The Gift of Gil Scott Heron – Seeing the Present In The Past


Gil Scott Heron, Reflections

Johannesburg” and “Gun” are the first songs I remember hearing by Gil Scott Heron. That was in the mid 1970’s. I’ve often listened to the vinyl that I still have of Gil. He was the voice of protest, the voice of reason, the teacher of truth.   Many of his lyrics written in the 1970’s and 1980’s, are true today.

Like many albums of that time, one song was more than 12 minutes.  It was not merely listening music; it was conversation  music.

Gilbert “Gil” Scott-Heron (April 1, 1949 – May 27, 2011) was more of a poet than a singer. Born in Chicago, Illinois, Gil’s mother was Bobbie Scott-Heron, who was an opera singer with the New York Oratorio Society. His dad, Gil Heron, was nicknamed the “Black Arrow.” He was a Jamaican football player in the 1950’s and the first Black man to play for the Celtic Football Club in Glasgow.

As a teen, Gil earned a full scholarship to the private, prestigious Fieldston School in New York. He was one of five black students at the school and his experience lead to his boldness, which became his hallmark in poetry and song. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is one of Gil’s most popular songs, recorded by others, including LaBelle.  He used the words “not televised” in many of his other songs.  As Gil would have his listeners know, what the media reports is limited to who they interview; what they are told.  If you want to know the truth, you have to live it.


Jose/Joe Campos Torres

In 1979, Gil wrote Jose Campos Torres“.

It’s a turn around world where things are all too quickly turned around
It was turned around so that right looked wrong
It was turned around so that up looked down
It was turned around so that those who marched in the streets with bibles and signs of peace became enemies of the state and risk to national security
So that those who questioned the operations of those in authority on the principles of justice, liberty, and equality became the vanguard of a communist attack

Jose Campos Torres is a poem set to music, about Houston cops killing a Viet Nam Veteran in 1977. Here we are in 2014, and Gil’s lyrics apply to today.

In 1981, Gil released the song B-Movie. Gil looked  into America’s past, spoke of its present, and predicted its future.

What has happened is that in the last 20 years,

America has changed from a producer to a consumer.

And all consumers know that when the producer names the tune, the consumer has got to dance. That’s the way it is.

We used to be a producer – very inflexible at that, and now we are consumers and, finding it difficult to understand.

Natural resources and minerals will change your world.

The Arabs used to be in the 3rd World.

They have bought the 2nd World and put a firm down payment on the 1st one.

Controlling your resources will control your world.”

As Wall Street goes, so goes the nation.

And here’s a look at the closing numbers:

racism’s up, human rights are down, peace is shaky, war items are hot.

The House claims all ties. Jobs are down, money is scarce, and common sense is at an all-time low on heavy trading.

In 1981, Gil wrote prophetic words about the attitude of owning guns in America.

Brother Man says he’s ‘fraid of gangsters

Messing with people just for fun

He don’t want to be next.
He got a family to protect.
So just last week he bought himself a gun.

Everybody got a pistol, everybody got a .45
And the philosophy seem to be,
At least as near as I can see,
When other folks give up theirs, I’ll give up mine.

This is a violent civilization;
If civilization’s where I am.
Every channel that I stop on
Got a different kind of cop on
Killing them by the million for Uncle Sam.

In 1994, Gil released “Message To The Messengers” where among other messages, he repeated the advice that what we need to know will not be televised.

Make sure you know the real deal about past situations
It ain’t just repeatin’ what you heard on the local TV stations
…Sometimes they tell lies and put ’em in a truthful disguise But the truth is that’s why we said it wouldn’t be televised
They don’t know what to say to our young folks,but they know that you do and if they really knew the truth…why would they tell you?
The first sign is peace, tell all them gun totin’ young brothas That the man is glad to see us out there killin’ one another
We raised too much hell when they was shootin’ us down
So they started poisoning our minds tryin’ to jerk us all around
And they tell us they got to come in and control our situation They want half of us on dope and the other half in incarceration
If the ones they want dead ain’t killed by what they instigated  They put some dope on a brotha’s body and claim it was drug related
Tell them drug related means there don’t need to be no investigation
Or at least that’s the way they’re gon’ play it on the local TV stations”


Gil Scott Heron, around 2007


Brother Gil has passed on, but his lyrics still live. He was ahead of his time, or maybe I should say that he is timeless.

