Saturday, 28 May 2011
I wouldn't define him as a Christian, not anywhere close to it--yet, there was something wonderful about what he wrote about that I admire. For those who don't know--he was an American poet, probably at the height of his popularity in the late '70s and early '80s. His songs were often laced with social and political ambitions, which was probably what was so desirable to his music during the Hippie times of the 80's. Gil Scott-Heron's first and probably most influential appearance on the scene was his 1970 recording The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, arguing against the mindless and anesthetizing effects of the mass media, as well as a call to the black community. He muses “You will not be able to stay home, brother./You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out./You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip/Skip out for beer during commercials/Because the revolution will not be televised.”
To be honest, I've only been a fan since Jamie from the London indie band, "the xx" decided to remix his album, "I'm New Here". Overall, it was a great re-imagining of that album, and I still own it. This small interest in the character was furthered when I heard Kanye West sampling him on the last track of his album: "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy". It was the last track, where he is heard bellowing, "Who will survive in America, who will survive in America?" There was such conviction in his voice that I looked up his music some more.
He had a well publicized battle with alcohol and drug abuse, it marked a lot of his music--his songs mirrors his own anguish and the pain of struggling against this sin that he was so chained to. His music is quite evocative at times taking some very vivid imagery that I cannot repeat on my blog if I want to keep it G-rated. But all the same, his music is very relevant today though it has been written for another era and age. The work that struck me first when I discovered him was the song, "Work for Peace". It was convicting of what peace he argues for, I collected some selected quotes from the song. I avoided much of the political comment that there was in the song, but the essential message was one of peace, not war:
"If we only work for Peace,
If everyone believed in Peace the way they say they do,
we'd have Peace.
The only thing wrong with Peace,"
"Peace is not the absence of war,
it is the absence of the rules of war and the threats of war and the preparation for war."
I don't want to sound like no late night commercial,
but its a matter of fact that there are thousands of children all over the world
in Asia and Africa and in South America who need our help.
When they start talking about 55 cents a day and 70 cents a day,
I know a lot of folks feel as though that,
thats not really any kind of contribution to make,
but we had to give up a dollar and a half just to get in the subway nowadays.
So this is a song about tomorrow and about how tomorrow can be better. if we all,
"Each one reach one, Each one try to teach one".
Nobody can do everything,
but everybody can do something,
everyone must play a part,
everyone got to go to work, Work for Peace.
Spirit Say Work, Work for Peace
If you believe the things you say, go to work.
If you believe in Peace, time to go to work.
Cant be wavin your head no more, go to work.
As you can see, it wasn't any normal call for peace that he was arguing in in his song. The song is one that is befitting someone called the "black Bob Dylan", but I think there's an element of Johnny Cash in him as well.
I see Gil Scott Heron as simply archetypal to what rap music should be. If you can be listening to material as rich as this, and delivery as controlled as this--switch to Jay-Z or Flo-Rida and you would realise how bunk rap music is today. The struggle of Heron are monumental in comparison to what is sung today in the clubs. These musicians of old were not seeking pleasures and ecstasy but true and tangible change. I am especially reminded of Eminem's song, White America (cussing warning!) --as a juxtaposition, because they address the same theme. The divergence of purposes of the songs, is embodied within Eminem writing to whine, not change the world. Gil Scott Heron's conviction is utterly convincing, however much we may disagree with what he has to say.
Today, we should be mourning the loss of the godfather of rap. Perhaps, we might not have agreed with his political stances, but with what conviction he had. As a Christian, I admire his ambition and his pure honesty that pervades all his music.
I found out the news that he was dead through a RT--Jamie Byng, wrote a tweet that he "just heard the very sad news that my dear friend and one of the most inspiring people I've ever met, the great Gil Scott-Heron, died today." At this point, the news media hadn't known about his death yet--no doubt, his own reclusivity also made it hard for any news to be found about him. But I was doubtful anyway, and tentatively asked him whether he was being serious. "I'm so sorry to say it is. but we must remember the work and his spirit and celebrate the fact that they will never die."
I am reminded continually of the briefness of the life of man--I believe that it was Charles Spurgeon said that man's legacy is not built within any tombstones, but written on the people's hearts that they have touched. So too, we are still here because of one Man's life, and 2000 years down the track from his resurrection we are still talking about Him. I am thankful that we have a champion for peace, that will never die. He did not only in spirit does He continue to live, in life, he rose again to life and we can celebrate in this.
What do you think about Gil Scott Heron? Are true Christians allowed to listen to his music? Seriously though, how much are you fighting for peace in this world, not only worldly peace, but for heavenly peace to come on earth? Why do we speak with so little conviction, when we know that Christ is on our side?