One of unexpected bonuses of having to reconstruct my iTunes library from its original components is that I keep rediscovering music I haven’t heard for ages. I, for instance, spent a happy bit of Monday rediscovering Ghetto Style, a 1998 compilation of early seventies tracks by Gil Scott-Heron.
The most famous of his songs is The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, an excoriating piece of proto hip-hop from 1970, which articulates the angry excluded voice of urban black Americans of that time perfectly. The references sound dated in 2010, but the song has lost none of its power in its call for urgent change.
You can buy a t-shirt now which says The Revolution Will Not Be YouTubed. Either nothing changes, or the revolutionary process is a continuous one.
It reminded me anyway that the previous day Jason had recommended Scott-Heron’s brand new album I’m New Here, so I bought it.
Being something of an ignoramus I had kind of thought the guy was dead. He’s not, clearly, but his moral authority and celebrity cachet have taken a bit of a kicking in recent years as he has served time in jail for possession of drugs and, according to one news report I read, been addicted to crack cocaine.
Even without that as context I’m New Here would register as a brilliant album. More reflective and gentle than his early seventies work perhaps, it is definitely the work of a man who has aged. It’s an honest and emotional album and I recommend it heartily.
What surprised me about it was how irked I was by the sleeve-notes which say this:
There is a proper procedure for taking advantage of any investment.
Music, for example. Buying a CD is an investment.
To get the maximum you must
LISTEN TO IT FOR THE FIRST TIME UNDER OPTIMUM CONDITIONS.
Not in your car or on a portable player through a headset.
Take it home.
Get rid of all distractions, (even her or him).
Turn off everything that rings or beeps or rattles or whistles.
Make yourself comfortable.
Play your CD.
LISTEN all the way through.
Think about what you got.
Think about someone who would appreciate this investment.
Decide if there is someone to share this with.
Turn it on again.
Fucking hell, you might be entitled to think. That’s pretty high-handed for a jailbird junkie. I’ve bought the CD, Gil. The point where you took my money for it was the point where you stopped having any say about what happens to it next. If I want to listen to the album for the first time on my iPod shuffle, through headphones whilst being hand-fed Walnut Whips and Haribo Star Mix by Noam Chomsky and Wee Jimmy Krankie then I will, damn you.
No one could blame you for thinking that. It’s what any sane person would think. I certainly did. I hate being told what to do.
It’s not even like he just presented it as a serving suggestion. He used the words “proper” and “must” which are real trigger words with me. I hate that sort of controlling language and, although I grumble and huff a great deal, I hope it’s the sort of thing I don’t ever say.
The thing is, as with all the stuff that gets to me, I think I have reacted to this precisely because it is so much like something I would say if I didn’t keep an eye on myself.
As a friend of mine says with reference to any finger-pointing or fault-judging, “If you spot it you’ve got it.” This is definitely true of me. The aspects of other people that I find the most deplorable and least forgivable are the ones I recognize myself of having.
Gil Scott-Heron didn’t mean any irking I’m sure and I can totally identify with his desire, having put so much of his own passion and personality into the album, to make sure that everybody in the world gets what he’s doing. I just think that he’ll wear himself out trying to make sure it happens. He might be happier simply letting it go and counting his money.
There was an interview with Stephen King in the early eighties which I no longer have to hand so I’ll have to paraphrase it. In it he was asked about his attitude towards the uncountably vast number of movie adaptations of his books most of which were honkingly bad. He said, after what I can only assume was a heavy sigh, that selling your books to film companies was like sending your kids down to the docks and that the best you could hope for was that they would at least come back with some money.
At the time I thought it sounded like a horrible and complacent thing to say, but with the coming of middle age I can look on it more as an act of heroic acceptance, and acceptance is currently my key to a happy life.
There is about to be a short blogging hiatus of a couple of weeks as I catch up with various work-related things and wander about the planet a bit.
See you all soon.