Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gil Scott Heron (April 1, 1949 - May 27, 2011)

I spent a couple of hours this morning with Tia Elena on South New Braunfels Avenue, running down some ancestors at St. John's Lutheran and Hermann Sons cemeteries. These are enjoyable enough excursions, both in the search for specific gravestones and in the delight of finding names that are now plastered on street signs around the city (this morning yielded Probandt and Walzem). Sometimes, as it turns out, the search is for the absence of a stone: I spent a good bit of solo sleuthing a while back, only to discover that one of the said ancestors was actually reposing in an unmarked grave. The fact that some family members had gone to the trouble of exhuming this great-uncle from a farm outside San Marcos, just to bring him down to his unheralded repose in Tres Leches struck me as quite odd and, knowing my extended family's predilections, somehow unsurprising.

Elaine always makes for good company, what with plenty of good stories and a vibe we seemed to have grooved into ever since she took me in for a few months after a fire in an upstairs apartment destroyed my downstairs apartment on Joliet Street, all while I was away that evening celebrating my 23rd birthday. Lovely "present" to come back to. Today's search was for some Alberts and Nauscheutzes: all found, with background stories filled in as we pulled a few weeds, tossed a few stones, or sat in the shade, backs to a pair of stones, wondering why Carlos Nauschutz dropped the "e" in his name. Upon our quick visit to her parents' plot, I pulled some weeds from around her younger sister Jessie Marie's stone. Jessie Marie died at the age of three, back in 1930, and was referred to as "the little green fairy." I know for a fact that this was a reference to a series of differently-colored fairy books that were popular in my mother's and Elaine's childhood, but it was fun to needle Elaine a bit with the competing fact that "
la fée verte" (the green fairy) is also another name for absinthe, the alcoholic spirit attributed by some to have distinctively psychoactive effects.

All this by a most roundabout way of saying that, as much as I enjoy Elaine's company and her family stories, they are largely about people with whom I, despite their being family, feel virtually no connection whatsoever. This was not the feeling I had, however, when, after having dropped Elaine off at her house, I heard on KRTU that Gil Scott Heron had died yesterday at the age of 62: the very same GSH whom I had featured in a facebook post just this past Wednesday, his name popping up into my lint brain out of nowhere. As dj Joan Carroll spun two GSH tunes (both featured below), I was filled with a deep sadness and a familial sense of loss.

I'm fairly sure I was introduced to GSH during my senior year at Harvard, when I spent a fair number of evenings over at Craig and Phil's room, both of whom amply expanded my musical chops via a veritable musical appreciation course the likes of which I've only seen one other time, with friend Steph, as we (Steph and I) trolled the discs of Nick Drake, the Waterboys, Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks," Al Stewart, and, of course, the mighty Van Morrison in his post-"Brown-eyed Girl" incarnations. While I had grown up faced by walls filled with a couple of thousand albums in my mother's record collection, C&P brought forth an avalanche of music that had never made it up on the childhood walls. This was the jazz course: Miles, Chick, RTF, Di Meola, Hancock, Billy Cobham, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, my first forays into the Dead, and plenty of Steely Dan to boot. As I say, I'm pretty sure that the top floor of Lowell House was where I first encountered Gil Scott-Heron.

GSH was an interesting anomaly: highly political discourse wrapped in a decidedly crooner-esque voice: a crazy - and very groovy - collision of sounds on the box. When in 1994, I made the fateful decision to sell all of my record collection in preparation for my relocation from New Orleans to Moscow, Idaho - with the delusional inner assurance that I would eventually replace all my records with their corresponding CDs - I'm sure that was the moment GSH went on out of my life, save for the occasional pop-up in recent years while surfing my new record collection, better known as YouTube.

Now just two years shy of turning 60 myself, I find 62 to be way too young for someone to be moving on; these days, I pretty much feel that "too young" is anyone under 80, and that number is nudging on up to 85 at this point. Tia Elena turns 86 this December, and she is still one young and feisty whippersnapper.

Peace to Gil Scott Heron and all the young 'uns. We (all) still plenty groovy.



Blogger Dee Martin said...

What an odd coincidence. And how sad. I am with you on the age thing - 85 sounds good to me. I vaguely remember music being everything and we would live forever and never grow old. Now it seems like every year I read more names that I know and wonder how they can be gone and be so young...

I enjoy your weekend music choices - especially when you tell about the artist. That is one thing I really miss about albums. The cover art, lyrics, and bits and pieces of information.

My family is spread all over the country and Canada. It would be impossible to visit all the burial places but there are some I would love to check out. Bicknell Indiana - the coal miner part of the family, Hamilton Ontario - the Scottish and British part of the family. I haven't been to either place since I was a child.

7:37 PM  
Blogger anno said...

Had never heard of GSH until your post earlier this week, so when this link from the New Yorker ( showed up on this morning, I thought it was just an interesting coincidence, the way new words seem to appear everywhere just after you learn them. You're right: 62 is way too young to be moving on; such a loss of talent. Sure am glad for all the spry genes in your family tree...

8:51 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Dee: I miss the old album covers, too. Hours poring over them: if we ever doubted that we were never part of the CD demographic, we need look no further than the indecipherably small font-size: not for my eyes wuz they printed.

You come from some wide and wondrous places there, girlfriend.

8:12 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Anno: Thanks for the link. Since I'd fallen out of the GSH universe, I was unaware of the crack cocaine addiction: the article I read had some interesting quotes from him about that part of his life, but it still has to be hard on a body . . .

Great music, great voice, great words. One more for Memorial Day.

Peace to you, sister.

8:16 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Anno: Have since read the New Yorker link: nice chunky piece of HeronWorld. One of my roommates at Harvard was also from Jackson, TN: lost touch with him, but what possibilities that the two crossed paths . . .

Thanks again for the link.

4:16 PM  
Anonymous Miss Alister said...

Hey P, I’m here going back through the year. Found this post which is most interesting since Richard mentioned GSH at the end of a radio interview just 2 days before Scott-Heron’s death. I can only think that soul and jazz lovers everywhere were feeling a premonitory stirring...

4:27 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Lady A, good to hear from you here in Muravia. I visit its environs only a little more than you these days, truth be known. I think you're right about GSH in the ethers just before his death. I had stumbled over him again in my errant YouTube wanderings, and was marveling yet again, not long before his passing. What a voice, what a sadness in the end days. Deliverance now.

Best to you, my sweet sister, in this New Year. I still love you madly.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Miss Alister said...

Oh lawd you are ever and ever the absolute most amazing and brilliant you! And if it were 2008 or 9 I'd still run away with you in a heartbeat : )

3:25 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

A: I think we did, didn't we?

5:30 PM  

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