Gil Scott Heron (April 1, 1949 - May 27, 2011)
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.
Labels: why should i hang my head