Bob Schwartz

Tag: Gil Scott-Heron

Music: Lady Day and John Coltrane

Gil Scott-Heron 2

They’ll wash your troubles,
Your troubles, your troubles
Your troubles away!

Musician and poet Gil Scott-Heron was unlike any artist of the modern era. He is a jazz artist identified as a “godfather of rap” (he rejected that), his song The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is quoted somewhere every day, and his vision of the black experience is as current and insightful as any.

But this isn’t about him. It’s about one of his songs, Lady Day and John Coltrane, that celebrates the power of music to heal and change our lives, especially when we are giving up. If you don’t regularly take that prescription, please consider it.

Lady Day and John Coltrane

Ever feel kinda down and out, you don’t know just what to do
Livin’ all of your days in darkness let the sun shine through
Ever feel that somehow, somewhere, you’ve lost your way
And if you don’t get help quick you won’t make it through the day
Could you call on Lady Day,
Could you call on John Coltrane
Now ‘cause they’ll
They’ll wash your troubles
Your troubles your troubles
Your troubles away!

Plastic people with plastic minds are on their way to plastic homes
No beginning there ain’t no ending just on and on and on and on and on, it’s
All because they’re so afraid to say that they’re alone
Until our hero rides in, rides in on his saxophone.
Could you call on Lady Day,
Could you call on John Coltrane
Now ‘cause they’ll,
They’ll wash your troubles,
Your troubles, your troubles
Your troubles away!

 

Election Poem: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

 


A poem for Election Day seems in order.

Maybe surprising, maybe not, there are a bundle of poems about elections. Walt Whitman’s Election Day, November 1884 from Leaves of Grass, for example. That seems too literal and expected. Going in an entirely different direction, Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, a milestone in modern culture, was in the running. (And if this election is about anythings, modernity is one of them.)

Somewhere in the middle—well, not exactly in the middle—is Gil Scott-Heron’s poem and song The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011) was a celebrated cutting-edge poet and musician. Even if you don’t know him, you’ve heard his work, as his version of an old R&B song, I’ll Take Care of You, was the foundation of the Drake hit song Take Care.

First recorded in 1970, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised may seem an offbeat choice for an election poem. But it does contain the lines

NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The revolution will not be televised.

More than that, it is about brighter days not being found in a media mediated version of reality

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.

Forty years and more, and it’s still visionary.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruptions.
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat
hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be brought to you by the
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.

There will be no pictures of you and Willie May
pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run,
or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance.
NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the proper occasion.

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock
news and no pictures of hairy armed women
liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose.
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb,
Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be right back after a message
about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

Hitmakers Reborn: Etta James and Gil Scott-Heron

Twice, artists who died in the past year have been reborn as hitmakers through the miracle of musical merger.

Both Etta James and Gil Scott-Heron play posthumous parts in two irresistible and near-perfect records—even if only a small number of listeners know exactly what they are listening to and who made these records the success they are.

Hip-hop sampling has been a great creative development. What began as inclusion of bits and pieces has become a full-scale integration unknown in any art. This isn’t quoting or paraphrasing or homage or covering. This is merger.

One case is Flo Rida’s Good Feeling, a three-layer cake with the incomparable Etta James at the foundation (and as the icing). You’ll recognize her powerful gospel-soul riff from 1962’s Something’s Got a Hold on Me:

“Oh, oh, sometimes I get a good feeling, I get a feeling that I never, ever, ever had before.”

In 2011, Swedish producer and DJ Avicii made this hook the centerpiece of his dance hit Levels, laying it in the middle of the beats and the record. Flo Rida in turn sampled Avicii’s recording, including Etta James, to create Good Feeling. The song is even named for the lyrics of the original. Flo Rida had the commercial good sense to put Etta James’ voice right out front, just six seconds into the record. For the next four minutes we can’t wait for her voice to rise up again. And to demonstrate just how powerful the riff is, you can now hear the record in major commercial campaigns, including one for Buick.

Then there is Drake’s Take Care, featuring Rihanna. This is even more layered. It begins with the song I’ll Take Care of You, written by Brook Benton and recorded by Bobby “Blue” Bland in 1959. Groundbreaking musician and poet Gil Scott-Heron (The Revolution Will Not Be Televised) recorded the song on his final album I’m New Here (2010). The track was remixed the next year by Jamie xx, amping a plaintive and soulful performance into a beat-based I’ll Take Care of U. This is the mix at the heart of Take Care.

One piece of good news is that the records that emerged from this process are simply great. They are great, especially in the case of Good Feeling, because of the artistry they are based on. There is also good news in that the current artists have given some credit to these predicate performers and performances, though it could have been and still could be much more.

The final good news is that this creates an opportunity for music fans to learn that music didn’t start in 2012, or 2000, or 1990, or wherever the old/new or really-old/old/new line lies for listeners. Listen to Gil-Scott Heron, listen to Bobby “Blue” Bland, and most of all…

Listen to Etta James. You might know Etta James from her biggest hit At Last, which Beyonce sang at an Obama Inaugural Ball. You might know Etta James from the interesting movie Cadillac Records, a dramatized history of Chess Records, featuring Beyonce as Etta James.

But you may not know, and should learn, that Etta James was one of the most talented and versatile artists of her generation, singing standards, pop, R&B, even a little country, and straight blues. Her popularity in other genres kept her from being recognized as one of the blues greats: listen to The Sky Is Crying, Dust My Broom, or Lil’ Red Rooster. A place to start is The Chess Box. And no, there’s no Beyonce anywhere in sight.