These Are Our Gods: Gil Scott-Heron

These Are Our Gods:…”. A series of influential people who’ve had an impact on (Sub)Culture.

Gil Scott-Heron

This edition of  “These Are Our Gods” features poet, musician and author Gil Scott-Heron. I’d like to take this chance to ask a question, in SAT form:

1. Patti Smith is to Punk as Gil Scott-Heron is to…

a) Hip-Hop

b) Neo-Soul

c) Acid Jazz

d) All of the Above

If this were the only question on the SAT’s you’d receive a 1600 no matter which answer you picked. But that’s beside the point, Gil Scott-Heron’s work was a potent satirical mosaic that helped birth a series of genres.

Scott-Heron has often been referred to as the “Godfather of Rap”, he’s also been referred to as the “Black Bob Dylan”. His scathing sociopolitical jabs at a systematically corrupt society left black eyes that no concealer could mask.

I first heard of Heron in 2008, I was publishing my poetry on a soon to be defunct website and I caught the name on a profile somewhere. The letters weren’t in any kind of special distinguished font but his name gleamed, shining bright. “Gil Scott-Heron”. I said to myself I have to get familiar with this brother’s work.

What I discovered was a jarring indictment of America’s society and the African Americans who perpetuate its brutal cycle. His style of delivery was somewhat similar to early styles of rap but with a sociopolitical Black Panther tinge. The more I learned about Heron the more I became aware of what he stood for and the message he was attempting convey.

Gil was born in Chicago, Illinois and ended up in the Bronx by the age of 13.  He attended DeWitt Clinton High School and later graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a  Masters degree in Creative Writing.

In 1970, after returning to New York City from a 2 year stint at Lincoln University, he recorded the masterpiece Small Talk at 125th and Lenox.

The LP contains the pro-black militant activist anthem “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. Its title even became a popular phrase during the black power movement.

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruptions.
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat
hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.
The revolution will not be televised.

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

There will be no pictures of you and Willie May
pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run,
or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance.
NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the proper occasion.

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
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.

There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock
news and no pictures of hairy armed women
liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose.
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb,
Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdinck, or the Rare Earth.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be right back after a message
bout 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.

His laters albums included collaborations with Brian Jackson. This gave way to an early form of Acid Jazz. His second album Pieces of a Man is frequently hailed as a major influence on Neo-Soul. “The music of the album is rooted in the blues and jazz influences to which Scott-Heron referred to as “bluesology, the science of how things feel.” Characteristics of this diverse blend are mellow instrumentation, jazzy vocals and free jazz arrangements…”
“Frequently the nature of the jazz backing is so free that the vocals take on an independent, almost a cappella feeling… Some of the recordings featured on the album, along with other Gil Scott-Heron compositions, would later be sampled by several rappers and hip hop groups, while the blend of sound and instrumentation featured on Pieces of a Man later inspired many neo-soul artists in the 1990s.

Scott-Heron is the living breathing blueprint for artsy young sociopolitically conscious black militants. He has remained dormant for most of the late 80’s and throughout  the 90’s but he recently released an album titled I’m New Here. “It is Scott-Heron’s first album of original material in sixteen years, following a period of personal and legal troubles with drug addiction.”

It received generally positive reviews but most importantly it marks the return of a pioneer. I believe, due to his absence, some of us have forgotten Heron. We have forgotten his responsibility, his influence. Let us cherish him for he is OUR national treasure.

I would like to leave you with a favorite piece of mine off of his first EP Small Talk at 125th and Lenox. It’s called “Whitey on the Moon”, it contains traces of humor and vindictive honesty.

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 bills.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
Ten years from now I’ll be payin’ still
While Whitey’s on the moon.
You know, the man jus’ upped my rent las’ night,
’cause Whitey’s on the moon.
No hot water, no toilets, no lights,
but Whitey’s on the moon.
I wonder why he’s uppin’ me?
’cause Whitey’s on the moon?
Well I was already givin’ ‘im fifty a week
And now Whitey’s on the moon.
Taxes takin’ my whole damn check,
The junkies make me a nervous wreck,
The price of food is goin’ up,
An’ as if all that crap wasn’t enough,
A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face an’ arms began to swell
And Whitey’s on the moon.
Was all that money I made las’ year
For Whitey on the moon?
How come I ain’t got no money here?
Hmm! Whitey’s on the moon.
Y’know I jus’ about had my fill
Of Whitey on the moon.
I think I’ll sen’ these doctor bills,
Airmail special…

To Whitey on the moon