New York is killing me: The unlikely survival of Gil Scott-Heron

An excellent read on Scott-Heron’s upbringing, music and struggle with crack. From The New Yorker, August 2010:

By Alec Wilkinson

Gil Scott-Heron is frequently called the “godfather of rap,” which is an epithet he doesn’t really care for. In 1968, when he was nineteen, he wrote a satirical spoken-word piece called “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” It was released on a very small label in 1970 and was probably heard of more than heard, but it had a following. It is the species of classic that sounds as subversive and intelligent now as it did when it was new, even though some of the references—Spiro Agnew, Natalie Wood, Roy Wilkins, Hooterville—have become dated. By the time Scott-Heron was twenty-three, he had published two novels and a book of poems and recorded three albums, each of which prospered modestly, but “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” made him famous.

Scott-Heron calls himself a bluesologist. He is sixty-one, tall and scrawny, and he lives in Harlem, in a ground-floor apartment that he doesn’t often leave. It is long and narrow, and there’s a bedspread covering a sliding glass door to a patio, so no light enters, making the place seem like a monk’s cell or a cave. Once, when I thought he was away, I called to convey a message, and he answered and said, “I’m here. Where else would a caveman be but in his cave?”

Recently, I arrived at his apartment while he was watching fight films with Mimi Little, whom he calls Miss Mimi. Miss Mimi helps run his affairs and those of his company, Brouhaha Music; the living room of his apartment is the company’s office. They were watching Muhammad Ali knock down George Foreman in the eighth round of the Rumble in the Jungle, in Zaire, in 1974. Scott-Heron was wearing baggy gray sweatpants, a red-and-white-striped polo shirt, and white socks, and he stood in front of the television, lifting one foot, then the other, as if the floor were hot. When Foreman collapsed, Scott-Heron pretended to be Ali chastising him as he lay on his back. “That’s the best you can do?” he said. “I had about enough of you.”

“It’s done now,” Little said.

“I thought you could hit,” Scott-Heron said. “You hit like a baby.”

A crowd flooded the ring. “Look at these silly people,” Scott-Heron said. A large black man in a blue blazer wrapped his arms around Ali from behind and lifted him, and Ali waved his arms like a cranky baby. “Brother try to pick up Ali here. He says, ‘Put me down.’ ”

Continue reading here.

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