Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Gil Scott Heron: Poet, Musician, Troubadour of Truth Dies in NYC at age 62

Gil Scott Heron (April 1, 1949 – May 27, 2011)

The Revolution Will Not Be TelevisedSmall Talk At 125Th And LenoxIn a world bereft of really meaningful socially and politically charged music, we learn of the passing of a great poet, a troubadour of truth, Gil Scott Heron. Mr. Scott Heron was reported to have been in St. Luke's hospital in NYC when he succumbed to some as yet unannounced health issues,sometime of Friday May 27, 2011 at the age of 62. 
Who will take his place?

Mr. Scott Heron was a visionary poet who used his raspy, gravel-like voice in combination with soulful, jazzy musical elements to bring his social and political commentary to light. His voice could seethe with anger and sarcasm or could be used to elicit great pathos depending on what he was trying to communicate. In an interview from 2008, when asked to define a poet he said a poet is "...someone who uses words to communicate more than just ordinary conversation. We (poets)  use it (poetry) to communicate ideas that we think people need to know."  For his part Mr. Scott Heron certainly did just that.

Though his success was never mainstream, for those who did happen to listen, he provided some valuable insights, often holding up a  less than flattering mirror to our collective conscience. His music came to light in the late sixties and early seventies starting with his debut album "Small Talk at 125th Street and Lenox". He was also a published author with the release of his " The Vulture and The Nigger Factory" in 1970 and cited the poet Langston Hughes as an early influence.

 The Vulture and the Nigger Factory
His music and poetry concentrated on social commentary and political injustice as seen from a Black man's perspective. He was loud, controversial, with an acerbic wit that used sarcasm to great effect.  He became a poster child for black militancy during this era, as his approach was bold, unafraid and "in your face." "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"  was a call to action that leveled criticism across the board  with shots at overt consumerism, social injustice, political chicanery and the complacency that he found in his own people. 

Winter In America His brilliant  "Winter in America" from his album of the same name, is a soul searching look at some of the less admirable aspects of American history and a decidedly pessimistic lament about the loss of real leadership.  Perhaps his most frequently played song on  radio was  
"The Bottle",  a single from this 1974  album. It  was an indictment of the devastating effects of alcohol abuse set to soulful jazz based music played with his long time collaborator the flautist/pianist  Brian Jackson. Scott Heron's vocals were delivered in a combined singing/talk-like style that predates rap and consequently he is often credited with being one of rap's major influences. 
   BridgesReflectionsIts Your World
No matter what subject he tackled he did so with a style and wit that was hard to ignore. His "Whitey on The Moonwas his acerbic look at the juxtaposition of a nation that could put a man on the moon but was still struggling  with the realities of poverty. He was a passionate anti-nuclear advocate and he made his point on his chilling "We Almost Lost Detroit", a clarion call to reconsider the use of nuclear energy and it's inherent dangers. He played this at the  
No Nukes concert in Madison Square Garden in 1979.

His political commentary was stinging with his "H20Gate Blues" roasting President Nixon's Watergate debacle and his"B Movie" ,a clever reference to the then President Reagan's former movie career,  a powerful metaphor for what he saw as an "acting" president. Whether you agreed or disagreed with his sentiments he was a skillful wordsmith and a powerful advocate for his cause. He often said what others wish they had and he did so with a cool style and an unmistakeably distinctive voice that had an inherent musicality. 
Despite some well documented drug and medical problems, Scott Heron had made a recent comeback of sorts with his 2010 release  " I'm New Here" and the single" Me and The Devil"  
I'm New Herewhich introduced the erascible poet to a whole new generation. Reportedly he was taken ill during a recent European trip and was eventually brought to St. Luke's hospital in New York City where he passed on Friday.With his passing the world of music and poetry has certainly suffered a terrible loss.

A memorial service has been scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Thursday June 2 at Riverside Church; there will also be a public viewing from 6-9 p.m. at Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home at 81st Street and Madison Avenue.

1 comment:

  1. His voice will be missed, even as we live in a paradoxical time of progress mixed with colossal ignorance. Earlier today a poll of Iowans revealed that 59% did not believe President Obama was born in America (!) That's why we need consciousness-raisers like Scott-Heron.