Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In Memoriam: Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011)

The passing of Gil Scott-Heron last week is yet another one of those markers that remind you that you're youth is gone!

To get Scott-Heron, you have to understand that the '70's was a period for a great many young people (like me), who were engaged in search for identity, both personal and racial. It's pretty easy to judge that era from a 21st century perspective and say that blacks should have been more practical and pursued more substantial goals, but, historically, on the outer edge of the Civil Rights Movement, it was very important to understand our culture, our history, our our capacity as a generation coming of age, to make a contribution that built us up in terms our consciousness as well as our politics and commerce.

Now like every age, the '70's was neither all one thing or another. But there was an aspect to art then, through whatever medium, to give expression to our frustration, to challenge, exhort and admonish. Gil Scott-Heron was one of those artists. Like the artists of today, he spoke the truth to be found in the streets and expressed the frustrations of those of us who grew up dealing with racism and poverty. But Heron did not exhort to violence, hate or misogyny. Heron simply told us what time it was. And he called us to awaken from our superficial existences and pursuits towards substantive contributions that improved the lot of our people.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised was one of those works of arts of his designed to shake us all from our complacency. It is inspirational, agitational to some I'm sure, but it is an iconic work.

Gil Scott-Heron, who pioneered what we now call rap and def jam poetry, not in a banal search for celebrity or wealth, but in order to strengthen the soul of a people in search of their identity, died on March 28, at the age of 62.

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