The Revolution will not be televised. Who needs television? A Berlin tribute to Gil-Scott Heron

You don’t need me to tell you do you, that “the 99%” are inspired, moved, and moving. You know, don’t you, I’m a privileged Australian girl. And I know, on a planet nearing capacity, “we”‘ve got it too good. I’m constantly disgusted by “my” country and the way we complain and hoard and how we manage to ignore the growing number of people indigenous and migrant (hello, that means all of us), slipping out of sight. Our criminal lack of curiosity about the world as though distance was some kind of security blanket. And you don’t need me to tell you, do you, television is the drug that enables “us” to keep “them” out of mind.

The days when television was an informative medium are long gone. The days when mainstream news was actually informative were very short-lived. Television is an entertainment medium (and at least in this country, a poorly unimaginative form of product placement, and “reality tv” doesn’t even have to pretend to be anything other than a drug now). There is no more information on your TV than there is on your Wii. So get over it. Who needs it?

Actual, useful, varied information is being distributed – and challenged – on open platforms. The fact that this means we have to actively seek and be curious, and filter through the mass and chaos of it, check the sources ourselves, cross-reference, and be careful about, and personally responsible for, what we choose to believe – as well as what we choose to say – well, that’s exactly the power we gave away to our so called network-news…

News. It’s good to have it back, isn’t it?

This guy Jesse LaGreca from Occupy Wall Street in NYC, says it well, (talking to Fox News – of course the interview never made it to TV, so what, here it is on Youtube):

It was a long time ago when I first learned the term non-violent direct action but I’m seeing most intelligent protests and cross-class civil actions happening around the world this year, the most interesting debates and more importantly the most inspired, sustained action, and I am excited to think the point really is, tipping. I’m feeling enamored with my fellow, waking human beings linking arms on Brooklyn Bridge, keeping the nerve in Tahir Square, locking onto bulldozers in the Kimberley, refusing to pay tolls in Greece, defiantly raising the flag in West Papua. I’m wondering how the world looks to the people still hooked up to the infotainment drug. While you were sleeping, fitfully… It’s time to choose what kind of life we want to be

If it really is only 1% who are perpetuating our fear in order to hold onto all that they have, that’s really not so scary. It’s just a little cowardly old man behind the curtain with a megaphone and a flame thrower. What if he didn’t have his 3 billion budget, what would he be then?

I chose around about the time I saw the champagne glass image of the distribution of the world’s wealth, around about the same time (1993) that I first heard this:

After losing him twice to prison we lost him again to life last June. Gil Scott-Heron was the first really bright light that went on in my head about the power of the spoken word, the importance of poets who write with their eyes and hearts wide open. “Message to the Messengers” was the first thing I really, really wanted to play on the radio. There are many great poets and voices of peace, social justice and revolution but Gil is the one who keeps us honest.

“If you’re going to be teaching folks be sure you know what you’re saying”

Since he left us there have been many tributes but it’s something out of Berlin I want to share. From Impermetic / A Zero (these are track excerpts, to get the full 6 minute production go to

“We were very sad to hear the passing away of Gil-Scott last June so we decided to create a tribute in honor of the huge influence he was to us. Alex (aka A/0 for his techno creations) started an afro-house groove and Arno wrote a poem about Gil-Scott’s path on this Earth..” It’s now available to buy digitally, released on Bass 9 Records, a new label from the South of France – It’s a great track in both its tribute to Gil’s life, as well as in A0’s techno rendering of the Spirits bass sound.

Impermetic is Arnaud Valion and Alex Lunt, two ex-pats from Lyon and London respectively, now living in Berlin. I’ve featured their work in a few Lapkat live sets now. They mix a dark ambient bass and electro, very German, which I love, soft dub percussion with Arnaud’s strong /soft spoken voice. The collaboration works both ways, music leading to words leading to music – they also get a syncopated, almost jazz flavor in some cuts. Audio stories, “contes d’enfants pour adultes.” Not all pretty, some of the words hit discordantly; hard. But some words should. Their album “Irish Butter und schwarzes Brot” was released in May 2010. A couple of favourites from that album:

La Vie d’Artiste” the poem by (French anarchist poet, musician) Léo Ferré recited by Arno on top of an electro dub groove with a tango style chorus …

J’ai Froid” “Arno was cold and it was raining” very minimal, bass playing with rain

Their work is really nice to listen to, and at the same time it’s challenging, mainly in words that are not always comfortable. Which is good for humans, it keeps us awake. 

