I can't say I was completely surprised when I heard the sad news this weekend that Gil Scott-Heron had died on Friday. Not after reading Alec Wilkinson's stupendous profile of Scott-Heron in The New Yorker last year, in which the blues-jazz griot was unabashed about smoking crack in front of a reporter. You can read Wilkinson's original piece, entitled New York Is Killing Me, here, and a posthumous addendum in which he talks about the late godfather of rap's "scornful brilliance" here.
I am glad, at least, that I got to see Scott-Heron one last time when he played the Tin Angel one Saturday night last summer. I even shook his hand outside the Old City venue after the lanky songwriter unfolded himself out of a taxi to say hello to his good friend Larry Goldfarb who had booked him into the venue. Gil, as was his wont, showed up a few, but only a few, minutes after the show's scheduled start time.
I'm New Here, the comeback album of sorts that was released in 2010 - a remixed verson, tweaked by Jamie XX of the British band The xx, came out earlier this year - was a rather thin affair that consisted of a cover of Robert Johnson's "Me & the Devil," a handful of new songs, and some poetically declaimed observations about his own life and the world that sounded compellingly musical, even though they were simply recorded conversations.
Still, along with the likes of Kanye West sampling Scott-Heron on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy's "Who Will Survive In America," I'm New Here was enough to earn the black music bard and self-described "bluesologist" a much deserved new generation audience. Thom Yorke's Gil Scott-Heron playlist from the Radiohead site is here. Below, fiind a BBC interview from 2009, plus the scarifying "Me and the Devil," plus the 1970s classics "The Bottle" and "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," in which he predicted that when the revolution comes "you will not be able to "plug in, turn on, and cop out." Would that it were so.
Previously: The High Cost Of Living