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Gil Scott-Heron Dies

A voice dared to speak – to shout! – of injustice and man’s destruction of life, of spirit … of man.  This voice was warm but stern, poetic yet flat – able to communicate without question that which is undeniable … the truth!  Truth that is intangible yet able to touch each one’s heart as a sharp knife upon soft skin.  Truth which vibrated from the minds of men from the beginning of time and will continue till the last human breath is taken.  Truth which is love and compassion.  This voice emitted from a man – Gil Scott-Heron.  And this man has no beginning and therefore no end – for he was his art and his art was his soul.  There was no division, there was no visible line.

On the 27th of March of 2011 the man left us (or what we recognize as the man – for his material legacy) but the voice has not: and the voice is what matters.  Though mortal coil is left to dissipate into dust, the energy that was the mobilizing force within the body of the man, Gil Scott Heron, continues to be with us. Therefore sadness does not fill my heart, because I remember every bit of Mr. Heron as if he had never been apart from me.  As if he knew me before I heard his voice, and as if his voice continued to call long after I had forgotten where to find it.

I remember the first time that I heard Gil, on a late night on Temple Public Radio’s, “The Bridge”, talking about some revolution, and later on WDAS murmuring about some bottle, and later, on my own, about some Winter … and more and more and more.  Each time was new, was revolutionary, was real – hard to define – the way I usually like life to be.  As a poet he was hard yet subtle – being the offspring of a generation of writers and imaginers from Harlem’s renaissance (his great influence being Langston Hughes) and the Beats which followed. But by the time the chaotic 60s and 70s came along the word – or be it, the world – transformed and with it so did the message.  Not that there wasn’t a call for justice, for liberation, that rung through the mouths of many poets before him but Gil came to us in the era of television, of record machines, of radios … where now each phrase could be heard and repeated endlessly in a loop and became what was your life or what you thought may be your life had you been born but a few blocks away on the dark end of your same neighborhood.  He understood the responsibility that came with this great power and never misused it and never misguided.  He was a master of his art for his art was him and their union was perfect.

Mr. Heron is always credited for his influence on modern rap, even being called the Godfather of Rap, but he didn’t rap … he breathed … he swung.  “They need to study music…” he said of the rappers, “… There’s a big difference between putting words over some music, and blending those same words into the music … They use a lot of slang and colloquialisms, and you don’t really see inside the person. Instead, you just get a lot of posturing.”  And it was this that Gil wanted us to do – look inside.  What do you see?  Is it pretty or ugly?  Is it life-affirming or does it make you want to die where you stand?  He was art.  It flourished through him because as a man he was like all of us – flawed.  So the art became one with his heart and his heart chose to become one with our own, and once it joined ours it asked for ours to meld with that of another – and endless stream of vibration, art and love.  “The revolution will not be televised” he famously said.  That is because he understood better than anyone that it was going to begin and end right here inside you and I.  You might just find this out yourself if you just stop and listen.  Just listen to the man.

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