Image Source: 13thfloorgrowingold At this link you will find videolinks to the great BBC documentary: ‘The Revolution will Not Be Televised: A Film About Gil Scott-Heron’
Paying tribute to the late great Gil Scott-Heron, who died on 27th May at the age of 62. Widely regarded as one of the godfathers of modern rap ( a title he rejected) his latest music was amongst his strongest. One of the greats. My favourite GSH video here: Me and The Devil
As chance would have it, was reading this excellent book ‘33 Revolutions Per Minute’ By Dorian Lynskey [Faber & Faber], which has an essay on GSH’s most widely known track ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ and other radical political black music of the period. including the Last Poets.
Lynskey tells us that Scott-Heron was born in Chicago, raised in rural Tennessee, played piano by the age of four and wrote detective novels at the age of 12 and had two novels and a poetry book published before he made his first sound recording – a live recording entitled ‘Small Talk on 125th and Lenox’ – whose highlight is ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, recorded with the backing of three percussionists. GSH reprised the track on his next album Pieces of A Man (1971), ‘now in possession of a muscular, prowling bass line and darting flame which made Scott-Heron’s words both more commanding and more seductive, and let his sly humour breathe. His subject was a revolution of the mind, not the gun.’
Now to the book as a whole which, as you would guess, contains 33 profiles of protest songs in Western music from ‘Strange Fruit’ by Billie Holiday to ‘America Idiot’ by Green Day, via many of the usual suspects (Guthrie’s ‘This Land Is Your Land’, Dylan’s Masters of War, The Clash’s ‘White Riot) and more abstruse choices (‘I Was Born This Way’ by Carl Bean, The Dead Kennedy’s ‘Holiday in Cambodia’ and Huggy Bear’s ‘Her Jazz’)
Was pleased to find the essay on Crass’s ‘How Does It Feel’ which has enabled me to identify the fact that the 128pp/A6-size booklet in The Generalist archive – entitled ‘A Series of Shock Slogans and Mindless Toxic Tantrums’ - was first published in leaflet form to accompany their August 1982 double-album ‘Christ: The Album’. The booklet, published later that same year, contains all the same text (minus the song lyrics), including Penny Rimbaud’s ‘intense memoir-com-manifesto’ called ‘Last of The Hippies.’
[According to a small NME clipping inside the book, Crass planned to publish several more titles under their imprint Existencil Press. Whether they materialised or not I’m not sure.]
‘33 Revolutions Per Minute’ is an extremely useful piece of work. The profiles are well-researched and written, setting song and artist in the musical, political and social contexts of the time. All albums and other artists’ works mentioned are scrupulously listed at the back. There is also a list of 100 other protest songs not mentioned in the book. Extensive notes and index make this a valuable source of reference.
In his Epilogue, Lynskey says that when he began the book, he intended to write a history of a still-vital form of music. Instead, he says, ‘I finished it wondering if I had instead composed a eulogy. He believes that in the ‘atomised age of digital music...the age of the heroic activist-musician is decisively over and the disincentive towards writing protest songs is…the audience’s impatience with any musician who purports to do more than entertain.’
He concludes on a slightly brighter note: ‘To create a successful protest song in the twenty-first century is a daunting challenge, but the alternative, for any musician with strong political convictions is paralysis and gloom. And what I think this book demonstrates is that it has never been easy.’
Now there’s a challenge !
Good post on Smithsonian Folkways archive compilation of classic protest songs [On An Overgrown Path blog]
10 Big Protest songs for An Election Day Soundtrack. Source: Mystery Tricycle