Sometimes music serves as a historical marker – not only through its sound, but its lyrics – a broadsheet, a sign of the time, for those of the time to know where it’s at, and for those out of the time to know where it was.
In 1970, Gil Scott Heron, a writer living in New York City with a volume of poetry and a novel already to his credit, met a jazz producer who encouraged Heron’s desire to record. After a debut album with only spare backing music, emphasizing the spoken word aspect, a full band with some heavy-hitting jazz musicians was assembled for Heron’s next record.
The poetry and the music would now have equal weight, and thus was born one of the pioneering cornerstones of rap and hip-hop.
“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” the opening track on Pieces Of A Man, focuses its lyrical attacks primarily on the US government and US commercialism – and those who would be unduly influenced by either – with a list of very specific references that anyone born before 1960 would recognize, and that anyone younger might know secondhand or might miss completely. (My birth year places me in the latter group, but even my extensive studies of 60’s and 70’s history and pop culture didn’t cover “getting rid of the nubs.” Say what?) The track sounded like nothing else at that time and had far-reaching musical and cultural impact (somewhat to Heron’s chagrin as he thought it was the least inventive song on the album).
Heron couldn’t have known that in the present day absolutely everything is captured on camera and televised, but what he spoke still holds true: real revolution begins internally, in the minds and hearts of those who make their own choice to fight against injustice and the status quo. It starts with turning off the TV, the tablet, the phone, and putting your feet on the street. It starts with walking a mile. It does not start with a Coke and a smile.