Gil Scott Heron was one of my favorite people on the planet. The fact that he was a Aries made it even better - because we were both Aries and could talk to each other in a language most other mortals didn't understand. Or at the very least, if we didn't exactly see eye to eye, neither of us were offended by it, because it's kind of the nature of Aries to always wanna be right and to be the first and the only - you get my drift.
|GIL AND I CUTTING THE FOOL AS USUAL (2010)|
Sometimes we'd think so far out the box, it would take the rest of the world a few light years to catch up with us; and then they wouldn't want to admit that we originated the concept. In that regard, Gil and I always gave each other props for our ideas - because we know people would be scratching their heads a long time just trying to deal with the audacity.
Gil and I were classmates at Lincoln University (PA) together. They called him Spiderman because he was tall, lanky, all angles, elbows, knees, joints - like a spider. All gangly - the name suited him well. At Lincoln, nobody, but nobody, who was anybody was ever addressed by his or her real name - we all had RABBLE NAMES - appellations that more described who we were than what our parents may have envisioned. My Rabble Name was "Glo:"
At the time Gil and I attended Lincoln University, I considered it a Black woman's paradise. I actually thought that God really must have loved me - to have had me kicked out of Hampton Institute for being too Black and militant, and recruited into Lincoln University for the same reason. But when I say a Black woman's paradise, I mean it - there were, in 1965, fifty years ago, when I first transferred there -- 600 male students in the all male, Black Princeton!! And I was blessed to have been one of the first 16 coeds to live on the campus in the dormitories.
Imagine the ratio for a second - are you getting the picture?
- it took a while for it to sink in with me as well. How did this happen? Well, actually that's another story for another time, because this post is about my brother/friend Gil Scott Heron.
Needless to say with 600 males, you begin to separate the men from the boys, and once becoming accustomed, the creme always rises to the top, so to speak. Not that there were any slackers at Lincoln, Black in the day - it wasn't allowed. It was called the Black Princeton for a reason - it only admitted the top echelon in academics and creativity - witness Thurgood Marshall, Langston Hughes, Cab Calloway, Kwame Nkrumah, Nnamde Azikewe, and those are just the famous ones - Lincoln had a track record of turning Black males into Black men.
|GIL AND ME CATCHING UP (2010)|
Gil Scott Heron was already on a path of deciding what he wanted to do in life. He literally breathed it. But his mother wisely decided that he needed to go to college first. I met him via my best friend on campus, Maxine Stewart, because they shared a class together. The student union was the proving ground and rehearsal space for most of the student groups - whether it was steel drums, jazz, R&B, DooWop, you name it. But Gil's music was a totally different genre altogether. Not only were the lyrics words he's made up himself, but the rhythm - to us - seemed to be off kilter when compared to what we were used to at the time. Also, it always sounded as though Gil was searching for a note - and had difficulty landing on the right one.
Of course we know it all (especially yours truly, because after all, I was a rising Junior, and he was a Freshman) reminded him that it was a good thing he was in college, because if he had to rely on his talent and his voice, he'd starve to death.
This is all congenial however. For the most part we were tight friends - and we, Maxine and I, were concerned about his being sucked into Viet Nam if he didn't keep his grades up. There was definitely nothing to worry about in that department either. Gil Scott Heron was a genius. He was quick witted, a quick study and a fabulous talker. But then Lincoln attracted those kinds of geniuses - it was always a pleasure to sit on the quad and listen to the intellectual debates being carried forth by one visionary after another. Or the heated debates about racism and liberation in America .
When Gil formed the Midnight Band, they first played at Mary Dodd Brown Chapel - a church named after Abraham Lincoln's widow - that stands to this day - it was erected in 1872. For the most part it was used as an auditorium, for vespers, church services, and for Talent Shows.
The year the Brian Jackson and Gil Scott Heron formed their band, he had been rehearsing and composing for quite some time in between classes (sometimes during). When they first performed before us - their peers - we definitely weren't the most generous - but we had to admit that the lyrics were definitely on time with what was happening in the world. Of course we still didn't see it as an indication that Gil needed to drop out of school.
It was a long debate that we would hold with him during lunch; after dinner; in between classes. And then, one holiday vacation, despite our wringing a promise from him; Gil Scott Heron withdrew from Lincoln to pursue his dream. That was early 1967. We were upset, of course - but we were also so glad he did. Had he listened to us, we would not have had the great body of work he has so endowed us with.
|BROTHER FRIEND/ANCESTOR/ANGEL/ARTIST GIL SCOTT HERON|
And you'd think that I would have learned from that to keep my cool when someone decides they want to pursue their dream, but no! When Randy Kane wanted to drop out pursue a singing career with his brother and cousin, what did yours truly say? "Hey Randy, you really need to get your degree - your dad's a judge, he's not going to be pleased." Thank goodness he didn't listen either - or we might not have had the Delphonics.
By the way, I've gotten so much better than that now. I encourage everybody to pursue their dream - just don't throw out the baby with the bathwater.
