Sometimes I bring music into my creative writing classes with Detroit high schoolers (via the InsideOut Literary Arts Project). Unlike with the poems I put before them, their reactions to my music is immediate, visceral, and, most of all, one hundred percent certain. It amuses me: they know what they like. John Lee Hooker and Miles Davis collaborating on "Murder" is not it. John Coltrane is not it. Ask them to freewrite to the masters of blues and jazz, and you'll get a lot of journal entries to the effect of: "Oh my god, kill me now."
But Gil Scott-Heron: that went down differently.
I wrote before about "a thesis statement for Gil Scott-Heron," or my experiments in teaching composition at a community college with the help of his music. In my poetry classes with high schoolers, his music was an opportunity to talk about metaphor, about litany, about voice, about the image that is concrete, hold-able.
But before we got to all that, we just listened. The ninth-graders laughed when their regular teacher whooped at the sound of Scott-Heron's beats and eased into a groove while sorting their papers. An eleventh-grader nodded his head along while staring at his desk. A friend of his wanted me to hook up my feeble computer to louder speakers. "What's he talking about?" asked a tenth-grader while the song slid forth. Another responded: "Man, he's talking about revolution." One kid heard the word "brother" in the music, and hooked on that. "I like that one," said one girl, after the songs were all done. It was high praise.
The Last Holiday is Gil Scott-Heron's memoir, and it's just published. Pop Matters has an excerpt from what appears to be the preface. He focuses on his life as a musician, and a writer, in the making.
I always doubt detailed recollections authors write about their childhoods. Maybe I am jealous that they retain such clarity of their long agos while my own past seems only long gone.
What helped me to retain some order was that by the age of ten I was interested in writing. I wrote short stories. The problem was that I didn’t know much about anything. And I didn’t take photos or collect mementos. There were things I valued, but I thought they would always be there. And that I would.