It’s like winter in America. It feels like winter in America. There ain’t nobody fighting because nobody knows what to save.– Winter in America,
When he co-wrote this hit with his sidekick Brian Jackson, Gil Scott-Heron described a nation in turmoil. But that was January of 1975. It is July, the beginning of the summer of 2022. However, this “winter” has to be colder than any other in the history of this nation.
No serious survey of Black Music would be complete without researching, reviewing, or rewinding Gil Scott-Heron. His value as lyricist/liberator-laureate was as luminous as it was legendary. James Brown may be the progenitor of rap music, but Heron perfected the art. Gil grew up in his Grandma Lillie’s house in Jackson, Tennessee. His mother, Bobbie, was a New York Oratorical Society singer, and his Jamaican father, Giles, was the first black ever to play for Glasgow’s Celtic Football Team. Gil understood the stark realities of black life in America as a young teen. At age 13, his grandmother died, and he was forcibly baptized into the streets of New York’s Bronx borough.
He attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania because writer Langston Hughes influenced his life. Even though he only spent two years at Lincoln, Gil later earned a master’s degree in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University.
Gil Scott published two novels, “The Vulture” and the “Nigger Factory.” Gil Scott despised and disparaged the status quo and became famous for his one-person nuclear attack on President Ronald Reagan.
Gil released songs denounc- ing and demeaning Reagan like; “We don’t need no Re-Ron” and “B Movie.” “Whitey on the Moon” lamented America’s blind eye to poverty. Gil was an expatriate or no patriot at all. Gil Scott-Heron spat and split verbs as if he created the English language and remolded culture with his quick-witted idioms. Gil Scott was unashamedly Black and proud, but his listenership and fan base was diverse and international.
Though some revere him in deference to James Brown as the “Godfather of Rap,” he vehemently challenged that moniker, remarking, “Rap is aimed at kids.” Gil Scott-Heron’s music was too saturated in truth for children and too subliminal for adults whose minds were not open to critical thought. This brother was profound, prophetic, and pro-nounced in his defiance of America’s often-stated “exceptionalism.”
In the song “Angel Dust,” Scott admitted that PCP, which grew in popularity in the “’70s, was a high like none other. But in the following line, he reveals a habit that may have taken his life.
“Angel Dust, You won’t remember what you’re missin’, but down some dead-end streets, there ain’t no turnin’ back.” On May 27, 2011, at 62, Gil Scott-Her-on turned a corner and walked his final dead-end street… for him, there ain’t no turnin’ back.
Gil Scott-Heron must be standing in the wings near the pearly gates; (Black pearls, of course), looking down on his prophecy.
America is in its winter months, with no sign of this blizzard dying down.
Mass murders, angry white insurrectionists, and jaundiced jurors supremely and strategically placed to abscond with justice rule the day. Urban streets, free-way underpasses, and vacant lots serve as the last refuge for a growing homeless population.
Our jails are teeming with poor folks that should be in mental hospitals.
Oh yeah, it’s winter in America when the truth of American slavery and racism are too brutal for your children to hear. It’s winter when you create a theory that teaching a theory (CRT) is a lawless act and must not take place in public schools. It’s winter when white folks have declared “civil war” amongst themselves.
It’s winter when you hold out the welcome banner for “White immigrants” near Ellis Island and “Mexican illegals” die en-masse in a Texas macabre rolling on 18-wheels. It’s winter when you wonder if 21 children could die in a White upscale neighborhood elementary school during an ordeal that lasted hours.
“From the Indians who welcomed the pilgrims. And to the buffalo who once ruled the
plains. Like the vultures circling beneath the dark clouds, looking for the rain, they’ve been looking for the rain, and Nobody knows what to save.”
Gil is not weathering this winter with us, but he added a lyrical retort to Winter in America, “Brother, save your souls, and Sister, save your babies.”
Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and an award-winning columnist.