I am at Coachella in the hushed Gobi tent waiting for Gil Scott Heron, who is known in many circles as “The Godfather of Rap”. Given the political consciousness that lies at the foundation of his work, he is also considered the founder of political rap. I know this because I read Wikipedia.
All day, I have been struggling at Coachella, certain that I am the oldest person here, but in the Gobi tent, I have found a more mature crowd. These are socially aware people, who realize that we must come and pay homage to Gil, because you know – he’s old, and black, and once knew Martin Luther King Jr. I’ve read that his album Message to the Messengers was a plea for the new generations of rappers to speak for change rather than perpetuate the current social condition. He called on them to be more articulate and more artistic. I’m not really sure that they heard him, but at least he put the message out there. I’ve also learned – rather recently – that he coined the phrase ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, which the Gorillaz (i.e. my pretend boyfriend Damon Albarn) paid homage to when they (i.e. he) wrote the post modern lyrics ‘The revolution will be televised’ on the title track of the Gorillaz latest release, Plastic Beach. This kind of continuity excites me.
Gil finally comes out, and he looks really old for sixty-one. Despite his musical success, he’s been in and out of jail for the last ten years on cocaine charges. No one’s perfect I suppose. He sits down at his Hammond organ, and starts tinkling around on the keys while he talks to the audience. It’s all very shuck and jive, and not in a good way. It sounds like he’s reciting a shopping list, “Corn dogs, apple butter, tomato!” he shouts.
The people are hanging on his every word. He says something like, “Hey, the tent is white,” and everyone claps.
Then he says, “I like a white tent. Better than an army tent!”
This time people laugh hysterically, even though it’s not funny at all. People are nervously second guessing their own comic taste, worried that there’s something brilliant going on. I’ve been around old black musicians and I’ve seen this game. He’s trying to get people to laugh at nothing. It’s a power thing. When I was a student at Manhattan School of Music, I lived next door to Eddie Locke who had gained fame as Roy Eldridge’s drummer. Eddie was a legend in the neighborhood, he was even in that famous Art Kane photograph A Great Day In Harlem that featured 57 of the most famous jazz musicians of all time. Eddie, loved to blather on and on, and young musicians used to flock to his apartment and sit as his feet as if he were some Jazz Shaolin monk. He’d make jokes that were awful, tell stories that had no ending, and everyone would just laugh and laugh. One day after they had all left he turned to me and said, “Hey, Pip…” (he called me Pip as in ‘pipsqueak’ because I was small), “Why don’t you laugh at my jokes?”
“Because you’re not funny,” was my response. Continue reading