(I know this doesn't sum up the man, his life nor the entirety of his work- this is just how his contributions have struck a chord with my me.)
Yesterday (May 27th, 2011) Gil Scott-Heron died. The poet, singer and inspiration for much of my music passed on, and it hit me in an unexpected way. I felt the feeling of immediate grief and a sense that my people, Black people and people of consciousness lost a Garvey, a Malcolm or a Martin. In that those truth tellers unadulterated by a culture of co-opted ignorance, denial, not infected by the slave syndrome that has caused some folks of color to want to comfort white supremacy and capitalism. Gil Scott-Heron was the antithesis of the sellout masked in proper English that soothed the mainstream's denial - he was rather the poet of the revolution, the singer of the blues trying to find its place for a fix. Real and true the feelings evoked in his works that they never felt contrived but lived and breathed like a folk singer, like who he really was: Gil Scott-Heron.
Pieces Of a Man was always my favorite, a true tale of being Black in America, or laid off in America. I understand why my White friends liked his works too. Pieces of a man told to an equally emotional,passionate and soft piano; always felt to me like the kind of music/art that comes from being lived and felt and watched up close in the presence of pain that brings forth light. The light shown bright. Of course another favorite of mine was The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Turning the commercial symbols of capitalism on their heads to make the point that they will not be the source of our collective empowerment, liberation or enlightenment - this truth is still evident today as commercial enterprise (global commerce, oil/energy and weapons/war profiteers) are seeing extreme profits like nothing seen before in history, yet most Americans do not bask in this financial windfall. Our eduction is being cut, our environment polluted and innocent people near and far are being murdered by these profiteers! The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is as appropriate now as it was 30 years ago! Great art does this, great artists evoke a sense of timeless truth that cannot be taught at Ivy League schools nor formulated into a theory with predictable input, output; these things are lived and breathed and directly experienced. I feel quite lucky and blessed to have heard Gil Scott's voice, music and poetry. My generation of hip-hop has been directly influenced by his body of work and the spirit of it...None the less I must admit that over a year ago I had a chance to go see him at a famous jazz club here in the Bay and didn't go. I invited a friend who quickly reminded me of how Gil Scott had fallen to drug abuse and how sad it would be to see a legend in that state. I was all too quick to agree and didn't go. When I heard of his passing last night I quickly flashed back to this missed opportunity and how 6 months after this show I read an interview he did in Waxpoetics magazine and he talked about how he had got caught with less than a gram of cocaine ($20 worth!) was doing jail time for this possession, and how while it was a mistake, it was blown way out of proportion. Posing the question: How many of us have done something stupid: drove a little drunk, had less than a gram on us, ran a red light etc? but just didn't get caught? The article also talked a lot about the state of America (the arrogance of world domination), as well as hip-hop and how he loved the art form but just wished us mcees would actually say something in our music, and not just talk about the last mcee we disliked. The article inspired me greatly to say the least. Last night I couldn't sleep, thinking "Who will speak for us now?" Then I remembered that like the truth speakers before Gil Scott-Heron (Langston Hughes was a big influence of his), we must carry the torch, the mic, the soapbox forward as well.
Love and peace to an ancestor that has left us w/ a legacy to carry forward!