sunday mass: gil scott-heron, i’m new here

gil scott-heron, me and the devil download:  gsh-devil.mp3

from his interview by patrick neate for the times uk, online:

“Over the years Scott-Heron has been lazily dubbed the “Godfather of rap” and one of the founders of hip-hop music, but these are labels that take little account of his prodigious output throughout the Seventies and Eighties, including classic albums such as Pieces of a Man and Winter in America. The Revolution Will Not be Televised, the radical anthem for which he remains best known, is a track that has graced every student stereo in the past four decades and produced endless reams of comment and whisper, but it seems worthless as an introduction to Scott-Heron’s extraordinary body of work. In fact, it’s hard to think of another artist simultaneously so influential and so consistently overlooked. As the man himself remarks dryly, he’s more used to people hearing about him than hearing what he’s saying.

At the height of his powers Scott-Heron was a writer of extraordinary range, from the effortless soul of Lady Day and John Coltrane to the righteous call to arms, Johannesburg. He was never afraid to mix the political, personal and poetic, as in the heartbreaking first verse of Pieces of a Man — “Jagged jigsaw pieces/ Tossed about the room/ I saw my grandma sweeping/ With her old straw broom/ She didn’t know what she was doing/ She could hardly understand/ That she was really sweeping up/ Pieces of a man” — but he also made some of the most ineffably funky records of the time, such as The Bottle.

Perhaps most surprising (even depressing), however, is the way in which Scott-Heron’s lyrics, typically threaded on contemporary issues and a profound sense of racial and social injustice, sound every bit as relevant today. Look at B Movie, for example, his excoriating and hilarious tirade against Reaganism: “As Wall Street goes, so goes the nation. And here’s a look at the closing numbers — racism’s up, human rights are down, peace is shaky, war items are hot . . .”

When I suggest to Scott-Heron that his work has been a victim of his convictions, he responds with enthusiasm: “Did we make people feel uncomfortable? Maybe we did, but that’s for them to judge. Like I say, we’ve been heard of more than we been heard. So, if they felt uncomfortable, at least that would mean they heard it.”

radical, poet, criminal, hip-hop progenitor, messy legend.  buy his first album in 15 years and try to catch him if you’re here in nyc:  2/26 at the folk art museum for a listening party with the new album (free!), or playing live in midtown at the blue note, two shows each night 3/2 and 3/3

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