Mystery Music March in April

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – Gil Scott-Heron

Really Gil? Watching the US presidential race from across the pond, well away from your stomping ground, it certainly looks like the revolution’s being televised and that the White House may have its first black resident. In addition, with twenty-four hour block news coverage, we’re seeing revolutions throughout the world going through the motions. Interestingly though I have detected an inherent bias in some of the coverage of the Democratic Primaries. Hilary Clinton is forever losing elections, but Barack Obama is hardly ever listed as thrashing the opposition. But the fact that two of the historically most oppressed peoples in society are fighting each other to become leader of the free world is surely progress, even if they then have to beat a dandy and a clown.

Gil Scott-Heron’s polemic is best enjoyed in its stripped down ‘Early Version’ as it appears on the album Ghetto Stylee. Here he introduces himself and the band and the bands they’re from before rhythmically launching into the words (‘We’d like to do a poem for you called ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ primarily because it won’t be), his only accompaniment some bongo drums. He largely shouts the lines, it’s not quite rapping and it’s certainly not singing, but it is really, really exciting. Here are those lyrics so you can shout them yourself (tapping on a table should do the trick), and a handy primer.

Scott-Heron is writing about contemporary pop culture and specifically television’s white bias and how it would probably miss the increase in prominence of black people and the culture of black people. Its imports apparently non-threatening marketing slogans and product names and turns them into rather sinister symbols of how white culture has subjugated all else. But it’s a work filled with hope that things can change.

It is just a pity that it hasn't really and we’re still addicted to the same stupid shit now as we were then. Much as I love Baz Luhrman’s The Sunscreen Song, which sounds very much like a late 90s equivalent, it doesn’t make me want to go out and do something in the same way. Other than go back to university again. Or find a girl. Perhaps take in a concert. And wear sunscreen.

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