Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-Heron

So much more than just the author of a timeless tagline for the revolution, Gil Scott-Heron was a poet that was dragged into singing, and a singer that was elevated to iconic status. He's not often thought of as a civil rights leader, but he was certainly a freedom fighter.

So many of the people we mention on this site aren't going to be covered in abridged history books. This is often because they lived lives that are similar to that of the average person. They fight the same battles that we fight today. Poverty, stress, drug use, drug abuse, and emotional trauma aren't beating out epic stories of fire hoses and police dogs. But, that's the fight that everyday people, now and then, know very well. 

Gil was a warrior and his weapon was his words. The battles he fought were just as much internal as they were external. It was just as much about his feelings about the conditions he was placed in as it was against those conditions themselves. 

So many people know the phrase "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" but so few of those people have actually heard the whole poem. That poem hit me in the feels something serious when i heard it because I saw that it wasn't so much about standing up against the man, as it was about living in a world where people around you are expecting freedom to be fed to them. Expecting liberation to be served up on a screen while they cheered it on from their arm chairs. It spoke about our obsession with the everyday distractions that have overwhelmed our senses. It condemned us for believing that we'd be able to just "plug in, turn on and cop out". That battle still wages on today.

When I first heard "Whitey on the Moon" I cringed at how corny and dated it felt. I too was swept up in the coolness of space exploration and the advancements of science.  I thought it was overly critical and damn near petty. But, in the true fashion of a prophet, the truth has a way of making itself known in time. I sit here in a house that I don't own, looking at piling stacks of debt, watching my friends and family members die and get locked up while my children face an abysmal education situation. All this happens as I watch two billionaires live out their ego-driven fantasies of space travel. Damn, Gil. You win.

But, as much as he was able to capture the frustrations of living in poverty, he was honest with us about his own struggles. He gave us "The Bottle" and "Home is Where the Hatred Is" to give a voice to an inner fight that is raging quietly inside of millions of us. Anybody who has struggled with any kind of addiction can hopefully hear him say things like "Home is where the needle marks tried to heal my broken heart" and understand just how close that home actually is. 

Gil can be dark when he's telling you what he sees. He's not the most fun listen when he's in that mode, but he also has some of my favorite pieces of all time that highlight the joyfulness of everyday life. As a kid from the country, hearing "Back Home" after having moved to the big city looking for opportunity and all that American dream stuff snaps me right back onto the right track and makes me grateful for the things that really matter. And I swear "A Song for Bobby Smith" and "Your Daddy Loves You" damn near bring me to tears when I hear them. These are songs are gifts to your spirit.

I'm a complete music nerd and the search for the perfect song is a life long quest  and this man has so many on my list. Not because he's an amazing singer, or his musicians are the best in the business, or because his production is top notch. It's because he's managed to capture emotions and ideas that are so specific and he communicates them effortlessly. 

If you want to be mad, just hitch a ride on the poem "Aint No New Thing" and let him say all the things that you wish you could say. Lost your job and life got you down? Listen to "Pieces of Man" and know that you're not alone in what you feel. When you're done fighting and you want to rest let "Rivers of my Fathers"carry you home. He found the words so you don't have to.

“A good poet feels what his community feels. Like if you stub your toe, the rest of your body hurts.”

Gil knew that everyone who is still alive and struggling under oppression is a freedom fighter just by continuing to exist. His voice speaks to all of us and lets us know just how alike we are because of it. Sometimes you just need someone to tell you that your feelings are valid. Someone to recognize your joy and your pain. That can give you the strength to keep that fight going. That's what makes him a warrior, an icon, and a Griot.


In His Own Words

“I am a black man dedicated to expression; expression of the joy and pride of blackness. I consider myself neither poet, composer, or musician. These are merely tools used by sensitive men to carve out a piece of beauty or truth that they hope may lead to peace and salvation.”

It's really impossible to be objective about this since I'm such a fan, but I'll just throw out a few tracks that cover the range of emotions that he's managed to capture, and I hope you'll follow the yellow brick road and find your own favorites.

Winter In America

Still waiting for this season to pass.


Pieces of a Man

When You Are Who You Are

Every once in a while, I'll sneak this one in on my wife and it never fails to bring a smile to her face. 


Big shout out to Brian Jackson, I hope to meet him and thank him one day since I didn't get to meet Gil. RIP Brother.