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LR Gil Scott Heron

Jazz revolutionary Gil Scott-Heron tells it like it is

In 2000, Dazed played a game of word association with the late musician/poet Gil Scott-Heron, who gave us his opinion on everything from the sell outs to surfing the web

Taken from the June 2000 issue of Dazed


In my life I have had moments of spiritual inspiration. Unfortunately I have never been able to determine when they will come or how they will come. I don't have any pattern or any set combination of things that I need to do. You can't just sit down and ask the spirits to talk to you. It's a matter of feeling. The spirit is inside you, it's probably somewhere very close to wherever your mind is but not the same thing, otherwise your spirits would go to sleep when you do. I don't write every night... the lady wouldn't let me! I guess I might otherwise. I like to have some quiet time. Time to sit and think about what it is I'm trying to do and generally if I'm in the right frame of mind, if things are going alright in other aspects of my life, I can clear that away and focus on what it is I'm trying to write. Once I start working, at least on prose or something longer, I can write for a long, long period of time without even realising it.

When writers say that the words are just coming through them, well that's what I mean when I say the spirits come to me. When I'm having trouble completing a thought, that's when I'm trying to work with it on my own. The only way you know it's happening is when all that hits the paper is the truth. When it's honest, the real way you feel, when it's from the heart. You don't have to struggle for words, you don't have to struggle for the ideas, you don't have to struggle for what comes next. You know what comes next. It's natural and it feels good and when you get done, you read it and you know that it doesn't need anything more.


I'm not inspired by it; I'm outraged by it. It spurs you into doing something, in that way I am an activist. I don't make every demonstration with a picket sign but I do like to be involved with what's going on around me. My community is often damaged by things that other people do and I like to be sure that my neighbours understand that I'm going through the same things they are. My own way of responding to those kind of elements is to sit down and write, so I guess in a way that is inspiration.


As with outrage, my words can be a response to how much I'm enjoying something and what's going on in my mind. Since our music has been categorised as jazz, when I think of some of the great jazz musicians and contributors there have been, I can hardly see myself in that same frame of reverence so I simply try to see how many different things there are that people can call jazz, that fit into that scenario, and make it mine.

“I think that whether you're a speaker or a writer or whatever, if you've used your talents to make a living, to find your place in society, then I don't personally have a problem with it” – Gil Scott-Heron on selling out


The idea behind this new book of my poetry is to show the importance of being a well rounded person, to show that you're not all about police brutality or injustice, but also about lovely days, beauty, nice things and having everyday experiences that you appreciate on another level altogether.


Always. Everything.


I have a lot of fun playing with words. As a writer or poet you are trying to sell your idea and there are many ways you can get to people. Generally, I think the most effective ways involve a degree of humour. You don't want to chastise people when you're trying to get them on your side, you got to encourage them to see what you're looking at and the more fun they have doing it the more different ways they can bat it around within themselves. It works better that way. A lot of people who have a talent with words are being drawn into the worlds of advertising and selling. I think that whether you're a speaker or a writer or you do voice overs for animation or whatever, if you've used your talents to make a living, to find your place in society, then I don't personally have a problem with it. If people say, "Hey they sold out!", they didn't sell out, they went and made their talents profitable, they can eat!


The internet is a great example of what words can do. And I'm talking billions and billions of words buddy. Information is good to have, but I think there's a lot of misinformation on the internet in the same way that there is on your radio and your television set. You have to learn to discern the difference between the two. One man's revolutionary is another man's terrorist. You still have to be able to decide if you are going to let terrorism into your home. As far as the kids are concerned I think it's important to block off adult information but you can't get away from it entirely.

“Now if you really were a criminal or you shot somebody, would you put it on a fuckin' record? I don't think so. You didn't do that shit, that's just fiction” – Gil Scott-Heron on hip hop


I like my kids and my kids like it so that's alright, but rap music is not for me, it's for people their age. They're making discoveries and coming across ideas that they need to at that age, but most of the time it's stuff that I came across 30 years ago. It's just that the way they put it now is relevant for them and it goes along with a dance beat.

It's dance music; I can't be dancing to hip hop. I might be out there rocking for a minute but that's about it before I come to my senses. These artists are kids, they haven't learnt any lessons so they don't have any messages. They don't know what the fuck they doin'. They tryin' to be popular so there's a lot of posturing that goes with that. A rap album is 60 minutes of autobiography so you can be all that you want to be. Now if you really were a criminal or you shot somebody, would you put it on a fuckin' record? I don't think so. You may as well go and give yourself up! You didn't do that shit, that's just fiction, but it gives you the chance to be the tough guy that you always wanted to be, to take on a persona.

When we was youngsters we were all cowboys, Billy The Kid, Willy The Kid, whatever, that's who we dressed ourselves up as after school and went outside. That wasn't who we were, that was just make believe. Rap is a world of make believe - every night is Halloween. Playing tough can get you in trouble, but it's an adrenaline rush, it makes you popular. I mean whoever turned down buying Billy The Kid a drink? So there it is. I've never been about to listen to negativity or bigotry. It's never been in my work and for the most part I wish it wasn't in my life. I don't care who's saying it or what media they use to push it, that's what I've been trying to get rid of all my life and other people before my life and I'm still trying to get rid of it. They can bring it back, re-rapped, re-wrapped, re-packaged or whatever, it's of no value. People listen to what you play on the radio and video channels. They wouldn't hear it if you didn't broadcast it, so I have to blame it back on the source, on the people who make it so visible, so omnipresent in our lives. You have to look right back through the programmers, the musical directors and the management to the ownership and see who's responsible for making sure that those kind of ideas are still with us. I don't like it no matter where it's at. I don't like from the artists and I don't like it from the promoters of it.