Best known for his 1970 polemic "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," Gil Scott-Heron was a musical icon who defied characterization. He tantalized audiences with his charismatic stage presence, and his biting, observant lyrics in such singles as "The Bottle" and "Johannesburg" provide a time capsule for a decade marked by turbulence, uncertainty, and racism. While he was exalted by his devoted fans as the "black Bob Dylan" (a term he hated) and widely sampled by the likes of Kanye West, Prince, Common, and Elvis Costello, he never really achieved mainstream success. Yet he maintained a cult following throughout his life, even as he grappled with the personal demons that fueled so many of his lyrics. Scott-Heron performed and occasionally recorded well into his later years, until eventually succumbing to his life-long struggle with addiction. He passed away in 2011, the end to what had become a hermit-like existence.
In this biography, Marcus Baram--an acquaintance of Gil Scott-Heron's--will trace the volatile journey of a troubled musical genius. Baram will chart Scott-Heron's musical odyssey, from Chicago to Tennessee to New York: a drug addict's twisted path to redemption and enduring fame. In Gil Scott-Heron: Pieces of a Man, Marcus Baram puts the complicated icon into full focus.
Best known for his ingenious, cutting, and satiric 1970 song, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," Scott-Heron (1949 2011) never received full recognition for his brilliant writing across many genres, including poetry and fiction, and his canny weaving of black history into his volatile moment. In this straightforward, honest book, journalist Baram draws a poignant portrait, if somewhat fawning, of the artist as a black man struggling to make sense of his culture from the 1960s to his death. Baram draws on Scott-Heron's autobiographies and on his own friendship with Scott-Heron to chronicle the poet and musician's journey from his childhood in segregated Jackson, Tenn., and his youth in New York City to his college days at Lincoln University, where he grew increasingly more active in matters related to social justice. Baram then discusses Scott-Heron's first album, his pivotal and mostly warm relationship with Columbia Records' president, Clive Davis, and his eventual descent into a world of drug addiction that killed him. A gifted artist, Scott-Heron always deflected attention from himself as he pointed to the long river of people and ideas on whose backs he swam: Baram writes, "There could be no Gil Scott-Heron if there'd been no LeRoi Jones ... no Langston Hughes, no Paul Dunbar, no Phillis Wheatley." Baram's appreciative biography offers a glimpse into the complex feelings and thoughts of this Renaissance man we lost much too soon.