Rest in Peace: Gil Scott-Heron

May 28th, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron died on Friday night.

Sometimes called the Godfather of Rap (a label he rejected), Heron’s 1971 song “The Revolution Will Not be Televised” combined hard hitting lyrics celebrating militant black power and mocking American popular culture with razor sharp wit. Despite his rejection of the term, his spoken word stlye over jazz drums, bass and flute was an early precursor to hip hop as well as the later stylings of acid jazz.

From “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”:

The revolution will not be brought to you by the 
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Woods 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….

NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The revolution will not be televised…

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The revolution will not be televised…

The revolution will not be right back after a message
bbout a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.

You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.

The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

Similarly, “Whitey on the Moon” contrasts the 3rd World conditions that existed America’s ghettoes to the images America saw on TV:

A rat done bit my sister Nell,
with Whitey on the moon

Her face and arms began to swell,
and Whitey’s on the moon

I can’t pay no doctor bill,
but Whitey’s on the moon

Ten years from now I’ll be payin’ still,
while Whitey’s on the moon 

Heron had an amazing talent that was often stifled by his struggles with addiction.

He had released a new album in 2010 after a long hiatus and a friend sent me a copy a few months ago. Since then I re-discovered an old live CD I had, “The Mind of Gil Scott-Heron.” Listening to him live, that talent really shines through. H2OGate Blues is an amazing synthesis of the corruption of the Watergate scandal and a snapshot in time seen from Heron’s eyes.  It’s been on my playlist for the past few months.  

I first heard the news on Friday when I was in the bar at Yoshi’s in San Francisco waiting for Digable Planets to come on. It was the first time I had been to Yoshi’s and, as I watched the band, I was remnded that Gil Scott-Heron had been on that same stage just a few months before.

Unfortunately I missed the show, and with it, my last chance to see this incredible talent.

Rest in Peace Gill Scott-Heron. You will be missed.

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One Response to “Rest in Peace: Gil Scott-Heron”

  1. nico Says:

    i’m from harlem and shit.