Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Gil-Scott Heron

"The youth was gone, and he looked like an old man, freshness erased by some unknown blackboard cleaner. It was a new day for John Lee. There had always been a smile on his lips and a chuckle rolling over his vocal chords, ready to be exposed with only the slightest provocation. The daytime was gone from his eyes. All that remained was the night."

Gil-Scott Heron, from The Vulture, 1970.

by Drew Hubner

Gil-Scott Heron wrote "The Bottle" in the late 60's but he never stopped drinking. He never left Harlem, he smoked crack, and when I saw him last summer in Marcus Garvey Park, he had the gap-toothed gleeful grin of a bum. Whenever the band kicked in, he threw his head back and no one looked happier to be there. He looked like a six foot seven homeless guy leading the band. He also looked like a three year old kid. Most artists when they make it, they go live in LA or whatever. Gil-Scott Heron never did. He was not a rapper, though he did rap in the same way that Bob Dylan rapped. Dylan was not a folk singer either, he's a blues guy. He always was. Heron is jazz. That night in the park he told a story about the origins of jazz. He rapped. He was from the generation that used that word a little differently; Rap Brown comes to mind. It seemed incongruous that someone like Heron smoked crack, someone so intelligent, so aware. But he was eaten up by the same monster that ate Rap Brown. It also seemed incongruous when we heard that Brown shot a black sheriff in Alabama with a big ol' pistol.

Heron knew America. He wrote about America like no one else and the America that he lived with and lived in was not kind to black artists or to black men. Some can live in the suburbs, Heron never could. This is not even a black thing altogether; it's an artist thing. And it's not a value judgement either. Why does Dylan keep touring, when he can't even sing really? Why did Joe Strummer go to raves and hang out with wankers half his age, when the consumers of his music wanted the Clash to play "Rock the Casbah"? Heron's final album, I'm New Here from last year was amazing. It was just like those Johnny Cash records produced by Rick Rubin, spare genius in the raw, a voice in bare essence. In Harlem on 3rd Ave there's a bike shop that has that photograph of all the jazz guys taken on an afternoon in the late 50's, right there in the neighborhood. Everyone from Diz to Monk. Dozens of guys along with 10 lucky neighborhood kids. The thing that amazes you is that all those guys could be in the same place at the same time to pose, but they all lived right there in Harlem. That's the NYC Heron lived in, still. But the city passed him by. The city had changed, not altogether of course, but Heron had not left. That's what that album said. Listen to it. It is not even music, more of a testament, like the pictographs on canyon walls left by the Apaches to tell us what they saw of the world. Heron did rap but he was not a rapper, he was a jazz singer. RIP, brother.


"New York Is Killing Me"
by Gil-Scott-Heron, 2010.
available on I'm New Here

"On Coming From A Broken Home (Part 1)" mp3
by Gil-Scott-Heron, 2010.
available on I'm New Here

"On Coming From A Broken Home (Part 2)" mp3
by Gil-Scott-Heron, 2010.
available on I'm New Here


The Other Side of Gil-Scott Heron
video and photographs by Monique de Latour
from The New Yorker


Ron Moorby said...

Sorely missed but he has left a vast archive of good stuff

Piet Legerstee said...

thanks for all the good music !!!!

The Dubstep Blog said...

RIP to GSH a true pioneer. Still love hearing his hooks!

C. von Grumpy said...

Thank you for your article, the Man was one of a kind and his work will last.

Anonymous said...

.. and whitey is still on the moon... damn ...