In His Own Words: Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011)

The catchphrase, what that was all about, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” that was about the fact that the first change that takes place is in your mind. You have to change your mind before you change the way you live and the way you move. So when we said that “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” we were saying that the thing that’s gonna change people is something that no one will ever be able to capture on film. It will just be something that you see, and all of a sudden you realize I’m on the wrong page, or I’m on the right page but I’m on the wrong note, and I’ve got to get in sync with everyone else to understand what’s happening in this country.

But I think that the Black Americans have been the only die-hard Americans here, because we’re the only ones who carried the process through the process that everyone else has to sort of skip stages. We’re the ones who march, we’re the ones who carry the Bible, we’re the ones who carry the flag, we’re the ones who have to go through the courts, and being born American didn’t seem to matter, because we were born American, but we still had to fight for what we were looking for, and we still had to go through those channels and those processes.
- Mediaburn, 1991

If you only focus on the political aspects of our work, you change us. We’ve done 20 albums and not all of the songs on them are political. We acknowledged politics, just like we acknowledged the existence of condoms, guns, family, neighborhood issues. We were songwriters who tried to represent all the different aspects of the community.
- Chicago Tribune, 1988

It’s no fun being in jail. No fun. There’s some people that you believe shouldn’t be there, and then there’s some people that you believe should alwaysbe there. But my whole situation was that I needed to go on tour, and I got band members, people that hired us … I said what I had to say, now I gotta go where I gotta go.
- The Village Voice, 2001

Ideas sometimes move slower than everything else. Only a fool expects to do it overnight. It’s not an overnight thing. The world didn’t get this way overnight, so we’re not going to be able to fix it overnight. The more people I meet who want to see it fixed, the better I feel.
- VentnorBlog, 2010

I’m saying that everybody pushed the envelope a little bit further, because we started in chains. So you took the steps you could to help move your people forward. Like it wasn’t no sense in you running all the way down the block claiming you were leading somebody if you weren’t with them any more.

You could only lead people who follow you, and they could only follow you at a certain pace. So you modify your pace in order to encourage them to stay with you and see where you are going.
- San Francisco Bayview, 2009

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
bbout 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.
- “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” 1971

  • Pingback: Revolution of the mind | A blog about…

  • Anonymous

    I don’t really have anything to say. I’m more in a state of disbelief. I can’t believe he’s dead. I feel like I don’t know enough about him to really say “he was a good man” and “he meant a lot to hip hop.” I’m still in this “getting to know you” stage with his music and his life history. I started listening to his music maybe three or four years ago. So it’s all still fresh in my head. And I knew he was making a comeback. I was listening to his new stuff.

    I feel he died too young. But I’m glad he was still out there singing. I wish I could have  seen him live. But I can still listen to his music and learn about him. 

    RIP. 

  • Jess

    I had the opportunity — the privilege, dare I say it — to see Gil-Scott Heron live this past summer. (It was a free show in Harlem). I saw him before that at another show in New York and in London and each time I was captivated by that voice. It still sounded every bit as good as it was when he was 20 and singing “I think I’ll Call it Morning” which is IMO one of the best tracks on Pieces of a Man. (I am a sucker for when he gets sentimental).

    Now, I have my differences with him. Lord knows, sometimes I thought he could go off the deep end into conspiracy-theory crazy land. But that was later on, when the drugs and the alcohol started to take their toll. I won’t gloss that over. Not one bit.

    But that’s part of what made him more real to me as an artist. As the old saying goes, drugs are strong. They might be stronger than you. And that’s okay, because at least he could admit it. That takes a man — a real man — to do.

    Compared to Scott-Heron, sometimes I think every “mainstream” rapper I see seems to be a kid playing in his daddy’s clothes. I feel that even if Scott-Heron did have a lot of financial success, he
    wouldn’t have gone around in a limo and doing the whole diamond watch
    and bling deal. I could be fantastically wrong. Maybe he wanted that. But I don’t think so. He let his music do the talking.

    I listened to my collection again recently. There are so many tracks he did and I can’t come up with too many bad ones. His songs are written, whereas too much music these days feels constructed.

    I admit, I am not a giant hip hop or rap fan. Looking back I think the reason is my first exposure was Scott-Heron. After that, most of the rest seemed trite. Do we really need another rapper to tell us how big his house and his car is? How he’s gonna kick ass or get rich or shoot anyone who disses him? How many women he can bed?

    Gil Scott-Heron spoke the truth. Even when he told tall tales on stage (and they were fun, no mistaking it).

    RIP. You will be sorely missed, even though I knew I’d be reading the obit sooner or later. Maybe that’s what makes it so sad.

  • Strelnikov

    As a fan since “The Revolution…”, sorry to see him go.   Had the opportunity about 17 years ago to see him in a small venue.  One of the best shows ever.   “Under the Hammer” remains one of my favorites.

  • http://gossamercy.wordpress.com/ gossamercy

    I absolutely adore Gil Scott Heron. I actually found out about him after I watched “Your Revolution”, Sarah Jones’ spin on “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. Just incredible and inspiring work :)