| posted on 5.28.2011 at 04:41 PM
The Revolution will not be televised, singer/writer, Gil Scott Heron Dies
Gil Scott-Heron, the musician, poet, author and hip-hop pioneer who wrote "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" has died in New
York at age 62. The sad news was revealed on Twitter by his UK publisher. The cause of death is currently unknown.
One of America's greatest cultural figures of the 1970s and an inspiration to generations since, Scott-Heron had been in fragile health for many
years as a result of a decades-long battle with cocaine and HIV infection.
Scott-Heron was renowned for his vivid combination of music and poetry, defining new ways of incorporating spoken-word artistry within ambitious sonic
settings right up until his death. He was a key figure in post-civil rights articulation of Black America, calling himself "an interpreter of the
black experience," while his early works were a clear forerunner to hip-hop. Scott-Heron looms as large in the music of contemporary stars such as
Kanye West (who largely based 'Who Will Survive in America?' on 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' on Scott-Heron's sampled voice and music) as
he did on Public Enemy's Chuck D more than 20 years ago.
Scott-Heron's music and words are arguably in greater circulation than ever before. 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised' -- definitively recorded
in 1971, and notoriously used by Nike in 2007 -- is his best known song, elevated to catchphrase status despite being an all-encompassing attack on
both societal complacency and false revolutionaries. He is also well known for 1974's 'The Bottle,' one of his biggest chart successes, which dealt
with the evils of alcoholism while scoring big in discos at the time.
He broke a prolonged absence from recording with 'I'm New Here' in 2010, produced by Richard Russell, the head of British-based XL records. Despite
his ill health and troubles with the law, Scott-Heron played many shows to audiences who were far too young to have heard him in his 1970s prime. This
year, XL released a remix of that album by the xx's Jamie xx entitled 'We're New Here.'
Scott-Heron, largely in partnership with musical partner Brian Jackson, who shares credit on many classic albums, released an incredible run of music
during the 1970s. His combination of dense spoken-word pieces with spiritual jazz gradually transformed into more sung lyrics covering a wider range
of topics over R&B and funk grooves. If 'Revolution' and 'The Bottle' are characteristic of his early, youthful righteousness, later jams like
1977's 'We Almost Lost Detroit' about a near meltdown in Michigan and 1981's 'B-Movie' are fine examples of the latter.
Born in 1949 in Chicago, Scott-Heron grew up in Tennessee with his grandmother, a period much recounted on 'I'm New Here.' Moving to New York after
he finished school, he initially found success as an author before releasing his first record 'Small Talk at 125th St. and Lennox' on the esoteric
jazz label Flying Dutchman in 1970.
Partnering with Jackson, they quickly developed a spacious sound over which Scott-Heron recounted the state of Black America while social and economic
conditions worsened. His political commentary was explicit and, nearly 40 years later, sometimes sounds overly of its time. Nevertheless, the quality
of the music ensures that these songs remain highly provocative.
Scott-Heron's growing cult status led him to be the first artist signed to Arista Records and one of the first musical guests on 'Saturday Night
Live' (at the insistence of host Richard Pryor). Later in the decade, he became a prominent anti-nuclear activist and appeared in the film 'No
Nukes' in 1979 alongside Bruce Springsteen, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Carly Simon, and Jackson Browne.
After releasing 'Moving Target' in 1983, Scott-Heron gradually withdrew from touring as rumours of cocaine and crack use began to circulate. The
1990s were a dark time which yielded very little new music, save for the so-so 'Spirits' in 1993, in which he took rappers to task for not
fulfilling their social responsibilities.
For nearly a decade and a half, most of the news surrounding Scott-Heron was bad: arrests, jail spells and infection with HIV. However, his books
continued to be reissued and fans, though distraught at this anti-drug crusader's battle with drugs, health and societal pressures, continued to keep
the faith that he would recover enough to make new music. 'I'm New Here' and its subsequent tour found him haggard and of slurred voice, but were
both very warmly received.
Scott-Heron remained wry to the last, explaining on an 'I'm New Here' track that "If I hadn't been as eccentric, as obnoxious, as arrogant, as
aggressive, as introspective, as selfish as I am -- I wouldn't be me."
| posted on 5.29.2011 at 01:37 AM
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