“The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner,
Because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.”
[Update: he died in a Manhattan hospital, having become sick after returning from a trip to Europe.]
Gil Scott-Heron was a poet, a singer, a soul pioneer, and an early proto-rapper who gained fame for his spoken-word extravaganzas over percussive beats. The most famous of those was “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” from his 1970 album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox:
“The revolution will not be right back after a message
About a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your bedroom
A tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.
The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
Will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.”
Heady stuff. Mr. Hehn introduced me to that album in 1980 in a dorm room in Salem, Oregon — a long way from 125th and Lenox.
Gil Scott-Heron had wrassled with hard times for the last decade — troubles with crack got him arrested in 2001, and he was in and out of jail for several years. He was close to becoming a Forgotten Man, but he bounced back last year with a well-regarded album, I’m New Here.
The bitter barbs of “Revolution” and “Whitey On the Moon” were just one side of Scott-Heron. Here’s another:
[Update: For the time being, The New Yorker has put its terrific 2010 profile of Scott-Heron back online.]
See more photos of Gil Scott-Heron >>