Hop, Dead at 62

Scott-Heron was best known for 1970's 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised'

By Andy Greene

MAY 28, 2011
Rolling Stone

Gil Scott-Heron in Harlem, New York, 2010.
Anthony Barboza/Getty Images

Revolutionary poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron, best known for his 1970 work "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," died March 27th at a New York City hospital. The exact cause of death is currently unknown, though he had been battling a severe drug addiction and other health problems for years. He was 62.

Many hip-hop artists cite Scott-Heron as one of the forefathers of the genre, but Scott-Heron refused to take any credit. "I just think they made a mistake," he told The New Yorker last year. He also feels that people misinterpreted "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" – a biting, spoken-work screed against the mass media and consumerist culture. "That was satire," he told The Telegraph in February of 2010. "People would try and argue that it was this militant message, but just how militant can you really be when you're saying, 'The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner'? My songs were always about the tone of voice rather than the words. A good comic will deliver a line deadpan – they let the audience laugh."

Scott-Heron was born in Chicago, but he moved to New York City as a teenager and received a scholarship to the prestigious Fieldston School in the Bronx after his teachers took note of his writing. Before he was even 20, Scott-Heron published a murder mystery novel called The Vulture. At Lincoln University he met his future musical partner Brian Jackson. In 1970 they released Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, which included a stripped-down version of "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised."

The work failed to reach a mass audience, but was widely praised for its vivid depiction of urban decay and racism in American culture. Clive Davis signed Scott-Heron to Arista in 1974 and began releasing his records at a frantic piece, averaging more than one a year between 1970 and 1982. In 1979 he performed alongside Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne and many others at the MUSE benefits at Madison Square Garden, and in 1985 he sang the protest anthem "Sun City" with Bob Dylan, Steve Van Zandt, RUN DMC, Lou Reed and Miles Davis.

In the mid-1980s he was dropped by Arista as drugs started to take over his life. He continued to perform, but only released a single record between 1982 and 2010. Many hip-hop artists sampled Scott-Heron's work in recent years, though he didn't consider that an achievement. "I don't want to tell you how embarrassing that can be," he told the New Yorker last year. "Long as it don't talk about 'yo mama' and stuff, I usually let it go. It's not all bad when you get sampled—hell, you make money. They give you some money to shut you up. I guess to shut you up they should have left you alone."

In that same piece, writer Alec Wilkinson found Scott-Heron living in a cave-like Harlem apartment. He openly smoked crack in front of the writer, and occasionally fell asleep in the middle of an interview. Despite his severe addictions, Scott-Heron still performed and occasionally recorded new music. In 2010 he teamed up with producer Richard Russell for the blues and spoken-work LP I'm New Here. He had just returned from a European tour when he fell ill and checked into New York's St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center.

Tributes have been pouring onto Twitter ever since news of Scott-Heron's death hit Friday night. "RIP Gil Scott-Heron," Eminem tweeted. "He influenced all of hip-hop." Public Enemy's Chuck D, who has long pointed to Scott-Heron as one his biggest influences, wrote this: "RIP GSH..and we do what we do and how we do because of you. And to those that don't know tip your hat with a hand over your heart & recognize."

Gil Scott-Heron, Spoken-Word Musician, Dies at 62

Published: May 27, 2011
Updated: May 28, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) — Long before Public Enemy urged the need to "Fight the Power" or N.W.A. offered a crude rebuke of the police, Gil-Scott Heron was articulating the rage and the disillusionment of the black masses through song and spoken word.

Scott-Heron, widely considered one of the godfathers of rap with his piercing social and political prose laid against the backdrop of minimalist percussion, flute and other instrumentation, died on Friday at age 62. His was a life full of groundbreaking, revolutionary music and personal turmoil that included a battle with crack cocaine and stints behind bars in his later years.

Musician and singer Michael Franti, who also is known for work that has examined racial and social injustices, perhaps summed up the dichotomy of Scott-Heron in a statement Saturday that described him as "a genius and a junkie."

"The first time I met him in San Francisco in 1991 while working as a doorman at the Kennel Klub, my heart was broken to see a hero of mine barely able to make it to the stage, but when he got there he was clear as crystal while singing and dropping knowledge bombs in his between song banter," said Franti, who described himself as a longtime friend. "His view of the world was so sad and yet so inspiring."

Scott-Heron was known for work that reflected the fury of black America in the post-civil rights era and spoke to the social and political disparities in the country. His songs often had incendiary titles — "Home is Where the Hatred Is" or "Whitey on the Moon" — and through spoken word and song he tapped the frustration of the masses.

He came to prominence in the 1970s as black America was grappling with the violent losses of some of its most promising leaders and what seemed to many to be the broken promises of the civil rights movement.

"It's winter in America, and all of the healers have been killed or been betrayed," lamented Scott-Heron in the song "Winter in America."

Scott-Heron recorded the song that would make him famous, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," which critiqued mass media, for the album "125th and Lenox" in Harlem in the 1970s. He followed up that recording with more than a dozen albums, collaborating mostly with musician Brian Jackson.

