Musically speaking those words have the impact of someone saying the moon just fell from the sky. How could it be true?
For over four decades Gil Scott-Heron asked the hard questions, writing and singing his reality large in poignant, vivid poetry. He held up a mirror to the world around him and implored society to take a long look at itself in that reflection.
The first music of his I remember hearing was on the radio in Denver, where I grew up. At that time (1970s) the town was slowly emerging into a more urban identity. As the population makeup was shifting to include many more Mexican, black, Vietnamese and Hmong families, Denver could no longer be as readily stereotyped by its white cattlemen and horse ranchers and the many who didn’t make it quite all the way to California.
One of the sure signs of the cultural shift was the colorful current of new sounds that overcame Denver’s airwaves in that era: for a while we had a dedicated full-time jazz station; for soul, r&b and disco there was KDKO “the hot sauce”; and AM radio had 95 KIMN – which played its share of the Eagles and Little River Band and Bread, for sure. But they also played Gil Scott-Heron. And, later on, the Sugar Hill Gang’s ground-breaking Rapper’s Delight. I heard The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, and Pieces of a Man, and Whitey On The Moon as a pre-teen and I think I knew on some level in this music I was also hearing the sound of my own future, a soundtrack for a lifelong path of curiousity about poetry and politics and human rights and passionate voices of all musical kinds.
I saw him perform just one time, at the Blue Note in NY City two summers ago. It was in 2009, another pivotal time in his life when he’d just been released from prison after serving a term for possession of crack cocaine and a couple of pipes. His new album “I’m New Here” was ready to be released and he was as feisty as ever. While the complete Blue Note experience was of mixed success, the music that night was everything I possibly could have hoped for after three+ decades of loving his music.
Thank you Gil Scott-Heron.
He wrote about it so vividly because he lived it. Poet, junkie, pianist, inmate, political observer, singer, civil rights icon, the grandfather of hip-hop: the man. Gil Scott-Heron died last night. He was 62. His message to – and about – humanity is timeless. Love endures.
May we each honor his memory by finding our own unique voice, and using it. Loudly.