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February 28, 2010
Writing about web page http://www.opednews.com/articles/An-Evening-with-Gil-Scott-by-Kevin-Gosztola-100221-171.html
Gil Scott-Heron has always been an impassioned and inspiring performer, but I can’t pretend that I have always been completely comfortable with his polemic. When teaching political poetry in a Creative Writing workshop setting, I use his album Small Talk at 125th and Lennox to show the power of political writing, but also to highlight the problems in using poetry for moralising or didactic purposes. In this kind of workshop, it is useful to play students ‘The Revolution will not be Televised’...
...and/or ‘Whitey on the Moon’.
In poems like these, Heron uses rhetoric, humour and irony to critique American society, but what is more disturbing is how he uses such techniques in the poem/song ‘The Subject was Faggots’, a diatribe against homosexuals. The homophobic hatred in this poem is shocking and disturbing, and it is very difficult to understand how Scott-Heron becomes so bigoted when he is such a passionate spokesperson for black rights. Thinking about these paradoxes, however, does force students to consider where the line is between political polemic and hate speech. As Tim Dellow explains for Rock Feedback:
Like with Johnny Cash before him, there is a desire to whitewash and sanctify the artist towards latter stage of his career. This is a man made up of many faults. (Rock Feedback )
It was with some trepidation then that I attended a little-publicized “reading” by Gil Scott-Heron at Columbia College, Chicago to celebrate African History Month. The reading, however, turned into a three and a half hour show to a warm audience of Chicagoans, who continually shouted or clapped encouragement.
After a warm-up act by performance poets, Verbatim, Scott-Heron began his set by simply talking, telling stories in a very honest and unaffected way. For example, Scott-Heron told the story of how he was touring with Stevie Wonder in 1980 when the terrible news came that John Lennon had been shot. Wonder decided not to mention Lennon’s death until the end of that night’s show, and Scott-Heron recalled in moving detail how Wonder spoke about his murdered friend. The next day’s newspapers, however, reported that Wonder hadn’t mentioned Lennon’s death. Scott-Heron told us wryly to always stay until the end of the gig.
When Heron did start to play, it was simply him and a piano singing classics like ‘Your Daddy Loves You’, ‘We Almost Lost Detroit’, ‘Pieces of a Man’, ‘Winter in America’ and ‘Or Down you Fall’. Later a pianist, drummer and a harmonica player join him to blast out more upbeat numbers like ‘Three Miles Down’, ‘95 South (All of the Places We’ve Been)’, ‘Work for Peace’, ‘Is That Jazz’, and ‘Celebrate, Celebrate, Celebrate’. The night ended with everyone on their feet, young and old, and it fe;t more like a gospel church service than a gig. Strangely missing were the diatribes of Small Talk at 125th and Lennox, as the more aggressive polemic was replaced by a message of simple survival. Less confident and knowing than it once was, Scott-Heron’s voice sounded all the more sincere when he sang out:
From the Indians who welcomed the pilgrims
And to the buffalo that one ruled the plains
Like the vultures circling beneath the dark clouds
Looking for the rain
May 21, 2007
For those of you who missed this, there was a short article about Peter Blegvad’s band, Slapp Happy, in The Independent on Friday!
November 22, 2006
On Sunday night I went to see the Dave Holland Quintet at Birmingham Conservatoire. I have been going to a number of jazz gigs recently – I saw Tony Kofi at the Fishguard Jazz Festival , Polar Bear were at the Warwick Art Centre, Ingrid Laubrock has been on the circuit too.
I have fairly ecclectic taste in jazz in that I enjoy many kinds of jazz from the extremely dissonant(Tony Kofi) to the occasionally dissonant(Dave Holland). Yet I tend not to love this sort of music because I find that on many levels it is cut off from an emotional base. (Then again I wouldn’t want the music to be emotionally obvious, which is why Tim Whitehead’s brand of jazz is not for me). I also tend to find some dissonant jazz rather predictable; the music builds and builds to a scramble of dissonant solos then fades back into a melody. (Is this to do with the production of jazz musicians via the academic learning?) The jazz that I really love is not emotionally obvious, not predictable nor is it lacking in dissonance or melody. This is why one of my favourite bands around at the moment is Polar Bear. (Ingrid Laubrock is in this vein too.)
I began thinking about these issues in relation to poetry and I wondered if jazz could be compared with poetry. On the far end of the spectrum, there is poetry that is detached from emotion rather like extremely dissonant jazz. This kind of poetry often challenges its own discourse: the nature of narrative, grammar and language itself just as some kinds of jazz challenge the notion of melody and the discovery of moods and feelings in music. This kind of art has an important place in the scheme of things, but the kind of art that uses melody and dissoance, sense and nonsense is always going to be more appealing to me as a feeling human being.
Listen to Polar Bear here:Fluffy
Also see Ingrid Laubrock’s website and Acoustic Ladyland are good too. These are all member of the F-IRE Collective , which includes the Jonathan Bratoeff Quintet coming up at the art centre on Sun 26th.