Though he was never a mainstream artist, he was an influential voice — so much so that his music was considered to be a precursor of rap and he influenced generations of hip-hop artists that would follow. When asked, however, he typically downplayed his integral role in the foundation of the genre.

"If there was any individual initiative that I was responsible for it might have been that there was music in certain poems of mine, with complete progression and repeating 'hooks,' which made them more like songs than just recitations with percussion," he wrote in the introduction to his 1990 collection of poems, "Now and Then."

In later years, he would become known more for his battle with drugs such as crack cocaine than his music. His addiction led to stints in jail and a general decline: In a 2008 interview with New York magazine, he said he had been living with HIV for years, but he still continued to perform and put out music; his last album, which came out this year, was a collaboration with artist Jamie xx, "We're Still Here," a reworking of Scott-Heron's acclaimed "I'm New Here," which was released in 2010.

He also was still smoking crack, as detailed in a New Yorker article last year.

"Ten to fifteen minutes of this, I don't have pain," he said. "I could have had an operation a few years ago, but there was an 8 percent chance of paralysis. I tried the painkillers, but after a couple of weeks I felt like a piece of furniture. It makes you feel like you don't want to do anything. This I can quit anytime I'm ready."

He referred to his signature mix of percussion, politics and performed poetry as bluesology or Third World music. But then he said it was simply "black music or black American music."

"Because black Americans are now a tremendously diverse essence of all the places we've come from and the music and rhythms we brought with us," he wrote.

Even those who may have never heard of Scott-Heron's name nevertheless knew his music. His influence on generations of rappers has been demonstrated through sampling of his recordings by artists, from Common to Mos Def to Tupac Shakur. Kanye West closes out the last track of his latest album with a long excerpt of Scott-Heron's "Who Will Survive in America."

Throughout his musical career, he took on political issues of his time, including apartheid in South Africa and nuclear arms. He had been shaped by the politics of the 1960s and black literature, especially the Harlem Renaissance.

Scott-Heron was born in Chicago on April 1, 1949. He was raised in Jackson, Tenn., and in New York before attending college at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Before turning to music, he was a novelist, at age 19, with the publication of "The Vulture," a murder mystery.

He also was the author of "The Nigger Factory," a social satire.

His final works continued his biting social commentary. "I'm New Here" included songs with titles such as "Me and the Devil" and "New York Is Killing Me."

In a 2010 interview with Fader magazine, Scott-Heron admitted he "could have been a better person. That's why you keep working on it."

"If we meet somebody who has never made a mistake, let's help them start a religion. Until then, we're just going to meet other humans and help to make each other better."



"H2O Gate Blues" (1974) by Gil Scott-Heron:

Heh, heh, don't wanna be involved in this one, huh?
This here is gonna be a blues number.
But first I wanna do a little bit of background on the Blues
And say what it is.

Like, there are 6 cardinal colors
And colors have always come to signify more than that particular shade.
Like: "red-neck" or "got the blues."
That's where you apply something to a color, to express what you're trying to say.
So, there are 6 cardinal colors: Yellow, Red, Orange, Green, Blue, and Purple.
And there are 3,000 shades.
And if you take these 3,000 and divide them by 6, you come up with 500.
Meaning that there are at least 500 shades of The Blues.
For example, there is...

The "I ain't got me no money, blues".
There is the "I ain't got me no woman, blues".
There is the "I ain't got me no money AND I ain't got me no woman".
which is the double blues.

And for years it was thought that Black people was the only ones who could get the blues.
So the Blues hadn't come into no international type of fame. (...had a corner on the market.)

But lately we had..

The Frank Rizzo with the "Lie Detector Blues".

We had the United States government talkin bout the "Energy Crisis Blues".

And we gonna dedicate this next poem here to Spearhead X.
The Ex-Second in Command in terms of this Country. (He GOT the blues.)

And the poem is called the "H2O G-A-T-E Blues".
And if H2O is still water
And G-A-T-E is still gate
What we gettin ready to deal on is the
"Watergate Blues"... (Yeah~ YEAH~ haha~)
*scattered applause*
(Rated X!)

Lemme see if I can dial this number....

Click! Whirr ... Click!

"I'm sorry, the government you have elected is inoperative ...
Click! Inoperative!"

Just how blind will America be?
The world is on the edge of its seat
Defeat on the horizon. very surprisin'
That we all could see the plot and still could not...
-- let me do that part again.

Just how blind will America be? (Ain't no tellin')
The world is on the edge of its seat
Defeat on the horizon. very surprisin'
That we all could see the plot
And claimed that we could not.(Alright~)

Just how blind, America?
Just as Vietnam exploded in the rice
snap, crackle, and pop (Uh Oh!)
Could not stop people determined to be free.
Just how blind will America be?(Yes Sir!)

