When I was 18 I went to college, to a large state university.
To my surprise, when I arrived I realized that all three of my suite-mates were black, and from Detroit. As a young man growing up in a small all white town, you might think I was a bit anxious about this, but I was not. I was a determined revolutionary at the time, in rebellion against the mores of Fenton, Michigan, where I was raised. How cool could that be, to live with three black guys?
And for the most part, we got along.
My suite-mates were a sort of menagerie of stereotypical blacks of the early seventies: there was Reggie, a pot-smoking street punk, Jimmy, a jock flying on an athletic scholarship, and my roommate Rodney, an intellectual black nationalist and a revolutionary, like me. I think he was relieved to see my Che Guevara poster in the room when he arrived, and then disappointed to realize I was white.
But he was a very decent guy, studious and serious, and I always figured he did well for himself.
In retrospect it was a bit strange. Rodney, for example, asked me to draw a poster for the black student association, but implored me anxiously not to tell anyone I had done it. I think he was embarrassed to have a white roommate, let alone one who did artwork for him.
Jimmy was cool, easy going, a bit of a womanizer like most jocks, but amiable and good natured.
Reggie was a bit more problematic, or rather some of his friends who visited from Detroit were. They were barely able to conceal their hostility to me, but Reggie tried to keep the peace, for the most part successfully.
But one thing that bonded Reggie and me was music. He was into his music, and I was into mine, and we were both curious about new things.
So I exposed him to Pink Floyd; this in the early years, the time of Umma Gumma and Atom Heart Mother and See Emily Play. And I played tunes by Jefferson Airplane, Dylan, Poco, the Doors, the Incredible String Band and other bands from that very creative time . And Reggie turned me onto Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, the Last Poets, Les McCann, Marvin Gaye, and other great jazz, Motown, and R &B musicians.
And he turned me on to Gil Scott Heron.
Gil Scott Heron was a revolutionary poet and musician. He is most known for his angry political tunes like “The Revolution will not be Televised” and “Whitey’s on the Moon”.
Much of his music was spoken, poetry set to a rhythmic background, a precursor to rap and hip-hop, which generally lacks his social consciousness.
Gil Scott Heron died on May 27, at the age of 62. His life was, like many artists, not untroubled.
And though he is best known for his- many of us would say righteously – angry songs, there was another, more lyrical side to the man, like his song for his daughter, “Your Daddy Loves You”, from his 1974 album Winter in America.
This is a tune from the same album, a rare tribute to the rural roots of the displaced northern African American diaspora, a longing for home and family that should resonate with anyone, revolutionary, reactionary, or anywhere in between.