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The revolution won’t be televised

Gil Scott-Heron wrote the song, « The Revolution won’t be televised » – a phrase which entered both the popular and cultural lexicon after its release on the album « Small Talk at 125th and Lennox » in the 1970s.

Turbulent genius, free spirit, and accomplished artist, Scott-Heron’s legacy could be seen as part a movement far greater than his own existence. I see in his career not only an important part of musical history, but of the struggle for equality, continuing to change the course of history and influence society. Through this song, its music and lyrics – my goal will be to reassess the scope of the message he bestowed upon the world with his music, in the context of our troubled times.

First and foremost, it must be recognized that Scott-Heron’s legacy lies in his innovative musical style, combining jazz and blues. He had at once a minimal sense of rhythm and a profound melodiousness to his words. His lyrics reflect his political involvement, and his poetry expressed criticism of society and the media’s power over controversial issues in the 1970s, in the United States and beyond.

Gil Scott Heron was both a controversial and innovative figure among African Americans during the civil rights movement, specifically denouncing social and political inequalities. Songs with such venomous and subversive titles as « Home is Where the Hatred Is,” or “Whitey on the Moon,” in addition to his frank, outspoken manner made him the voice of the people’s anger, the icon of the Revolution. His image was even incorporated in campaigns against South African apartheid and nuclear energy.

From what part of the human spirit comes the motivation and force, which pushes it to rise above oppression and fight for the right to exist? I found several answers in the lyrics for “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” First is the importance of knowing how to abandon one’s own secret dreams, to be able to see the world and its realities with a lucidity that is often lost in our consumer society. What is the echo of the speech in today’s world, so passionately ensnared in the tentacles of consumerism? In the time of social networks and instant information technology, we witness televised or digital revolutions only from the comfort of our seats. We can see that this naïve posture is a challenge to progress. This is not what comes to mind in such a context, and I ask myself what “The Revolution Will Be Live” means now in a time where injustice is fought and great causes are championed through means that rely so heavily on the power of image.

As contemporary is the Arab Spring, I abandon my dreams so that all our Revolutions can be “live.”

As contemporary is the musical style inspired by Gil Scott-Heron, I abandon my dreams, so that music and hip hop culture may escape the tentacles of consumerism and the power of image.

As contemporary is the digital world, I pray that technological progress will serve Revolutions where they are most useful and needed.

Gil Scott-Heron was a 62 year old musician who contributed to the development of rap music by combining a minimal beat with politically engaged texts and poetry, to a rhythm resembling that of the song “The Revolution won’t be Televised.” Ill on his return from a trip to Europe, he passed away on May 27 in New York. The cause of death is still unknown.

We can recognize his influence today in rap music and hip-hop culture as exemplified through artists such as Kanye West or Lupe Fiasco.

The revolution won’t be televised…

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruptions.
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat
hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be brought to you by the
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.

There will be no pictures of you and Willie May
pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run,
or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance.
NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the proper occasion.

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock
news and no pictures of hairy armed women
liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose.
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb,
Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be right back after a message
bout a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

Sanza Bulaya

Translation – Ritz Wu