The Alphabet According to Gil Scott Heron

Posted by in June's Magazine

Rodger Evans gives us an A to Z of the man who knew the revolution that counts is the one in your head

is for albatross. Gil said The Revolution Will Not Be Televised was no more a curse to him than Taxi Driver was for Bobby De Niro.


is for bluesician and Byng (Jamie), his Edinburgh-based publisher.

is for Collins, Bootsy. “Brother Gil was in a classroom by himself,” spoke the funk brother.

is for drugs. A profile in Mojo magazine in 2003 suggested that Gil had been round the block so often he’d lapped most of his peers.

is for eccentric. In I’m New Here he says “If I hadn’t been as eccentric, as obnoxious, as arrogant, as aggressive, as introspective, as selfish, I wouldn’t be me.”

is for fun. Gil was born on April 1st and his work was infused with wit and the joy of being, as he told The New Yorker: “If you aren’t having fun, die, because you’re running a worthless programme, far as I’m concerned.”

is for Giles. “You Scots always mention my dad played for Celtic…that’s two things Scots love the most – music and football – and they get one representative from each in my family.” When a Newsnight journalist asked if he’d inherited his father’s sporting prowess, he said “I can kick ass if I have to!”

is for hip-hop. He praised the likes of Public Enemy and Mos Def but had no time for braggadocio, bitches and bling.

is for “I”. He wanted to connect with people but disliked the promotion of self. “They have taken all this time to stand up straight so that they can say “I”…They’re not really into you, or we, or they, they’re into I. That makes conversation slow.”

is for Johannesburg and Jackson (Brian). The former was the precursor to Free Nelson Mandela. Jackson was his musical partner for 10 years and though there was friction, Gil would lever mention of his former collaborator into most interviews for credits sake.

is for King (Martin Luther). Stevie Wonder toured to promote the case for a national holiday for King’s birthday. Bob Marley was set to support but pulled out and Gil stepped in. He wrote, or was writing, a book about the tour, The Last Holiday. Will it ever be published, one wonders.

is for legend and you don’t have to be John Nash to chalk this up. Man + music + message = legend.

is for Mama. Bobbie was a formidable woman, a singer and teacher. His grandmother was pivotal too, introducing the eight year old to the piano and political literature.

is for nemesis. For Gil this was Ronald Reagan, a subject of scorn in B-Movie and Re-Ron.

is for optimism. “When you write,” he told a radio interview in 2007, “you hope for some readers. When you make music, you hope for some listeners. And when you’re lonely, you hope for somebody to love you.”

is for poet, piano player, prison, and Pryor (Richard). Pryor was tickled when he heard that Gil refused to appear on the Johnny Carson Show, then persuaded him to go on Saturday Night Live.

is for question. “Why should the blues be so at home here?” He never ceased asking questions of his country, lamenting that America rarely lived up to its own advance publicity.

is for the revolution that “takes place in your mind,” Gil told the Daily Swarm. “We were the ones with the bibles and flags and shit and they were calling us militants and you all sons of bitches were the ones with the guns!”

is for soul. ‘That which you see of yourself is reflected in the faces and smiles of others’ was his philosophy.

is for Top Cat, one of his favourite cartoons, and for Tango and that advert featuring his sonorous voiceover.

is for underrated. Gil was never a pop act, but he belongs up there with Marvin, Stevie and Curtis. And, of course Lady Day and John Coltrane.

is for validation. As Chuck D put it, “We do what we do and how we do because of you.”

is for Whitey On The Moon, a sublimely comic yet bilious attack on the hubris of Nixonian America’s reaching for the stars whilst trampling on the inner city poor.

is for xx (Jamie) who remixed his last album, and X (not lower case) Malcolm. Gil was once described as the exclamation mark at the end of the civil rights era.

is for ‘Yo Mama’. Gil was unimpressed with the misogyny prevalent in rap culture, setting a personal standard of performing nothing that he couldn’t do in front of his own mother or daughter.

is for Zephaniah, Benjamin, who said: “He’s a kind of Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Bob Marley all mixed up…but he’s a better singer than Bob Dylan!”

One response to “The Alphabet According to Gil Scott Heron”

  1. @MWheelaghan says:

    Brilliant as always :)

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