Thursday, February 23, 2012

Spoken Word: Whitey On The Moon

Gil Scott-Heron: Whitey On The Moon

Gil Scott-Heron: H20Gate Blues

For many, the epic “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” represents something of an proto-rap, along with the works of the Watts Prophets and The Last Poets (and what was that point-missing woman at the Grammys babbling on about how to Gil Scott-Heron, the revolution will be televised?). Gil Scott-Heron issued a number of the spoken word proto-raps.

Of those, “Whitey On The Moon” is particularly apt now, some four decades after it was recorded, with Newt Gingrich half-wittedly undertaking to return people to the moon while simultaneously robbing the people who need it most of universal health coverage should the American voters stumble to the polls in so brown a haze of lunacy to actually elect that emissary from Acheron.

If “Whitey On The Moon” shows sharp wit, then “H2Ogate Blues” is a shark-toothed chainsaw massacre of barbed anger. The year is 1974, and America is still waiting for King Richard to finally depart. In a live performance set to a basic blues riff, Gil Scott-Heron raps about “that cesspool, Watergate”, as sidekicks (one sort of pictures a nightvision-goggled hanger-on of Ludacris being among them, though that doubtless is the imagination seeing things through an early 21st century lense) voice their agreement and encouragement. Gil’s scene-setting definition of the hues of the blues is worth the price of admission alone, but when he goes on to the politics, well, you can’t put a price on that. The cast of characters – Halderman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean, if you dig what I mean – might have changed, but the concerns of 1974 find an echo in almost 40 years later.

“How long, America, before the consequences of keeping the school systems segregated, allowing the press to be intimidated, watching the price of everything soar and hearing complaints ’cause the rich want more? It seems that Macbeth, and not his lady, went mad. We’ve let him eliminate the whole middle class; the dollar’s the only thing we can’t inflate while the poor go on without a new minimum wage.”

“H2Ogate Blues” appeared on 1974’s excellent Winter In America album. In the liner notes, Scott-Heron takes aim at Nixon: “In the interest of national security, please help us carry out our constitutional duty to overthrow the king.” He meant really the system. His message probably would be the same today – except Gil might prefer to retain this king in fear of the ghastly alternatives.

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