Sunday, May 29, 2011

Weary blues

I ain’t saying I didn’t invent rapping,” says Gil Scott-Heron. “I just cannot recall the circumstances.” 

From Weary Blues, an interview with him from New York magazine, 2008.

In 2008, Heron was playing a show with rapper Mos Def and his band, and was out on parole, trying to make a comeback... his output from 1970 to 1982 - 13 albums. At the time of the interview, he'd managed one album since 82.

"... He was paroled early in May 2007 after serving ten months for violating a plea bargain at the upstate Collins Correctional Facility, but he was picked up for a parole violation last October.

Now out on parole again, he says he’s trying to stay clean (“I’m doing my best”), but he remains unrepentant. “I had some cocaine in my pocket. They should have left me alone,” he says. “In England, they would have took it and gone on home.”

He’s been HIV-positive for several years and says his health has improved, but he recently was hospitalized (he jokes, “the old one was all used up, so they gave me pneumonia”). He’s lost weight recently; his black jeans barely hang on to his hips. He still smokes, Marlboro Reds.

Nonetheless, he’s trying to make a comeback, though he knows it’s a long shot (“It’s like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. He may get in a shot or two, but … ”). He’s assembled some of his old bandmates to record a new album, he’s playing some shows this summer, and he’s finishing his long-stalled book project, The Last Holiday, which chronicles how he and Stevie Wonder hit the road together in the eighties on a mission to make Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a federal holiday..."

The New Yorker also has an indepth interview with Heron from August last year, which is free today only, temporarily non-paywalled. Heron smokes crack openly in front of the interviewer...

excerpt ...
“I’m trying to stay out of traction,” he said. “I feel like I got a piece of gravel up at the top of my spine.” He lit the propane torch and touched the glass tube to his lips. “Ten to fifteen minutes of this, I don’t have pain,” he said. “I could have had an operation a few years ago, but there was an eight-per-cent chance of paralysis. I tried the painkillers, but after a couple of weeks I felt like a piece of furniture. It makes you feel like you don’t want to do anything. This I can quit anytime I’m ready.”

He touched the flame to the tube. “I have a novel that I can write,” he said next. “It’s about three soldiers from Somalia. Some babies have been disappearing up on 144th Street, and I speculate later on what happened to them and how they might have been got back. These guys are dead, all three, and they have a chance in the afterlife to do something they should have done when they were alive.” He raised the torch, then paused and said, “I have everything except a suitable conclusion.”

ADDED Just found these live recordings of Gil Scott Heron via Musical Meanders blog, hat tip to Simon Grigg...

Gil Scott-Heron - Live at the Village Gate (1976)
Gil Scott-Heron - Live at the Bottom Line (1977)
Gil Scott-Heron - Live at Berkeley (1978)
Gil Scott-Heron - Live at Glastonbury (1986)

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