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Gil Scott-Heron, RIP


That tremor you felt pass through the universe today? That is, if you’re sensitive enough to be aligned that way. That tremor was called Gil Scott-Heron, RIP. The phenomenally talented singer, musician, poet, activist who in no small part inspired rap with his poetry-set-to-fine-jazz style, passed away to day at the age of only 62, the victim of his own struggles with, freedom from, and final, disastrous return to drug use.

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Gil Scott-Heron’s best known and often riffed on/sampled/stolen masterpiece “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” set the music scene  on an edge, with it’s adroit pairing of muscular jazz/funk and Gil’s lyrics, that both championed and satirized the then-current Protest Movement, as well as the society in which everybody lived. In recent years, it’s been quoted/sampled/stolen by more slam poets than early DJs lifting Funkadelic bass-lines.

Enjoying the height of his popularity in the mid-1970s, Gil Scott-Heron became very well known through another of his songs “We Almost Lost Detroit”, that appeared on the 1980 Anti-nuke protest concert/album No Nukes. Check out the video here:

Ironically, or maybe portentiously, given his later tragic drug problems, another powerful track was the anti-drug song Angel Dust. Check that video out here:

Everyone from Chuck D. to Common to a thousand rappers, political MCs and spoken-word artists owe a huge debt of ancestry to Gil Scott-Heron, who laid down thiose roads, in collaboration with musician Brian Jackson who brought a solid musical base of Blues, Rhythm & Blues, Soul Music and Funk to support Scott-Heron’s nimble, powerful words. You can’t listen to “Revolution” or pieces like “Winter in America,” “Tuskeegee 626”  and not see how so many rappers and poets have walked down those same roads without realizing someone had to build it for them. That they are walking in the footprints of a giant. Ironically, in at least one quote regarding the subject, Scott-Heron quipped that he didn’t know if he  “could take the blame for that.”

But he certainly informed generations of political poets with his spare and sharp social and political commentary. Check out this video of the classic “Winter In America” performed live in the U.K. in 1990:

It was heart-breaking to see Gil Scott-Heron struggling with addiction to crack cocaine during the early years of this century, watching him go in and out of jails and rehab, and waiting for the morgue to be next. In recent years, it seemed Gil had beaten his addiction and was making music again. Things looked promising. And now this. Now this. Though there has been no autopsy, and Scott-Heron had returned from a tour recently feeling ill, there is still great concern that it was drugs that took their toll, directly or in the cost to his own body and health from years of chronic abuse. Gil Scott-Heron leaves behind some 15 studio and 9 live albums, various compilations and a huge, wide, pervasive influence in rap, hip-hop and poetry to this day.

And you know what? That’s not nearly enough to make up for the loss of the man. Gil Scott-Heron, dead. There are barely the words to even conceive of the loss.

May 27, 2011, Gil-Scott-Heron, RIP. May you find a peaceful Heaven that makes sense to you.

Osama Bin Laden is Dead

Osama Bin Laden is dead.

Ten years ago, this September, was the date of one of the biggest terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Osama Bin laden was behind it, and then-President Bush promised no stone would left unturned until this man was brought to justice. However, as we all know – even though all intelligence pointed to Bin Laden hiding in the mountains of Pakistan, Bush sent hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers to go look under rocks in Iraq. And so we got into that all-new Vietnam, a sandy Hell we have yet to extract our servicemen and women from.

Today, President Obama announced that Bin laden had been killed, in military operation, in the mountainous region of Abbottabad… which is in Pakistan.  Intelligence (of the at-long-last intelligent kind) led U.S. forces to a small compound where Bin Laden was hiding. A small group of U.S. military shot and killed Bin Laden and, according to sources, are in possession of his body.

Without going into all the reasons for poor Western World-Arab world relationships going back to The Crusades, it could be said that we didn’t start this fight, ten years ago. That it was brought to our doorsteps on September 11, 2001, when four jets were hijacked and two of them flown into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon, and one was brought down in a field in PA by the actions of the heroic passengers. When we went into Afghanistan, we had the moral high ground, as well as most of the world’s sympathy, behind us. We had a reason to be there, and we were all promised justice after the 9/11 attacks.

We know, also, how ex-President Bush squandered that good will by attacking Iraq for no more reason than a Bush/Bin Laden family feud and Dick Cheney’s lust for Iraqi oil fields. We know how many soldiers have died in a war so stupid, so pointless, even Bush’s father President Bush I wasn’t arrogant enough to get bogged-down in. And we know, through all this, Bin Laden was still alive, still broadcasting defiant messages to the West.

Here is the big question, beneath all the muscle-flexing and street-dancing most Americans are doing right now, many fully justified: should we celebrate the death of Bin Laden? It wouldn’t undo what he has done, nor all that has been done in his name, or done with the word “revenge” printed on it, in the name of “bringing him to justice.”

I can’t answer those questions. Perhaps victims of the 9/11 attacks, or the survivors, or the families of both victims and survivors, are the only ones with the right to answer the big questions. Bin Laden’s death doesn’t make the last 10 years not have happened. It won’t break al Queda, or make it go away. Lord and Allah knows, it will probably encourage al Queda to greater efforts in the name of a man now martyred, as they see it. It doesn’t bring any of the dead, from either (or any) side back.

It does, however, change things politically here at home. President Obama has a shiny victory, a foreign-policy gold ring that will be of great use in the 2012 elections. Honestly, I can’t wait to see how Fox News tries to spin this in an effort to not give the standing President credit for this. But all that is for tomorrow’s speculation. Tonight, let’s have a moment of silence, for all the people killed, all of them, as a result of every action from 9/11 up until now. Let’s take time to honor the dead, and not the revenge.

Today, the hunt for Bin Laden, is finally over. Osama Bin Laden is dead.