Remembering Gil Scott Heron
BY JAAN LAAMAN
The core of my personal soundtrack in this life has long been Bob Marley and roots reggae. Right next to that music, and interwoven through the decades, has been the rhythms, the sounds and definitely the words of Gil Scott Heron.
It is with sadness that I heard the brother, Mr. Gil Scott Heron passed on May 27, in New York City. He was 62 years old.
I never knew the man personally, but from way back in the 60s, when we first heard the different sound and lyrics of “The Revolution will not be televised… the revolution will not go better with Coke/ the revolution will not fight the germs that 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/ the revolution will be no re-run brothers/ the revolution will be live,” we knew this brother had something to say. And he said it and did it in a way like now one else ever had before. Of course Gil Scott heron has been recognized as a pioneer of spoken word and rap sounds.
Gil Scott created music that touched you, made you think, gave you information and insight, made you dance too. Gil Scott Heron inspired, informed, inflamed me and so many others, with his raw, real, relevant rhymes and sound. His music was about reality, about social struggle from the U.S. to South Africa and across the world.
Gil Scott understood that artists have a social responsibility and that culture is about this world we live and struggle in: it’s not above it. Gil Scott was a man of principle. Even though he had need of cash, he did not betray his principles for corporate and imperialist money. For example in 2010, after his last album, “I’m New Here” came out, he turned down a concert in Israel, out of solidarity with the Palestinian people and their struggle (see “Singing for Justice as a Life-long Commitment”, by Marta Rodriguez, on page 25 of issue 16 of 4sm, for an article on Gil Scott Heron’s refusal to play at this pro-Israeli concert).
Think back readers: “Winter in America,” “1980,” “Johannesburg,” “Angel Dust,” “In a Bottle,” “The Vulture,” and many, many more cuts. Yea, Gil Scott is in a lot of our soundtracks. We are going to miss you brotherman, but we will keep on listening to all you had to say.
PS: for 4sm readers who aren’t too familiar with much of Gil Scott Heron’s music, do yourself a favor, get some of it and listen, learn and enjoy it.