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Profiles In Rock: Gil Scott-Heron, The Cheat Sheet: Ten Things You Need To Know About GSH

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As part of my new super-punctuated feature: "Profiles In Rock: The Cheat Sheet," I am forgoing my plan of profiling every single artist in alphabetical order in order to pay tribute to the "formidable forefather of rap and hip-hop." (That's Christopher Morris in Variety.) Gil Scott-Heron died Friday in New York, age 62. Well-known among musicians, GSH gave the world the classic "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." As it turns out, "the revolution wasn't televised. Internets." (That's Brian Donahue on my FB wall.)

Yes, GSH is receiving quite a bit of attention on the internets. Likely because he never carried a mass audience for very long (likely, his pull-no-punches style prevented him from becoming a true crossover artist), but he was still hugely influential and enjoyed by people who collect too many records. And they are my friends.

GSH struggled with his many demons and spent time in jail since the law insists drug addicts are criminals and not people with addiction problems.

Here's your cheat sheet to sound like you've been a long-time fan.


10) Gil Scott-Heron's Hero Was Langston Hughes: GSH was born in Chicago, raised in Tennessee and went to the esteemed Fieldston School in the Bronx on a full scholarship. He chose to attend Lincoln University in Chester County, Pennsylvania since writer Langston Hughes earned his B.A. from Lincoln in 1929. Hughes is awesome.

9) GSH's First Novel The Vulture Was Published In 1970.: Many young people who dream of being writers do not write. Scott-Heron wrote two novels before he was known by anyone. The Vulture came first with The N***** Factory following in 1972. Scott-Heron would not be pleased with the asterisks. He liked words, not asterisks. I just work here.

8) GSH's First Album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox Was Released In 1970.: Just like the MC5, Gil Scott-Heron's first album was a live album taken from his book of verse. It is a bare bones collection of percussion and voice (with piano making a brief appearance). One review called it "a volcanic upheaval of intellectualism and social critique." You like it because he curses a lot and because he is saying what is on his mind and not what is considered polite. The cursing is actually the tamest aspect of the material. The ideas are more to the point. "Whitey On the Moon" is one more reason why the easily scared live in gated communities.

7) GSH Did Not Like Television Or Consumerism: He recorded "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" several times. GSH never made allowances for cable TV. We're not sure why he's against "hairy armed women liberationists" since minorities need to stick together as the oppressed. How he mentions them in the same breath as Jackie Onassis blowing her nose is confusing and so is the putdown of Jim Webb and Johnny Cash. Ah, youth! We're also not sure how he would feel about his old records fetching high collector's prices. Revolutionaries are confusing!

6) His 1971 Album Pieces Of A Man Was His First Studio Album: For his second album, GSH went into the recording studio for two days in 1971. Note: all GSH albums receive better reviews in retrospect. But WE always knew he was a visionary. The album contains another recording of "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" and the first appearance of "Home Is Where The Hatred Is," another track you like immensely and long before Kanye West sampled it for "My Way Home" which also featured Fox "News" bogeyman COMMON!

5) The Album The Revolution Will Not Be Televised Is A Compilation Album: The 1974 album with the title of GSH's best-known track is a collection of tunes from his first three albums, the two mentioned above and Free Will. The album was said to show a "sign of growth," despite being previously released material, since it excluded his homophobic tune. You don't like homophobia. In fact, you've thought of marrying someone of the same sex just to annoy your parents. We all have, really.

4) Winter In America Has Become Considered The Best Collaboration With Brian Jackson: You can't seriously mention your love for Gil Scott-Heron without acknowledging Brian Jackson, the man who put music to Scott-Heron's words for many great collaborations. They met at Lincoln University and began working together with GSH's second album. But this Winter In America is called their first "official" collaboration. I guess we imagined the other ones.

3) Two Of His Biggest Hits Were "Johannesburg" and "Angel Dust": "Johannesburg" is his anti-apartheid single and "Angel Dust" speaks to the terror of PCP, everyone's favorite psychotic animal tranquilizer. You remember those horrific nights on Angel Dust? They were the worst!

2) GSH's "Bicentennial Blues" From His It's Your World Album Is Essential: It's Your World was the perfect answer record to all that bicentennial celebration stuff. This, Richard Pryor's Bicentennial N-word and Jean Claude T's The Bicentennial Poet reminded us that not everyone felt like celebrating. Besides, who doesn't like being the proverbial turd in the proverbial punchbowl?

1) His 2010 "Comeback" Album I'm New Here Is Worth Owning: While GSH's comeback album wasn't even 30 minutes long, the covers of Smog ("I'm New Here") and Robert Johnson ("Me And The Devil Blues") were amusing enough to keep you interested. GSH was a major influence on hip-hop (along with The Last Poets) but he didn't like being associated with it. He listened to JAZZ!!!!

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