A year ago, I had no idea who Gil Scott-Heron was, I was introduced to his music by Farai Mudzingwa, whom I interviewed for Sue’s Stokvel earlier this year. He is as much a writer as he is a music aficionado. The first song I ever listened to We Almost Lost Detroit had me hooked. Around the same time a video of Gil Scott-Heron, explaining what he meant by “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” went viral as Black Lives Matter protests broke out across the United States. I happened upon The Last Holiday on one of my frequent visits to ShelfLife Books. It just seemed to me that since Gil Scott-Heron had been revealed to me, he was suddenly appearing everywhere prodding me to learn more.
In his own words, this memoir is about Stevie Wonder’s campaign to make Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday a holiday. Gil Scott-Heron and his band joined Stevie Wonder on his Hotter Than July Tour, during which time, Stevie Wonder was organizing a march for the campaign. Heron felt that “Stevie’s effort as the leader of this campaign has been forgotten. But it is something we should all remember. Just as surely as we should remember April 4, we should celebrate January 15. And we should not forget that Stevie remembered.” After reading the first chapter which focused on Stevie Wonder, I was taken aback because I thought this would be a book about Stevie Wonder and not Gil Scott-Heron. The Stevie Wonder campaign gives the story a beginning and an end and is something like the bread of a sandwich. Between that beginning and end Gil Scott-Heron goes into great detail about his childhood, and his rise to fame.
Today, Gil Scott-Heron is remembered as a spoken word poet who sometimes sang, but this is selling the man short. Gil Scott Heron was an educator, academic, a poet and a funk musician who was an early pioneer of jazz poetry and rap music. Reading The Last Holiday, it seems to me that Gil Scott-Heron was always destined for greatness, and although he put his greatness to good use, he was never fully aware of it. I think that is why he never lost sense of what was going on in the world. Gil Scott-Heron had a discerning eye when it came to music and politics. The simplistic, down-to-earth, matter-of-fact tone of his writing unveils modern-day a reclusive wiseman at the edge of a village or an oracle.
Beyond knowing what his political thoughts were, I have always found reading the memoirs of black people whether or not they are famous, to be necessary. I felt the same way about Bell Hooks’ memoir Bone Black which I reviewed here. These memoirs also tell stories about ordinary black people. For example, Gil Scott-Heron spent his formative years with his grandmother, an experience many black children around the world have had. I think it is so vital that we document the black experience including or perhaps especially the things we take for granted and the experiences that are universal but unspoken.
If I could only describe this book in 3 words, I would choose the words “Black Boy Joy.” When asked about what he meant by “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” he said, “The first change that takes place is in your mind. You have to change your mind before you change the way you live and the way you move. So when we said that the revolution will not be televised, we’re saying that the thing that’s going to change people is something that no one will ever be able to capture on film. It’ll just be something you see and all of a sudden you realize, I’m on the wrong page, or I’m on the right page but I’m on the wrong note.” Outside of the crowded concerts, existing as he did, Gil Scott-Heron was a revolution not televised but written.