I graduated Lincoln U in 1967 - and didn't see Gil again until the 70's. I had been out of the country for a period of time, and when I returned all you could hear was this new genre of music - Gil Scott Heron, Osibisa, War, Earth Wind & Fire, Mandrill, Roy Ayers - things had changed drastically. Lyrics had much more content and relevancy and Gil was right up there with the rest of them.
But it wasn't until my husband and I got together that I actually saw Gil again for the first time since he had left Lincoln. We were living in Harlem, on 111th Street and Riverside Drive. Lou wanted to bring this fantastic brother home to dinner because he knew I would really dig him since his work was so revolutionary. So I said "cool"! Of course in our family dinner didn't start until 11:00PM or 12:00AM - after all musicians don't keep the same hours as regular folks. So when they finally get to the apartment, I'm in the kitchen putting the finishing touches of the food. Lou comes to the kitchen to check out the food, and put some "cold ones" in the fridge.
So when I follow him back to the living room - we had a 40 foot hallway, there's Gil standing there all angles and bones. Imagine the shock on both our faces when we see each other and give a big shout at the same time, with massive hugs. Then imagine the look of wtf on my husband's face as he's trying to figure out how I know Gil.
When we explain that we were classmates at Lincoln University, it clears things up - and we sit down and talk about old times and what's been going on since last we saw each other. This is blowing Lou's mind - one because what are the chances of bringing home a friend and your wife knows more about them than you do; and of course, being a Scorpio, wondering whether or not there was anything more than just friendship between us - Scorps can't help themselves. But once he realized that we really were just friends - the rest of the evening went beautifully - in fact, until we moved to California, Gil would pass by after rehearsal or a show and pop in.
Then we moved to California - don't know why, but I always marked that as the worst thing we could have possibly done. But there was this move to make the center of the music industry Hollywood - and the recording company was paying to relocate the group. Even though I tried to persuade Lou that I could just as easily commute back and forth and keep the apartment in New York for when they came East, he didn't hear it. So we pulled up all our roots and moved to LaLa Land.
I guess everybody got the West Coast (I call it the Left Coast) bug at the same time because it looked as if half of the artists from New York City were all there. The group had a date to play at the Roxy in Hollywood - it was their premier show there - under United Artists. And who was the first person we ran into, Gil - he was playing at the Troubadour. It was like old home week.
So they guys would guest pass each other for their shows - much to the annoyance of the management. And then Mandrill and Gil Scott Heron were booked together at the Roxy. I had already kind of had my own personal negative experience with California, which is why I didn't want to move; so I was more than aware of their curfews - clubs close at 2:00 in California; 4:00 in New York - and in California they start pulling drinks off the table 15 minutes to a half an hour before closing - paid for or not. By this time I'm a died-in-the-wool-New Yorker - and I see California as primitive and conservative - so I'm kind of attitudinal about the whole scene. Additionally, we have our own set up in the green room, but we can't bring them with us to the tables - so I went in a mode to really give the LaLa Land Left Coast people a piece of my New York Citygirl mind if anyone dared touch my drink before it was officially 2:00AM.
The guest table we were seated at was in a special area where practically everybody could see who was seated there. It kind of dawned on me that this was a special seating arrangement. Then this beautiful African American sister comes to the table dripping in the most beautiful red fox fur you've ever seen - and I love fur coats - especially red fox. After she sits, I realize it's Brenda Sykes. My mind is going "Wow! that's BRENDA SYKES!! - THE BRENDA SYKES!! - THE BLACK MOVIE DIVA OF THE 70'S!! SUPER STAR BRENDA SYKES!!!" Yes, I admit that back then was somewhat star struck - After all I was in Hollywood - and newly initiated into the entertainment industry, it was really blowing my mind. First of all, I'm wondering why Brenda Sykes would come to the Roxy when there were so many more swank Hollywood upscale clubs she could go to - like the then happening New Yorker Club -- especially dressed in that gorgeous red fox coat. And because of my natural prejudice at the time against the consciousness level of Black actresses, I couldn't imagine who she was there to see. I couldn't see her being a fan of either Mandrill or Gil Scott Heron.
|GIL AND BRENDA|
Brenda and I got to be friends - and would do lunch or cocktails from time to time when the guys were on the road. She and Gil got married and had the most beautiful daughter - Gia - but there were some issues that were beginning to creep into his life that definitely took him off the path he originally envisioned for himself. And I daresay that most any Black group, black in the day had some form of problem with Drugs - some much more than others. It was insidious; and it's not an experience I intend to discuss here or anywhere else - except suffice it to say it dogged his life, as much as it did my husband for eons.
Our children were raised watching Gil on TV - "It's Nothing but a B Movie; The Nation's Capital, it's Washington DC, listening to his work at home; and the times when he would pop in and he and Lou would perform all kinds of songs together; or just crack jokes and drink beer. He was definitely an inspiration to our handsome son, One Sun Lion Ra (Rais Wilson).