Which brings me back to Gil, whose blues/soul music is so easy to listen to, his words not always easy. His 1994 poem “Message to the Messengers” seems more relevant, more necessary, almost 20 years later. It’s not comfortable soul. It’s a straight line to the truth in the best way of art.

The poets must be there to question us, remind us, propel us. They are our visionaries and the inspirators of our revolutions because there is no revolution without dreams. They are not on TV. But they are louder than ever on every other network. We just have to get curious again and go looking.

Keep the nerve.

Hey, yeah, we the same brothas from a long time ago
We was talkin' about television and doin' it on the radio
What we did was to help our generation realize
They had to get out there and get busy cause it wasn't gonna be televised
We got respect for you rappers and the way they be free-weighin'
But if you're gon' be teachin' folks things, make sure you know what
  you're sayin'
Older folks in our neighborhood got plenty of know-how
Remember if it wasn't for them, you wouldn't be out here now
And I ain't comin' at you with no disrespect
All I'm sayin' is that you damn well got to be correct
Because if you're gonna be speakin' for a whole generation
And you know enough to try and handle their education
Make sure you know the real deal about past situations
It ain't just repeatin' what you heard on the local TV stations
...Sometimes they tell lies and put 'em in a truthful disguise
But the truth is that's why we said it wouldn't be televised
They don't know what to say to our young folks, but they know that you do
And if they really knew the truth...why would they tell you?
The first sign is peace, tell all them gun totin' young brothas
That the man is glad to see us out there killin' one another
We raised too much hell when they was shootin' us down
So they started poisoning our minds tryin' to jerk us all around
And they tell us they got to come in and control our situation
They want half of us on dope and the other half in incarceration
If the ones they want dead ain't killed by what they instigated
They put some dope on a brotha's body and claim it was drug related
Tell them drug related means there don't need to be no investigation
Or at least that's the way they're gon' play it on the local TV stations
All your 9-millimeter brothas...give them somthin' to think about
Tell them you heard that this is the new word,
  they got to work that stuff out
But somehow they feel in the wrong way with a gun in their hands
They feel real independent...but they just pullin' contracts for the man
Five and five will tell you it's hopeless out there on the avenue
But if they really knew the truth...why would they tell you?
And if they look at you like you're insane
And they start callin' you scarecrow and say you ain't got no brain
Or start tellin' folks that you suddenly gone lame
Or that white folks had finally co-opted your game
Or worse yet implying that you don't really know...
That's the same thing they said about us...a long time ago
Young rappers, one more suggestion before I get out of your way
But I appreciate the respect you give me and what you got to say
I'm sayin' protect your community and spread that respect around
Tell brothas and sistas they gotta calm that bullshit down
Cause we're terrorizin' our old folks and brought fear into our homes
And they ain't got to hang out with the senior citizens
Just tell them, “Dammit...leave the old folks alone”
And we know who rippin' off the neighborhood, tell them,
  “That BS has got to stop!”
Tell them you're sorry they can't handle it out there
But they got to take the crime off the block
And if they look at you like you're insane
And they start callin' you scarecrow and say you ain't got no brain
Or start tellin' folks that you suddenly gone lame
Or that white folks had finally co-opted your game
Or worse yet saying that you really don't know...
That's the same thing they said about me a long time ago
And if they tell folks that you finally lost your nerve
That's the same thing they said about us, when we said, “Johannesburg”
But I think the young folks need to know, that things don't go both ways
You can't talk respect of every other song or just every other day
What I'm speakin' on now is the raps about the women folks
On one song she's your African Queen on the next one she's a joke
And you ain't said no words that I haven't heard,
  but that ain't no compliment
It only insults eight people out of ten and questions your intelligence
Four letter words or four syllable words won't make you important
It'll only magnify how shallow you are and let everybody know it
And if they look at you like they think you insane
Or they call you scarecrow thinkin' you ain't got no brain
Or start tellin' folks that you suddenly gone lame
Or that white folks have finally co-opted your game
Or you really don't know...They said that about me a long time ago
If they finally start to tell people that you lost your nerve
That's what they said about Johannesburg
You ain't have got a brain
You haven't gone lame; you have got your game
Remember...keep the nerve
Keep the nerve
Keep the nerve
Keep the nerve
...I'm talkin' about peace
(Gil-Scott Heron, "Message to the Messengers" from "Spirits" 1994)

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