Monday, April 11, 2005

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

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...

Because the revolution will not be televised...

The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal...
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...

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay...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...

The revolution will not be right back after a message
About 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 revolutions 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.

Gil Scott-Heron

As the end of the sixties approached there was an intense shift in the struggle for equality as the fight for civil rights gave way to the demand for Black Power and Gil Scott-Heron surfaced in the mainstream music of the early 70s with albums such as What's Going On and There's A Riot Goin' On. One of the great unheralded voices in popular music just might be the man who composed the lyrics to the electrifying song, The Revolution Will Not be Televised. It debuted on the 1970 album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox and its powerful poetic imagery along with the stunning power of his voice are timeless and chillingly relevant to any age.

With carefully crafted lyrics the songwriter creates contrasts between the irrelevance of television and the unrefined power of significant events. The words are very powerful to read but to get the full effect one has to listen to the piece. The awesome combination of soul, funk and verse made Scott-Heron one of the most intuitive political singers of the 70s and early 80s.

Born in Chicago his early years were spent between the mean streets of the Bronx and the South. His estranged father played for the Celtics and by the time he was nineteen he had published his first novel The Vulture. Essence magazine called it "a strong start for a writer with important things to say." He admired the work of the Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes and before he left his teen years behind he published one more book and a volume of poetry. It was Scott-Heron's forceful readings near the end of the 1960's that led to the very literate, frequently militant work of performances like The Last Poets. One biographer notes that songs like "Johannesburg, recorded years before most of the public had even heard about the tragedy of South African apartheid, combined jazzy backing tracks, Scott-Heron's authoritative talk-singing, and words that carried plenty of baggage without showing the strain. "

The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In four parts without commercial interruptions.

A volatile beat poem The Revolution Will Not Be Televised conveyed the right tone of honest anger when it was released because Scott-Heron had tapped into the invisible revolution of lurking pop culture vultures, prepared to re package rebels into more-palatable versions. For example Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac were produced for prime time TV beatniks in the persona of Maynard G. Krebs. From his straight-faced attacks on racism to his withering sarcasm of the Great Society and media nonsense - each line is awash with a contemptuous turn of phrase. Wrapped up in the political poetry was a new combination of social commentary and blues funk that has since become a socially relevant voice of today. While Motown records pre-packaged poor black singers from inner-city Detroit into desirable, marketable products, television had become the most effective control of the masses in history.

This was a true revolution imperceptible among the naked teens frolicking at Woodstock. The constant bombardment of media images changed the thought processes of Americans and following those images came the advertisers. Scott-Heron spoke passionately about blacks' inequality in the artistic industry and about their unrelenting invisibility within the consumer friendly repackaging. Tom Terrell writes in his linear notes for Evolution and Flashback: the Very Best of Gil Scott-Heron that his angry, rhythm-infused poetry was "avant-garde compared to what was going on in early 70s black pop (Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield)."

Scott-Heron confronted widespread fallacies of black America by accusing the white admen of stealing "black" catchphrases like "Right on, Tiger" and "power to the people" for their marketing schemes. He also criticized the American people for unconsciously tolerating the reality that corporate America sponsored the appeal of popular culture. He pointed out that a corporate controlled network television could not embrace the waves of social, cultural and political change. His verses warned of a looming "social apocalypse borne of centuries of injustice and pent-up frustrations that can no longer be dulled, contained, or diminished by the drugs of capitalism."

Scott-Heron proclaimed that the revolution would be in the gutters and on the streets. His verses are directed at black, white and corporate America and it was a call to action. While the news was being broadcast by the biased television stations into the comforts of suburbia, the armchair politicos were blissfully unaware of the deteriorating inner-city conditions of the early 1970s.

Today Gil Scott-Heron remains a towering figure in black popular music. With a Master's degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins his forceful, no-nonsense street poetry motivated a legion of intelligent rappers while his engaging songwriting skills placed him square in the R&B charts later in his career. In 1972 he joined with Brian Jackson and formed the Midnight Band the same year Esther Philips covered of Scott-Heron's wrenching heroin-addiction tale Home Is Where the Hatred Is. In 1984 he collaborated with Bill Laswell on the anti-Reagan diatribe, Re-Ron and in spite of anti-drugs themes like The Bottle and Angel Dust, Scott-Heron still wages a long-term battle with substance abuse.

By merging Afro-American social politics with jazz and rhythm and blues Scott-Heron forged the missing link between the beat poets and jazzbos of the 50's and 60's and the rap--hip hop artists of the 90's. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised sparked its own revolt inspiring minorities to utilize the powerful rap medium as their forum for widespread political discussions and within a decade, Scott-Heron's rhythm poetry had melded into the popular culture through groups such as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Silent for nearly ten years after the release Re-Ron, the proto-rapper revisited the recording music industry in the mid-'90s with a memo for the gangstas who had followed in his footsteps. His 1994 album Spirits began with Message to the Messengers and it was aimed squarely at the rappers whose sway, positive or negative, held deep meaning for the children of the 1990s. He urged them to take accountability in their art and in their community.

Capitalism learns how to sell anti-capitalism

Even though Gil Scott-Heron and The Last Poets proclaimed, "the revolution will not be televised," since then the revolution has been merchandised as a pre-packaged lifestyle. It's available at the local mall where $19.95 buys a black mask, a spray can and a protest sign. It comes in the form of access to a blog where one can write about the police brutality suffered while chained across Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. That "revolution" was, in fact, televised and commodified and can now be rented from Hollywood Video. The lyrics continue to be used and abused by the very agents mentioned and its message still rings loud and clear. Gil Scott-Heron's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised hit a raw nerve with street rhythms that foreshadowed Whitey on the Moon and Brother, yet today it has become not only extensively sampled, but undeservedly reduced to a cliché.


For a full text of lyric please visit here.

Gill Scott Heron - The Revolution Will Not Be Televised:

Gil Scott-Heron

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" (Gil Scott-Heron) © 1971, 1988 Bienstock Publishing Company (ASCAP)

The Revolution Will Be No Re-Run, Brother - The Revolution Will Be Live

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