Feb 8, 2010

Closer, clearer, no sir, nearer

"Because I always feel like running. Not away. Because there's no such place. Because if there was I would've found it by now .... Because the thing I fear cannot be escaped, eluded, avoided, hidden from, protected from, gotten away from, not without showing the fear as I see it now. Because closer, clearer, no sir, nearer. Because of you. And because of that nice that you quietly, quickly, be causing."

-- Gil Scott-Heron, Running



Gil Scott-Heron has been noted, when he's noted, as the godfather or forefather of rap. It's a title that belongs to him as obviously and fully as it belongs to anyone -- there's certainly a certain point when or where his voice, his tones and patterns and political spirit and even his actual words overlap with those of Public Enemy's Chuck D. and others. But Gil Scott-Heron's voice also has connections the other way. There's something in his voice, in his poetry, the rhythm of what he's saying, that can and ought to be related backwards not just to the obvious, like Langston Hughes, like black goes back to black, but also related and connected to Kerouac, especially the way Kerouac read when he read out loud in that bop way he had, and farther back, all the way to Walt Whitman.

Scott-Heron's voice is only a breath away from Whitman's -- just compare "Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich, Perennial with the Earth" and "escaped, eluded, avoided, hidden from, protected from, gotten away from, not without showing the fear." The similarities and sheer common Americanness of their voices belies the distance of the century between them.