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Gil - warts and all,
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This review is from: The Last Holiday: A Memoir (Kindle Edition)This is such a warts-and-all account of Gil Scott-Heron's life that it is hard to be objective about it. Coming so soon after his untimely death, it still feels raw and uncensored. That is partly, perhaps, because it still feels like a good early draft of something, rather than a final version: fresh from the word processor, but without the sort of smoothing-out of style and story that might come from a more refined draft.
We all know what a huge figure Gil Scott-Heron was, his huge strengths and his considerable human failings. Because the story is largely an account of his career up to and including the successful campaign to establish Martin Luther-King Day [spearheaded by Stevie Wonder, but in which GSH played no small role] it tends to play up his strengths and achievements, and glosses over the huge problems of his later years: drink, drugs, relationship conflicts, prison. Those, of course, were accounted for in his final, visceral album.
What is there is an inspiring account of a young man who, brought up by his mother and grandmother, went on to be a trailblazer: a Black student in a mostly-white educational world, a leading campus activist, a published poet and novelist before he was 20, a key cross-genre figure in music who embraced jazz, funk, soul, and - in his early fusion of poetry and music - became the male midwife of rap.
There is self-mythologising here, and self-justification, but also self-criticism, some silly macho moments [involving drink, cars, guns], some strangely ambiguous attitudes to women [revering women in his family, sometimes dismissive of many others], and an odd mix of styles - from stoned consciousness-streaming to brief moments of semi-fiction to poetry to almost journalistic verite. It seems that the book was cobbled together from many disparate memoirs, and that often shows, but what emerges in the end is a relatively frank account of someone whose achievements, commitment to speaking truth to power, Black activism flashes of insight and - above all - human-ness [with all the warmth, bitterness, strengths and weaknesses that the word entails] remain frankly inspirational, and will remain so for a long time to come.