I was not fair to this album when it came out. On I’m New Here
, Scott-Heron seemed to me to be placed in the background of some generic Warp Records IDM
. Generic Warp Records IDM is and has been my jam since birth, so I couldn’t immediately place what my problem was. In retrospect it was this: this was not “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”
Heron. (Ooh, that track is a little too real now, huh.) This was like some cool white Brooklyn dude’s basement idea of what Gil Scott-Heron sounds like. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I think I was overfed on that particular genre.
Last week in San Fran, the new other-home, my boyfriend pointed out some street art that he thought was cool, and I agreed that it was cool. I then told him that just about any art piece that a person like me, a gal of many words and opinions, can only classify as “cool,” is probably not very good really.
cool /= good
Which isn’t to say that the two are mutually exclusive. Check your fallacies. Gil Scott-Heron probably embodies both at once quite a bit.
Also for the purposes of this rare personal post, I could give two fucks about what is cool and what is good, except that without either I probably wouldn’t have even found Gil Scott-Heron.
But Rachel, how did you find Gil Scott-Heron?
Picture it: 2002ish. The revolution was legit being televised! There were literal bombs over baghdad. There were really confused people everywhere. I was oh, sigh, in my messy early 20s and it was glorious. I am sure that day I woke up at 3PM in a whiskey residual haze in the bed of a scruffy indie rock and/or jungle DJ who had a sometime job at an AV store. This is a real person. This is a thing that happened.
I remember we listened to a lot of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and exclaimed “genius” at each other but not really to anyone. Also we listened maybe to some other crap I was into at the time: poppy/angsty techstep. And Surgeon. And Interpol, still. Again. Still.
We were never a couple. I just remember the records.
And one day he was all:
You’ve never heard Gil Scott-Heron? You pleeb.
And implied in there, as I am a biracial unicorn of sorts, is a “but…you’re…half…black…right?” Maybe it’s not there. But I hear it. (It’s probably there.)
Here’s a beautiful thing: so much of American black culture is known to me only because it is boomeranged back to me by so many very cool, very hip white people in various states of undress, rolling over our shared and unshared canon.
People are not made up of records, but man. Their records tell a tale.
Ironically, now I can say “Oh you’ve never heard Gil Scott-Heron? You pleeb.” and whomever hears it can be all “oh you’re so chic with your artsy black hipster knowledge, you fount.” I am such a fount! But not because I belong to any race’s culture. Sorry.
Really I just crush a lot. And all of these things come at me late. I love it all.
Don’t even get me started about how most of the ebonics I know come from spending time in Provincetown because I just can’t. Let’s all salute a flag and revel in multiculturalistic confusion and constantly being misread and not giving any fucks, because these are all beautiful things and race is a goddamn lie.
But in 2013, a solid decade plus from the days of indie rock DJs, I had an identified wheat intolerance that made whiskey residual hazes impossible (not to mention an insatiable desire for life that makes it unfathomable to consider waking up at 3PM, even if it is to suffer through a day), and everything was falling apart. I was in the kitchen of my sublet in Bed-Stuy, in between rounds of job searching and freelance writing, and shuffling my entire music library, as I do. As DP and I both loved to do, when DP was alive. Shuffle through all 128gbs or whatever. Shuffle through the outtakes and the live versions and the bad cover songs and the filler and the sketches and the remixes and the radio edits.
Oh, right. No one reads this but good friends real and virtual. If you made it this far, well…Hi y'all. Imma continue to give zero fucks, walk with me. Three days before I moved to NYC my best friend killed himself. That is a lede I bury a lot and then cannot stop talking about. Sorry. Not really. A mighty fuck you if you care to judge it. At any rate, I was lost. Not directionless but certianly riding a mighty wave of IDGAF with what’s the point, and feeling defeated before I’d even started to fight.
This jam came on on shuffle and it was like being a teenager, when for the first time a song on the radio was speaking to you! directly! How no one understood how unfair it was that you had to mow the lawn and how you should be grateful to have a lawn to mow and parents who cared enough to teach you the value of upkeep and knowing that but really just wanting to listen to Anthrax and fuck the girl who kind of works at the head shop up the street even though she’s never going to go to college and your babies will be head shop babies why does no one understand this except Tesla, it is a mystery, I don’t even know. Something something something Tim Riggins.
I cried. This was no longer a rare occurrance. In 2013, dead-best-friend-ing opened up the proverbial floodgates, so I was no longer an emotional robot asmuchas an emotional robot 90% of the time and a faucet for the rest. The faucet would come on at the most inopportune times, like at a networking event on a boat (Isn’t this pretty?? I just want to text DP about it oh shit I can never text DP about this…waterfalls, trapped on a water vessel, the irony, oh and look there’s no exit), or in Ikea, or at the dog park, or in the kitchen cooking brussel sprouts and chicken sausage in coconut oil.
YES I REMEMBER THE WHOLE DAMN THING I WAS COOKING, THAT IS HOW THIS WORKS.
For some reason this particular crying jag opened up judgement on a crapload of music, the way trauma can open you up to such rad character-building things as binge watching Shonda Rhimes shows, chronic pain, Leonard Cohen quotes, Pinterest, just wanting people to be nice, and a daily yoga practice. I was so sad that “no matter how far gone you go, you can always turn around” seemed so obvious to me (if not, in fact, a life mantra) and how there wasn’t any hope of turning around for my best friend. That I could see those road closures and detours and launch pads and eject buttons and sproutings of proverbial wings and somehow couldn’t unlock that level for my friend. I’ll carry that with me for the duration, thank you very much.
It’s a good song. I forgot, in all my judgement of the modernization of a voice that seemed so tied to a different era, how stripped down and wise this song was. Yes, that may be a quantized guitar loop and not a live messy guitar. But that’s gorgeous too isn’t it? All our new music and our new musical tools making a mess out of trying so hard to not color outside the lines.
No surprises. “I’m New Here” is playing in my head a lot this week, as things go back into boxes and some attempts get shelved (I’ll be back, New York) and new adventures begin and blah blah blah. There’s no trauma worth stopping a car for, imho. See you soon big new road.
(Isn’t that cool? Isn’t that good?)