- Category: News
09 Jun 2011
- Written by Bill Fletcher Jr.
Bill Fletcher Jr.
NNPA News Service
When I received word of the passing of noted poet and singer Gil Scott-Heron, I felt as if I had just heard about the death of a college friend whom I had not seen in many years. Perhaps it was because I actually got to know the work of Gil Scott-Heron while I was in college in the early 1970s. His albums became part of my life and his songs and messages were part of the support system on which I and many other black radicals came to depend.
There are tremendous ironies connected with the life and work of GSH. If you listen to one of his most famous pieces, “The Bottle,” and another, “Angel Dust,” you cannot but shake your head in knowing that the brother struggled for years with his own substance abuse. The contradiction is startling in its drama. Here was someone who went out of his way to warn us all of the dangers of substance abuse, yet he fell prey to it himself. I hope that a future biographer of GSH will explore the demons that haunted him and had him live such a contradiction.
GSH was, in my opinion, at his best both when he was working with Brian Jackson, but also when his voice and sound were integrally part of a militant social justice movement. When he sang “Johannesburg,” his words became the anthem of the anti-apartheid movement in the USA. It was a song that came out at just the right moment, inspiring us all with its fierceness and spirit of resistance. You could not listen to that song without feeling defiance in your soul and without being prepared to march. In fact, the last time that I actually saw GSH in the flesh he was performing just that song in August 1983 at the 20th anniversary of the famous March on Washington.
GSH never lost his relevance. I am always haunted by his “Message to the Messengers,” which is a tremendous illustration of reaching across the generational divide to both mentor as well as partner with younger generations, offering them lessons from the movement that shaped us.
I appreciate all that he did and all that he offered. Thank you, brother Gil.