Gil Scott-Heron’s death last week was the sad end of troubled man. He was 62 and addicted to crack cocaine, as detailed in a The New Yorker article last year titled New York is Killing Me. I’d not often thought of him or his work since the 1970’s, and the story of his addiction, arrests, imprisonment, and tortured existence cast a depressing pall on my memories. I mulled how to note his passing, given that many who read my musings likely have no idea who he is. Then I saw this headline in Saturday’s New York Times: The Fitness Revolution Will Be Televised (After Leno), with the allusion to the title of Scott-Heron’s work, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, which has burrowed into the cultural subconciousness. I listened to it often in the years after its 1974 release, but probably the last time I heard it before today was during my early years of law school. Its references may be obscure for today’s audience, but its scathing look at pop culture still resonates:
The revolution will not be brought to you by the Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.
I listened, also for the first time in decades, to The Bottle. It could have been recorded yesterday. Listen to both songs for Scott-Heron’s distinctive voices, poetical and musical. The next time you read or hear “[x] will not be televised” (or its variation), you’ll know its source.