The shock of a Vietnam defeat
Sent Republican donkeys scurrying down on Wall Street
And when the roll was called it was:
Pepsi-Cola and Phillips 66
Boeing, Dow & Lockheed
Ask them what we're fighting for and they never mention the economics of war.
Ecological Warfare!
Above all else destroy the land!
If we can't break the Asian will
We'll bomb the dykes and starve the man!

The international Jekyll and Hyde
The land of a thousand disguises
Sneaks up on you but rarely surprises (Yeah!)
Plundering the Asian countryside
in the name of Fu Man Thieu.

Afraid of shoeless, undernourished Cambodians
While we strike big wheat bargains with Russia
Our nuclear enemy
Just how blind, America?

But tell me, who was around where Hale Boggs died?
And what was the cause of LBJ's untimely demise?
And what really happened to J. Edgar Hoover?
The king is proud of Patrick Gray
While America's faith is drowning
beneath that cesspool-Watergate. (Yeeeah!)

How long will the citizens sit and wait?
It's looking like Europe in '38
Did they move to stop Hitler before it was too late? (no...)
How long. America before the consequences of
Keeping the school systems segregated
Allowing the press to be intimidated
Watching the price of everything soar
And hearing complaints 'cause the rich want more? (Alright!)
It seems that MacBeth, and not his lady, went mad
We've let him eliminate the whole middle class
The dollar's the only thing we can't inflate
While the poor go on without a new minimum wage
What really happened to J Edgar Hoover?
The king is proud of Patrick Gray
And there are those who say America's faith is drowning
Beneath that cesspool-Watergate.

How much more evidence do the citizens need
That the election was sabotaged by trickery and greed?
And, if this is so, and who we got didn't win
Let's do the whole goddamn election over again! (YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!)

The obvious key to the whole charade
Would be to run down all of the games they played:
Remember Dita Beard and ITT, the slaughter of Attica,
The C.I.A. in Chile knowing nothing about Allende at this time
In the past. As I recollect, Augusta Georgia
The nomination of Supreme Court Jesters to head off the tapes
William Calley's Executive Interference
in the image of John Wayne.
Kent State, Jackson State, Southern Louisiana.
Hundreds of unauthorized bombing raids.
The chaining and gagging of Bobby Seale -
Somebody tell these Maryland Governors to be for real!

We recall all of these events just to prove (Yeah!)
The Waterbuggers in the Watergate wasn't no news!
The thing that seems to justify all of our fears
Is that all of this went down in the last five years.
But tell me, what really happened to J. Edgar Hoover?
The king is proud of Patrick Gray
While America's faith is drowning
Beneath that cesspool-Watergate.

We leave America to ponder the image
Of justice from its new wave of leaders
Frank Rizzo, the high school graduate
Mayor of Philadelphia, whose ignorance
Is surpassed only by those who voted for him. (Hahahaha)
Richard Daley, imperial Napoleonic Mayor of Chicago.
who took over from Al Capone and
Continues to implement the same tactics.
George Wallace. Lester Maddox
Strom Thurmond, Ronald Reagan-
An almost endless list that won't be missed when at last
America is purged (Yeah! Alright~)

And the silent White House with the James Brothers
once in command.
But see the sauerkraut Mafia men
deserting the sinking White House ship and
Their main mindless, meglomaniac Ahab.

McCord has blown. Mitchell has blown no tap on my telephone,
McCord has blown. Mitchell has blown no tap on my telephone
Halderman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean
It follows a pattern if you dig what I mean.
Halderman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean
It follows a pattern if you dig what I mean.

And what are we left with now?
Bumper stickers that say Free the Watergate 500.
Spy movies of the same name with a cast of thousands.
And that ominous phrase: that if Nixon knew, Agnew knew!(check it out!)
But Agnew knew enough to stay out of jail
What really happened to J. Edgar Hoover?
The king is proud of Patrick Gray
And there are those who swear they've seen King Richard (who? who?)
King Richard
King Richard
King Richard
King Richard
King Richard
King Richard
King Richard
King Richard- (Yeah!)
Beneath that cesspool-Watergate.

Four more years,
Four more years,
Four more years,
Four more years of THAT?

"JOHANNESBURG" (1975) by Gil Scott-Heron

What's the word?
Tell me brother, have you heard
From Johannesburg?
What's the word?
Sister/woman have you heard
From Johannesburg?
They tell me that our brothers over there
Are defyin' the Man.
We don't know for sure because the news we get
Is unreliable, man.
Well I hate it when the blood starts flowin',
But I'm glad to see resistance growin'.
Somebody tell me what's the word?
Tell me brother, have you heard
From Johannesburg?
They tell me that our brothers over there
Refuse to work in the mines.
They may not get the news but they need to know
We're on their side.
Now sometimes distance brings misunderstanding,
But deep in my heart I'm demanding:
Somebody tell me what's the word?
Sister/woman have you heard
'Bout Johannesburg?
I know that their strugglin' over there
Ain't gonna free me,
But we all need to be strugglin'
If we're gonna be free.
Don't you wanna be free?

"RE-RON" (1984)-- by Gil Scott-Heron

"B" Movie (1981) by Gil Scott Heron: