Friday, April 10, 2009

Pieces Of A Man

About 15 years ago, when The Leopard was living in Washington DC, I was walking through a park in the Adams Morgan area when I saw what appeared to be a homeless man nodding off on a park bench.

I almost didn't take a second look when I noticed that the older man seemed somehow familiar. Under further investigation, I realized he bore a striking resemblance to a great poet/singer/composer I had always admired.

Of course, later in the day I got a call from an enthusiastic friend informing me that one of our favorite artists would be performing in town that weekend: Gil Scott-Heron.

Recently, looking for some music to download, I remembered that time. Back in the day, Scott-Heron's music came to mean a lot to me. His albums From South Africa to South Carolina and Winter In America first brought many issues of race prevalent in America at the time to my attention. His song "Johannesburg" (which he performed on Saturday Night Live with Richard Pryor hosting) was the first I'd heard of the abomination of apartheid.

Intellectually, Scott-Heron's music, with his musical partner, the brilliant keyboardist Brian Jackson was challenging in way that the best of modern rap strives to be. A spoken word poet as well as singer, Scott-Heron's political views were steeped in actual content--not merely hyperbole. In 1970, Scott-Heron published his first novel at 19, The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, written during his hiatus from Lincoln University. He earned his Masters at Johns Hopkins in Creative Writing.

Despite this traditional academic background, Scott-Heron was a radical who was often associated with The Black Panthers.

Two of his most famous tunes, "The Bottle" and "Home Is Where The Hatred Is" were diatribes against substance abuse, but Scott-Heron didn't heed his own warnings. He began to suffer from cocaine abuse at least as early as 1991, when he served his first stint in prison, convicted of possession. He was later diagnosed HIV positive.

He still performs. He recently did a concert in NYC with the rapper Mos Def.

Yes, it probably was Gil Scott-Heron I saw high out of his mind on the park bench that day. Despite his downfall, he continues to strive on.

Click on title to download song Pieces Of A Man

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