Thursday, June 09, 2011

So Long, Gil

I've been listening to Gil Scott-Heron's last album, I'm New Here, like a lot of other well-intentioned but negligent folks who were reminded of his continued existence by his death on May 27th, and forming a mental picture of him, at the end of the day, as a bluesman. Not just because he covered Robert Johnson and Bobby Bland, either -- the first as Dr. Dre might have, the second via a song from Two Steps From the Blues, but not the one I'd have expected, perhaps because it seemed too obvious. (Myself, I'd have picked "Lead Me On," with its opening lines, "You know how it feels, you understand / What it is to be a stranger, in this unfriendly land.")

After reading Greg Tate's Village Voice piece that I posted here a couple of days ago, I listened to Gil's "Your Daddy Loves You," relived the very worst day of my life so far, and knew that _he knew_. Taking it one step further, I began to suspect that perhaps the cathartic and ultimately cleansing anger in political pieces like "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," "Whitey's On the Moon," "H2O Gate Blues," and "B Movie" stemmed from some deep well of pain in his life, the kind that ultimately drove him into traps like the ones he saw with open eyes and described in detail in "Home Is Where the Hatred Is," "The Bottle," and "Angel Dust."

All of which makes me sadder that Gil checked out, an HIV-positive cat who'd spent too many years on the pipe and in the joint, on the cusp of a redemption he still dared to hope for. "If you've got to pay for things you've done wrong, I've got a big bill coming, at the end of the day," he says, laughing, in one studio snippet. "No matter how far wrong you've gone, you can always turn around," he sings in the album's title track. Here's hoping it's true, for him and for us.


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