John Nichols: Gil Scott-Heron's RevolutionRoundup: Talking About History
John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Beat since 1999
When the role of media as not just an observer but as shaper of our politics was barely discussed outside academic circles, Gil Scott-Heron gave us, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” still the savviest critique of the disengaged and disengaging character of broadcast news—and the crisis of commercialism....
Heron,who has died at age 62 after a long battle with drugs and disease, is being hailed as the “godfather of rap.” And it is easy to make the case for his influence on Grandmaster Flash, Public Enemy and dozens of other artists -- including Kanye West, whose latest album features a long except from Scott-Heron’s “Who Will Survive in America?”
But Scott-Heron, a student of the Harlem Renaissance who was steeped in the literature and the ideas of the liberation movements that preceded the 1960s, had an even broader influence on the culture and the next generations. Just as Billy Bragg’s Thatcher-era songs introduced young Brits and Americans to the language of solidarity and socialism, Scott-Heron taught us about apartheid ("Johannesburg"), environmental racism ("South Carolina") and the harshest realities of an America that never seemed to get its priorities right (“Whitey on the Moon”)....
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