Thursday, June 2, 2011

The revolution will not be televised...

Musician, poet and social activist Gil Scott-Heron died on May 27th, and while reading his obit I got hit with one of those "how'd I get that so wrong" broadsides.

I always took the signature line from Scott-Heron's 1970 spoken-word screed (contrary to what every over-stressed, culturally under-educated online writer seems to have taken at face value because someone once wrote it somewhere, Scott-Heron's legacy isn't rap -- it's the apparently spontaneous but meticulously-crafted verse of poetry slams)"The Revolution Will Not be Televised” as a defiant warning that when the poor, alienated and disenfranchised finally get up off their asses to fight the power, the carnage will be overwhelming, up against the wall motherfucker real, not some happy news kicker or an intensely manipulated, reality-tv style spectacle. Talk about prescient.

Interestingly, my husband's take was the complete opposite: He interpreted it to mean that the ruling class would suppress real reporting and spin the whole thing into insignificance… also prescient.

But I'd never listened to or read the full piece (shame on me) and it was a revelation. Yes, Scott-Heron addresses racism, police brutality, addiction and entrenched social injustice. But this excerpt sums up what really burned his ass:

“The revolution will not be televised. The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox in four parts without commercial interruptions…

"The revolution will not be brought to you by the Schaefer Award Theater and will not star Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle as Julia.

"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."

Damn – that is more prescient than I ever imagined.


achyfakey said...

So glad to have a new post! My introduction to this song was the movie "Berkeley in the Sixties", which I saw on a Saturday morning. I liked the movie, but I've never forgotten that song.

I just pulled this great quote from him from the Wikipedia Guide to the Galaxy in reference to hip-hop in the 90s:

"They need to study music. I played in several bands before I began my career as a poet. There’s a big difference between putting words over some music, and blending those same words into the music. There’s not a lot of humor. 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."
—Gil Scott-Heron

I couldn't agree more. He was a far more classy guy so far removed from poetry slams (ugh) and preening cocks looking to "spit" their words in a rap.

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I just pulled this great quote from him from the Wikipedia Guide to the Galaxy in reference to hip-hop in the 90s:

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