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Monday, February 13, 2012

Gil-Scott Heron: Jazz poet's final attempt to break through isolation

The Last Holiday
A Memoir
By Gil Scott-Heron
Grove Press.
322 pp. $25

Reviewed by Dan DeLuca

This is a sad book. And not just because Gil Scott-Heron - syncopated jazz-poet and political agitator, astute and empathetic chronicler of the African American experience, and, whether he liked it or not, godfather of rap - died in May at 62 after sacrificing the last years of his life to crack cocaine addiction.
The griot best known for "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" and "The Bottle" writes in his prologue that the book's "central focus . . . revolves around experiences orchestrated by Stevie Wonder, a true miracle of talent and concern for his fellow man."
That sentence turns out to be doubly troubling because it hints at the odd, almost starstruck and uncritical way musical movers and shakers will be depicted in the book - whether Wonder, music executive Clive Davis, or even Jackson Browne, who organized the 1979 Musicians United for Safe Energy "No Nukes" concerts where Scott-Heron performed.
And it also turns out to be untrue, because despite his intentions to write a book principally about the experiences with Wonder that so mightily impressed him, Scott-Heron never manages to do that. The book is really a conventional coming-of-age autobiography.

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