About year ago there was an interview with him in the New Yorker, after he brought out his last album. I was sad to learn he was still doing drugs - caught in this no mans land, unable to get out. It left a gloomy feeling. The man who wrote and sang so beautifully about his children, the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse! His voice ruined by the crack - still an impressive presence on his last album though. I loved and admired his brilliant wit - as much a talker as a singer and writer. Learning of his death makes me not only sad but angry.
He was one of a kind, and his spot-on political/social commentary and messages, while maintaining top-notch musicianship/composing skills...was a rare combination. So many other artists who tried to do the same became relegated to the polemical. That he was able to do both ~ deliver such a message, while still writing & playing the most funky-#ss stuff in musical history ~ was astounding.
I saw him a number of times, live. Three times on the East coast in the mid-80's with the Amnesia Express band ("Reflections", Moving Target" albums)....when, dare I say...he was at his absolute best (the reprehensible reagan era clearly spawning some of his greatest songs).
That he kept going in and out of drug rehab in the 90's and beyond was news to me up until last year, although it did not surprise me, really.
Considering his message was always one of recognizing the injustices around us, and urging people not to accept those injustices....in a time when political leadership here has vanished entirely, and the country has shifted so far away from any sort of civic-mindedness ...to a myopic and polarized "me first" generation....it didn't surprise me that Gil was struggling and would turn back to the familiar substances for some sort of comfort/escape. Anyone with a strong sense of justice and a socio-political conscience would be tortured by living here the past 20+ years.
I'd imagine the guy had basically been hella pissed and/or forlorn, for the entire last generation (with good reason).
A national treasure. An important piece of the american conscience is now gone.
Every death of a culture figure from my life hurts, particularly when they die this young. I still remember the "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" and how powerful a piece of poetry/music it was. It kind of surprises me that he became a slave to drugs, since with his awareness he surely knew that they are the path to early death. It's sad.
Very sad news. I was a big fan of Gil Scott Heron's early albums. (I hadn't kept up on his later output.)
Gil's poetry was a voice for justice in his generation. He never hesitated to challenge the powers that be, or to mock and expose the trickery of the mass media. He advocated mutual respect among members of the community. Gil sang about "Keeping it real" long before that became a commonly used phrase.
I am sad that even though Gil's songs warned against the ravages of drug use, he apparently fell into that life style himself and was trapped in that scene for long periods of time.
Check out all of Hubert Laws' great flute solos and fills on Scott-Heron's early albums! World class flute playing!
Finally, Gil had this relevant message for today's rappers and hip hoppers:
"They need to study music. I played in several bands before I began my career as a poet. There’s a big difference between putting words over some music, and blending those same words into the music. There’s not a lot of humor. They use a lot of slang and colloquialisms, and you don’t really see inside the person. Instead, you just get a lot of posturing."
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