This weekend, I’m reflecting on the past, to understand the present, to change the future.  I invite you to join me.

B Movie


Jose Campos Torres


Posted on 10/25/2014, in Potpourri and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    Thanks for sharing! I didn’t know about him …. Why is it that we don’t learn? History is right there … there’s a need for more voices like his!!


    • Hey Horty! Thanks for the reblog. In the 1970’s as Gil’s poetry to music became known, it was overshadowed by Disco music. Many people who I knew then preferred dancing away their frustrations because of issues that they felt they could not fix, rather than listen to Gil’s words, and warnings, that were considered “deep.”



      • I listened. Thanks for sharing … his words are so precise and up to date. As if he was talking about today.

        Appreciate your educating me!! Hugs …. ❤


  2. Jueseppi B.

    Reblogged this on MrMilitantNegro™.


  3. yahtzeebutterfly

    Thank you so much for introducing me to Gil Scott-Heron, Xena!

    I have just returned here after listening to some of his other works on Youtube.

    Gil Scott-Heron certainly “tells it like it is” with sharp clarity. He IS like the prophets of old in that, if we stand silently by and don’t heed his warnings, things will never change.

    Not only will history repeat itself, but that the same core evils that has never been totally disarmed, will return again and again gaining strength.

    Freedom IS a constant struggle. Vigilance is everything because advances for the good can be undermined and undone by those not wanting to change from hateful or racist ways.

    Many times we think that various laws and bills are strong “social antibiotics.” However, too often, the diseases of hatred, racism, white supremacy, and gun craziness return with a vengeance in our “country’s body.”

    Only vigilance and standing up against injustice and inequality, etc. each time they rear their ugly heads, can we fight the inhumanity and evil intentions of those who try to turn the clock back, of those who want to hold on to their racist and supremacist beliefs, of those who take gun rights and laws to a crazy level.


  4. I wouldn’t go to that hospital in Dallas either; not because of fear of Ebola, but because twice, they sent Duncan home and failed to diagnose and hospitalize him.


    • yahtzeebutterfly

      So, Xena, are you sort of creating a contrast through analogy here?

      Like… Gil Scott-Heron correctly “diagnosed” the ills in our society, but our society has not “hospitalized” the manifestations of the illnesses LONG ENOUGH for them to be cured.


      • Yahtzeebutterfly,
        Actually, I hadn’t thought about an analogy, but you make a good point. “Patients” go to a hospital to live; not die. But, some are told there is nothing seriously wrong — “Take 2 aspirin and call me in the morning.”

        By the time that professionals, (politicians, chiefs of police, etc.) take notice, the system itself has been infected because of its own failures to take things seriously and bring about healing. Others are placed in bondage (quarantined) and that trickles down to hurt Landlords and businesses.


        • yahtzeebutterfly

          I like how you expanded the analogy!


          • Hate and bigotry are diseases. People can harbor those things within and others do not know, while others see it in actions. The biggest mistake is believing that the disease is not present, or does not exist. The same can be said about inequalities and bigotry. Those saying that racism is in the past are not fooling anyone. If they want to prove it, advocate to remove that section for race from every form issued by employers, state and federal government.


  5. chuquestaquenumber1

    To me the best Gil Scott Heron recording was his view on the movie Jaws. It is so funny. he talks about how he rooted for Jaws. Because the shark was in his own environment. It was sad that a brilliant ,thoughtful conscious brother like Gil,couldn’t avoid and not use drugs.


    • I’m surprised that Gil lived as long as he did with the substance abuse problems, but he overcame, relapsed, overcame.

      Here’s Gil’s take on Jaws. 🙂


  6. Very interesting! I never knew…. Thank you!


    • Mindyme, I just found where man named Glennjamin Bishop, inspired by Gil Scott Heron, did a poem about what happened to Trayvon Martin.


  7. Jackie Saulmon Ramirez

    Wow, great post! ❤


  8. I can’t agree enough with your analogy! It was as if Gil Scot Heron was in “Back to the Future”. Listening to the lyrics of the “Gun” are so prophetic! With the absurd “Stand Your Ground” laws, it makes sense to have a pistol or a 45! Our society to today has devolved into a microcosm of the cold war! “MAD” = Mutually Assured Destruction


  9. yahtzeebutterfly

    MON OCT 27, 2014 AT 12:14 PM PDT
    ” The definitive discography of police protest songs with videos and lyrics”
    byShaun King


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