The bond and friendship between Gil and myself always remained tight; but between Gil and Lou - they were like brothers. They were kindred spirits. So whenever we were either home, or out, and were in the same city at the same time, we always got together. When Lou and I separated years later, he and Gil remained friends; and Gil and I continued being friends in New York City.
Even with his bouts with incarceration - he and I would communicate on a limited basis - I was always concerned about his health because he had absolutely no meat on his bones. I told him one day: "You are making me worry about you - and I'm going to have to hurt you to make you stop hurting yourself!" He had begun turning grey and his neck looked even longer than it had when were in school. He had a gaunt look about him. He and Brenda had long since broken up; and he spent most of his time on the East Coast - he had a studio in East Harlem where he did most of his work - but I was on his case about not eating properly or getting enough rest.
At the time I was writing for the Daily Challenge News: The City's Only Black Daily - and had done an in depth one-on-one interview with Gil. I was one of the few people who never criticized him - I could see he was already going through it, and the music was what kept him going.
I was devastated when I heard about his being HIV positive. It seemed as if it was the cruelest possible thing that could happen to a brother who tried to wake Black people up - make them take a stand and do for themselves to be afflicted with this heinous disease.
|L-R GIL, ME, KIRA, RAIS (ONE SUN LION RA) AT THE CARTER BARRON 2010|
I had done a one-on-one updated interview to add to the personality profile I had done on him nearly fifteen years ago. I learned about his dad, the Mighty Gil - a great soccer player. He traveled to Scotland and other countries and was world reknowned. He told be about his son. And he told me that he was flattered that Lincoln still loved him considering that he didn't graduate. But I assured him, once a Lincoln man, always a Lincoln Man. - actually I said, "Boy, we own you. You're ours.!!!" He got a big kick out of that. His mother had made him go back and get a degree - she didn't want him to not be protected academically should anything happen to his career. We spent the whole day at the 112th street studio. He said he went there everyday like going to an office. Most of the people didn't know who he was because it was located in Spanish Harlem, so he basically came and went as he pleased without being harassed by fans. He played some of the new songs he was working on at the time, and talked a bit about turning the studio into a full time center so he could help some of the youth who wanted to write relevant material. We never discussed his illness, or medication - it just wasn't what I was there for. I was only concerned that he was doing well and I could see by his energy that he was.
When I had finished the interview, and hanging out, he had indicated that he would be doing a gig at the Carter Barron in DC. So in October of 2010 my daughter Kira, son Rais and I went to surprise him and show up for the concert. He was blown away! He hadn't seen my kids since they were toddlers. Now my son was as tall as he was.
His show was brilliant - he had gotten more into the mode of telling the story behind the lyrics in order to give the audience more insight to his inner thoughts. He kept the audience engaged and entertained.
The last time I saw Gil alive was in March 2011 at the Black Writers Conference - he performed along with Talib Kweli and some other artists. He looked as if he was in the picture of health. He was actually getting his color back, and muscling up somewhat. We laughed and joked and had a great time - in fact we hung long after the concert was completed.
That was the last time I saw my brother friend. The next thing I remember in reference to Gil was when I heard was myself screaming when my daughter Kira called to break the news to me that Gil had died in England. It was like a nightmare - because I didn't know how to tell Lou - But of course, Lou, now much more spiritually grounded than I was, basically took it in good form -- I, on the other hand was devastated.
|GIL SCOTT HERON - ANCESTOR/ANGEL/ARTIST FRIEND PBUH|
The service for Gil was held at Riverside Church. His former wife, Brenda Sykes Scott-Heron was there and presided over the ceremonies. I hadn't seen her in 20 years - but she was still as beautiful and slim as ever. His daughter Gia did a beautiful piece in honor of her dad.
Also at the service was Kanye West, who did one of Gil's original songs in his honor at Brenda's request. Gil, according to Brenda, always admired Kanye. George Clinton and several other artist/friends were also there. However, the service was held so soon after his passing that those who wanted to travel there to pay him homage didn't have sufficient time to prepare to be there.
Brenda told us how she and Gil had decided that they were going to remarry and go forward with ther lives when he returned from his tour. They had never stopped loving each other, and were now going to start a new beginning. She mentioned the name of a book he had been reading (the name of it escapes me now), but it had to do with the inevitability of the way things play themselves out. And how important it was to not wait for things to be perfect but to move on them when they occur.
Ironically, that takes me right back to who Gil was as an Aries - one who never waited for permission, convention, perfect timing, but moves when the impulse strikes - Except for just this one time - and that made all the difference in the world.
I miss my brother/friend - but I know that he and his big brother/friend, my honey, Lou Wilson are keeping things pretty active up there among their fellow Ancestor/angel/artists.
Gil's Birthday is April 1st - he always said he was the April Fool's joke played on his mom - and I would beg to differ with him. The best thing that happened to April 1 was the birth of my brother/friend Gil Scott-Heron.
NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?
Stay Blessed &